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U.S. Governors On Coronavirus Frontlines Assess Federal Response So Far

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Governors have found themselves on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Some say they're acting on their own to slow down the spread of the virus because the federal government's response has been slow and ineffective. Across the country today, states took a wide range of actions.

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ANDREW CUOMO: To reduce the number of people in contagious environment, no gathering with 500 people or more.

KATE BROWN: Effective immediately, all large gatherings in the state of Oregon over 250 people will be canceled for four weeks.

LARRY HOGAN: I have signed an executive order to close the cruise ship terminal at the Port of Baltimore until further notice.

CHANG: That was, in reverse order, Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Kate Brown of Oregon and Andrew Cuomo of New York. NPR's Joel Rose has been watching all of this and joins us now.

Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So give us a little more of an idea of all that happened today across these states.

ROSE: Yeah, there is a lot to talk about. The governor in Washington state closed schools in three counties that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus. Governors in Ohio and Maryland closed all schools in the state for several weeks. Schools in San Francisco are closing as well.

Several states banned large gatherings. In Oregon and Maryland, gatherings of more than 250 are off. California's governor recommended the same and signed an executive order allowing the state to commandeer hotels if necessary to treat patients. New York banned gatherings over 500 people or more, including all Broadway theaters, effective tonight. Many of these actions are aimed at social distancing, which is a phrase we've been hearing a lot. Basically, it means keeping people further apart so that they cannot transmit the virus.

CHANG: Right. And have these governors been upfront about just what a drastic impact all this is going to have on people's lives?

ROSE: There really is no way to sugarcoat this. I mean, they say these actions will disrupt daily life, and they will have serious economic consequences. But the governors say all - that this is what needs to be done in order to keep the rate of infection low enough that the health system doesn't get overwhelmed. I think these governors have been watching what happened in other countries, particularly in Italy and other places that did not take these steps and did not take this coronavirus seriously enough.

CHANG: I mean, we're talking about social distancing, but what about the issue of testing? That's been a huge issue on the federal level. Did the governors have anything to say about that today?

ROSE: Yeah. Governors across the country are not happy about the state of testing. They say they just don't have enough tests to keep up with the demand. J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, has been very vocal about this.

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JB PRITZKER: We need not thousands of tests but tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of tests available. We don't have those today. I'm being as loud as I can on this subject. I know that many other governors are speaking the same language that I am.

ROSE: President Trump has promised that more tests are on the way, but today, one of his top health officials, Dr. Anthony Fauci, conceded that the system is, quote, "failing." And the reason this is so important is because the more that you test, the better you understand who needs to be isolated and quarantined. Some states are now just taking matters into their own hands and contracting with private labs to make more tests on their own.

CHANG: Wow. Well, the White House - I mean, it did issue some guidance last night. President Trump gave a prime-time speech. Do you have any sense whether that made any difference in quelling concerns among state officials?

ROSE: Not all concerns. I mean, the guidance focused mostly on a mitigation plan for the three big hot spots that we've seen around Seattle, New Rochelle in New York and Santa Clara in California. But those states had already taken many of those recommended actions on their own. And the states with fewer cases say they still want more specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which just may not be realistic. I asked Marcus Plescia about this. He's the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

MARCUS PLESCIA: You can't run the response to an epidemic in a big country like this from Washington or from Atlanta where the CDC is. There is a piece of this that's got to be decided in every community, and it's got to be fit to every community. And that's challenging.

CHANG: That is NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.