States on the country’s East and West coasts are forming their own regional pacts to work together on how to reopen from the stay-at-home orders each has issued to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The first such group to be announced came Monday on the East Coast. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts each plan to name a public health and economic official to a regional working group. The chief of staff of the governor of each state also will be a part of the group, which will begin work immediately to design a reopening plan.
Later on Monday, the West Coast states of California, Washington and Oregon also announced they are joining forces in a plan to begin incremental release of stay-at-home orders. Governors of the three states will collaborate on their approach to getting back to business in “in a safe, strategic, responsible way,” as announced by California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The collaborative approach by governors on both coasts underscored the massive and complex calculations that the nation is facing as it looks at steps to reopen the economy at both the federal and state levels. Though the President has asserted that he has the authority to determine when the economy will reopen, governors and mayors around the country have moved swiftly in recent days to make it clear that they control the levers of power in their own states and cities with their ability to maintain closures of businesses and schools, and to enforce social distancing through their police departments.
The announcements by the West and East coast governors on Monday appeared to be an effort to preempt pronouncements coming from the President, who has said he will likely introduce his “Opening the Country” economic task force during his briefing on Tuesday. Governors on both costs hammered the notion that their decisions will be driven by facts, science and public health professionals, not politics.
President Donald Trump foreshadowed the looming clash with local officials in a tweet Monday morning, pushing back against some of the governors who have said in recent days that they hold the authority to decide when they reopen their state economies.
“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect,” Trump tweeted.
During Monday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Trump again asserted his authority to override governors, saying, Tthe President of the United States calls the shots.”
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said. “And that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Seven East Coast states to work together on reopening
The East Coast group will study data research and the experience of other areas to deliver “guidelines and parameters to go forward,” Cuomo said. He described it as a “sharing” of information, research and resources to come up with a “consistent, if not complementary” plan.
Cuomo said people who work in New York City come from across borders every day – they live in Connecticut and New Jersey, in addition to New York state – and it only makes sense for the states to work in a coordinated way.
“His workforce is my workforce, my workforce is his workforce, all these decisions affect everyone and the entire region. What this virus says is all of your lines and boundaries make no sense,” Cuomo said, referring to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, another Democrat.
What you need to know about coronavirus
Any states who want to join are welcome to join, Cuomo said, adding that he is in touch with Massachusetts.
The goal of the group is to create a plan to re-open each state in a way that limits new outbreaks of coronavirus. Among the plans are contact tracing, treatment and social distancing measures.
Cuomo noted that health officials in his state believe they have reached a plateau in cases, which he hailed as relatively good news. He added that a regional approach was necessary to avoid a resurgence in cases.
While everyone is looking forward to re-opening the economy, Cuomo said it was important to do so with a “smart plan” step-by-step, evaluating data at each juncture.
“What the art form is going to be here … is doing that smartly and doing that productively, and doing that in a coordinated way, doing that in coordination with the other states that are in the area, and doing it as a cooperative effort, where we learn from each other.”
The New York governor said it would be important to share information, resources and intelligence.
“No one has done this before,” he said. “No other state has done it before. So, it’s one step forward after research, and consultation with experts. I’m not a public health expert, but this has to be informed by experts and by data. You take one step forward. You see how it works. And then you measure the next step.”
California, Oregon and Washington to band together
On the West Coast, a separate group is aiming to accomplish similar outcomes.
At noon Pacific Time on Tuesday, California will announce what Newsom called a “bottom-up” plan on Tuesday for the easing of restrictions in the state and “targeted interventions” to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That briefing will come hours before Trump is expected to outline the members of his “Opening our Country” task force, setting up a possible clash between the caution the Western-state governors have exhibited so far and Trump’s desire to move quickly to reopen the country.
In what sounded like an implicit warning to Trump, Newsom said numerous times that the decision of the West Coast governors will be driven by facts and science.
“The virus knows no boundaries, knows no borders. You can’t build walls around it and you can’t deny basic fundamental facts,” Newsom said. “We will be driven by facts, we will be driven by evidence will be driven by science will be driven by our hub public health advisers.”
Facing a tough reelection campaign with voters increasingly critical of his response to the virus, Trump has expressed his eagerness to get the economy moving again – with a target of May 1 – predicting a quick rebound at a time when more than 17 million people have filed for unemployment.
But Trump has offered few specifics on how that work. He has refused to acknowledge the problems with coronavirus testing that vary from state to state, proclaiming the US testing system to be better than any in the world – a statement that is not consistent with the facts.
Over the weekend, he suggested that burden lies with governors, even though problems with the initial round of tests sent by the federal government to the states stemmed from a design flaw in the test. Many states have had difficulty procuring the reagents need to carry out the tests, as well as a shortage of lab personnel to process the tests and pin down each diagnosis. Some hospital systems have also reported a high level of false negatives.
“Governors, get your states testing programs & apparatus perfected,” Trump tweeted Sunday night. “Be ready, big things are happening. No excuses! The Federal Government is there to help. We are testing. More than any country in the World. Also, gear up with Face Masks!”
Newsom has been closely collaborating with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown throughout the pandemic. He said the three governors developed the re-opening process and protocol that they will outline on Tuesday because they needed a regional approach in order to slow the pace of coronavirus cases by continuing to practice appropriate social distancing measures.
The partnership that the three West Coast states have been building will be made easier, Newsom said, because of their coordinated effort last year when forest fires ravaged Northern California. Oregon and Washington sent engines south so California could “concentrate our resources in some of the hotspots in Southern California” in the midst of the wildfire season.
When announcing the three-state coordination of the western governors during his midday briefing on Monday, Newsom quoted an old proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”
Newsom said the discussions with the Oregon and Washington governors about metrics for re-opening the economy began at the beginning of last week.
“We began a process of establishing more formally what it would look like and how we could begin the process of the kind of incremental release of the stay at home orders that advanced the fundamental principle of keeping people healthy, keeping people safe, using science to guide our decision making and not political pressure,” Newsom said.
Newsom said that the three states were hoping to expand their protocol in concert with other Western state governors, while continuing to work with East Coast states sharing best practices, as well as lending emergency medical technicians and medical personnel, ventilators and other equipment to battle the Covid-19 epidemic.
The California governor said their aim was to continue “the collaborative spirit that extends well beyond just the West Coast of the United States, forming perspectives and opinions, sharing best practices, and ultimately advancing the cause that unites all of us – and that is reopening our economy and doing so in a safe and strategic and responsible way.”
Other regional pacts could be in the works as well.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told reporters on Monday that he spoke with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers about working together to open those states from their respective stay-at-home orders.
“But the only way that this can happen is if we have widespread testing,” Walz said.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Monday.