“We’re all in this together.”
It has been a common refrain across America as the coronavirus has spread, forcing millions out of work and essentially putting a halt to normal daily life.
But it wasn’t exactly the message being conveyed by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday, as he took exception to the steps Tennessee is taking to combat the virus, striking an us-versus-them tone as he urged Kentuckians not to visit Tennessee for their own safety.
Beshear, whose handling of the coronavirus crisis has been widely praised because of his quick action and calm demeanor in press briefings, didn’t mention Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee by name. But the Democrat made it clear that he’s not happy with the way Lee, a Republican, has handled the issue.
“We have taken very aggressive steps to try to stop or limit the spread of the coronavirus to try to protect our people,” Beshear said. “But our neighbors from the south, in many instances, are not.”
Lee has been criticized for not ordering non-essential businesses to close. Critics also want the governor to issue a shelter-in-place policy. He’s refused both, saying that coronavirus cannot be combatted with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Beshear made it clear that is unacceptable.
“If you are a Kentuckian living on that border, I need you to not go to Tennessee for anything other than work or helping a loved one or maybe the grocery, if it is there closer,” he said. “If you ultimately go down over that border and go to a restaurant or something that’s not open in Kentucky, what you do is you bring the coronavirus back here in Kentucky.”
There is one glaring issue with Beshear’s remarks: He specifically mentions going into a restaurant in Tennessee and carrying the virus back to Kentucky, but Tennessee’s restaurants are closed with the exception of drive-thrus, delivery or takeout — the same as Kentucky’s. Lee issued that order last weekend. Either Beshear was badly mistaken, or he was being disingenuous with his comments.
Schools in Tennessee have also been requested to close through late April — same as Kentucky. And social gatherings of more than 10 people, which includes church services, are banned — same as Kentucky.
Tennessee hasn’t ordered non-essential businesses to close. However, Beshear’s comments came less than 24 hours after his own order for non-essential businesses in Kentucky to close took effect, which was at 8 p.m. Thursday evening.
And most businesses that would be considered non-essential have already closed in Tennessee, either by order of the governor or voluntarily. Non-essential businesses ordered to close in Kentucky are mostly retail establishments of various types, including furniture stores, electronics and appliance stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, jewelry stores, sporting goods stores, book stores, department stores, florists and office supply stores. Car dealerships would also have to close, as would beauty shops. However, deemed essential and remaining open are grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, pharmacies, gas stations and convenience stores, pet stores, auto parts stores, car rental companies and hardware stores.
Kentucky also has a shelter-in-place policy of sorts in place, though Beshear didn’t call it that. However, such policies — which stop short of a lockdown — have largely proven ineffective. There are too many exceptions — leaving home for work, to walk the dog, to go for a jog, to buy supplies, etc. (Case in point: California was the first American state to issue a shelter-in-place order, and photos have circulated across the internet showing the state’s crowded beaches despite that order.)
In fact, if Beshear’s shelter-in-place policy were truly effective, he wouldn’t have to request his state’s residents not to travel to Tennessee.
So it begs the question: exactly how much more could Tennessee accomplish to limit the spread of coronavirus by adopting its own shelter-in-place policy? Such efforts seem to be mostly feel-good policies with little real impact.
Tennessee could — and probably should — order non-essential businesses to close, but most of those businesses have reported that their customer traffic has dried up anyway, as folks hunker down in response to the coronavirus threat. Most people who are out and about are in places like Walmart — which would be spared if such an order were implemented.
In the meantime, the Volunteer State’s largest metropolitan areas — have ordered non-essential businesses to close.
At first glance, Tennessee’s COVID-19 situation is far worse than Kentucky’s. The Volunteer State has 1,203 confirmed cases of the virus, and six deaths. Kentucky has just 302 confirmed cases, and eight deaths.
But Kentucky has also tested far fewer people than Tennessee, according to numbers published by health officials in each state.
As of Friday afternoon, Tennessee had tested 16,091 people — or one in every 421 people. By contrast, Kentucky had tested only 5,123 people — or one in every 872 people.
Of the tests conducted in Tennessee, 7.5 percent have been positive for coronavirus. In Kentucky, 5.9 percent of the tests have been positive for the virus. That isn’t a substantial difference. Since almost every health and infectious disease expert agrees that there are far more cases of coronavirus than have been diagnosed, due to an overall lack of testing, those numbers would suggest that the difference in the number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky and Tennessee really isn’t that great. The fact that Kentucky has had eight people die of coronavirus, and Tennessee six, would also lend itself to the argument that the number of real coronavirus cases are quite similar between the two states. Otherwise, the percentage of Kentucky’s confirmed coronavirus cases to end in death would be almost twice the national average, at 2.6 percent.
Kentucky reported 50 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, its largest increase in a single day thus far. Beshear was quick to point out that the outbreak “is not escalating as quickly as in other states.” On Friday, the total increased by another 54 cases — beating Thursday’s single-day tally.
But that’s an increase of 22 percent on Thursday and 20 percent on Friday.
Based on numbers reported by the Tennessee Department of Health, the number of coronavirus cases in Tennessee increased by 20 percent on Thursday and 23 percent on Friday — meaning Tennessee’s escalation of the outbreak is on pace with the escalation in Kentucky.
The bottom line seems pretty clear: Gov. Beshear should worry about Kentucky, and let Gov. Lee worry about Tennessee. Absent a standard directive from the federal government that applies to each of the 50 states — and that doesn’t seem to be coming — that’s all any governor can do: worry about what works best for his state. When all is said and done, each governor will be judged by the effectiveness of his policies — or lack thereof. Right now, at daily press briefings in the heat of the outbreak, isn’t the time or place to lash out at other states’ policies.