JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated press
Governors have taken drastic action during previous outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools have closed and ordered businesses closed. They issued mask warrants, vaccine requirements and even quarantines in some locations for people who had been to hot spots out of state.
Not this time, even as the exponential spread of the super-contagious omicron variant shatters records of COVID-19 infection. As governors send aid to hospitals, they show little appetite for government orders or widespread shutdowns.
Even Democratic governors who adopted strict terms early on are now relying more on persuasion than dictates. They largely leave it to local authorities to make difficult decisions, such as limiting the capacity of restaurants and theaters or keeping schools open.
South Carolina set a record for positive tests over New Years’ weekend and hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up 67% from the previous week. But Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, urged everyone to act like everything is fine. “If you get really sick, there will be room in the hospitals,” he promised this week.
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âThere is no need to panic. Be calm. Be happy,â McMaster said. “We have just had a great Christmas season. Business is booming.”
McMaster has always urged people to get vaccinated and in the early days of the pandemic he called on K-12 schools and colleges to switch to distance learning. But students are back in classrooms across the state, and he continues to resist the imposition of any business shutdowns statewide.
California is grappling with an astonishing spike in infections, and the state’s health department has extended the term for indoor masks until February 15, but the state’s Democratic leaders have not included no mechanism to apply it. “I think a lot of people will apply themselves and do the right thing,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters last month.
The sentiment sounds familiar to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. The Republican has announced a 30-day state of emergency to tackle the wave of omicron variants, but he does not include the same state-wide mask mandate ordered earlier in the pandemic.
âI’m not sure people who refuse to wear a mask will wear one anyway, and we don’t have the capacity to enforce it,â Hogan said. “So we strongly encourage people to wear that damn mask.”
New Jersey had the second-highest number of U.S. cases during this increase, after New York, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has called on the legislature to renew its emergency powers so he can continue a mask mandate in schools. But further business closures and near universal mask mandates seem to be out of place, and instead of issuing new executive orders, he’s urging people to follow public health recommendations.
âHere’s what everyone really needs to take to heart – the need to mask themselves, to be boosted and just to practice common sense,â Murphy said.
Even the governors who pushed restrictions the most in previous epidemics made up their minds to call on people to take personal responsibility. Oregon removed its outdoor crowd mask requirement in November and has not reinstated it. Schools and businesses remain open and Democratic Governor Kate Brown has urged booster injections as the best way to fight the virus.
“Our focus right now is to make sure our most vulnerable Oregonians have access to booster shots and to make sure we’re ready to support our hospital systems,” Gov. spokesman Charles Boyle said in an email.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, was one of the first to close schools in March 2020 as the virus began to spread rapidly in the United States. and vaccines.
âWe don’t have the practical ability to really place a statewide order for masks at this point,â DeWine said in late December. “I don’t think it’s appropriate at this point. We have the vaccine. We have the tools.”
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, while listing his accomplishments in his first year in office on Tuesday, said during previous COVID-19 outbreaks there was little difference in the number of cases between states ruled by Republicans who tended to take less precautions; and those led by Democrats, who generally took stronger action.
âHeavy and universal mandates don’t work,â Gianforte said.
In North Carolina, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper still leaves it up to local governments to decide whether masks should be mandatory in stores or government buildings rather than ordering them statewide, and encourages but does not require local school boards to retain mask warrants for students and staff.
Cooper took this route even though the Republican-controlled legislature did not have the veto-proof majorities necessary to overthrow his previous statewide COVID-19 terms.
âWe’re going to have to learn to live with this and continue to keep our kids in school and our businesses open and all of our government operations running effectively and efficiently,â Cooper said.
Pandemic fatigue among the public has led Utah Governor Spencer Cox to suggest that COVID-19 and its variants could be treated more like the flu or any other contagious disease. The focus, he said, should be on reducing the effects of the disease through vaccines and drugs, not on government mandates. On Thursday, he encouraged people to wear masks as cases hit record highs and the state lacked monoclonal antibody treatments, but did not call for new rules.
âWe have a lot of diseases that spread very quickly,â he said last month. “But if they don’t fill hospitals and kill people, you know, we’re going about our business. If they fill hospitals and kill people, then obviously that becomes a lot more of a concern.”
Associated Press editors Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City; and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.