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With Covid-19 cases at record levels, states are rolling out new restrictions

As US daily cases approach 200,000, officials in Oregon, New Mexico, and elsewhere implement new lockdowns.

A woman in a blue surgical mask and face shield gestures toward the camera as another woman in the same PPE looks down at forms. Both women have on blue surgical gowns.
Workers process people seeking coronavirus tests in Los Angeles, California.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

States across the US are issuing new restrictions, travel advisories, and warnings as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations skyrocket across the nation ahead of the holidays. On Friday, the previous record number of confirmed daily cases was shattered, reaching over 180,000, according to public health officials.

The measures being taken by state governments reflect a widening recognition that the current third wave of infections — which is already worse than the first two — could spiral even further out of control if they fail to mandate more aggressive mitigation efforts that would begin to reverse reopenings.

Oregon and New Mexico became the first states to order stringent new restrictions on Friday, taking the most aggressive state-level responses so far to the new wave of infections.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico has issued a two-week stay-at-home order to begin on Monday. People are advised to stay home unless making “essential trips,” and all nonessential businesses and nonprofits have been ordered to cease in-person activities.

“We are in a life-or-death situation, and if we don’t act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we can’t keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current health care system and infrastructure,” she said while issuing the order.

Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced a “two-week freeze” on most activities and nonessential business.

“One week ago, I announced a two-week pause on social activities to slow the spread of Covid-19 in several of our counties across the state,” Brown said at a news briefing. “Unfortunately, since then, we’ve seen an alarming spike in both cases and Covid-19 hospitalizations.”

She also suggested that law enforcement officers may issue fines or make arrests for noncompliance. “For the last eight months, I have been asking Oregonians to follow to the letter and the spirit of the law, and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said. “At this point in time, unfortunately, we have no other option.”

New Mexico and Oregon both had coronavirus lockdowns earlier in the year.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, one of the handful of governors who declined to enter any lockdown in the spring, issued new restrictions on Friday, including a mask mandate, a suspension of high school sports and extracurricular activities until mid-December, and a limit on indoor dining of 50 percent capacity or 150 people.

Like its neighbor South Dakota, North Dakota has one of the country’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks. Despite this, Burgum, a Republican, has been staunchly resistant to imposing social distancing protocols; however, exploding cases and hospitalizations across the state have prompted him to acknowledge the severity of the situation.

California, Oregon, and Washington issued travel advisories on Friday, requesting that people leaving or entering their states self-quarantine to curb transmission rates. New York and New Jersey have recently implemented limits on business hours, and some cities have begun to clamp down independently of states. Chicago, for instance, will be under a 30-day stay-at-home order beginning on Monday.

Federal government support seems to be dropping off

While confirmed cases of Covid-19 are surging to unprecedented highs, outreach from the Trump administration to state leaders — and to the public — seems to be declining.

The White House had been hosting weekly conference calls with governors throughout the summer and the fall. But according to the Hill, there hasn’t been a federal conference call for two weeks, and Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, has been absent from the calls for multiple weeks as the pandemic intensifies.

Public coronavirus task force press briefings have all but stopped in recent months, creating an information vacuum for those citizens who relied upon them for information earlier in the year — and Trump has not attended a task force meeting in months.

While Trump and Pence have been eager to take credit for a vaccine that the administration had no role in developing or funding, they have not discussed the need for mitigation efforts as the virus rages across the country, the holidays approach, and flu season begins to kick into high gear.

“There’s not any acknowledgment or appreciation of the severity of the surge,” an official in one governor’s office told Politico a few days before the election. “The stark reality that we’re facing is the White House — from top to bottom — has stopped governing and is only campaigning.”

Covid-19 cases are growing relatively unchecked. This has created a situation that is taxing hospitals; more than 68,000 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized, the most since the pandemic began. And this surge is threatening to overwhelm many states’ medical capacity. Deaths are rising as well, averaging more than 1,000 per day in the past week. It’s a situation that is likely to grow worse without assistance, coordination, and effective public health messaging from the federal government. And the Trump administration has not signaled that any is coming.