When one of the nation's top health officials this week suggested states dealing with a spring spike of coronavirus cases should “shut things down,” the remark landed with a thud.
Even Democratic governors and lawmakers who supported tough stay-at-home orders and business closures to stem previous COVID-19 outbreaks say they're done with that approach. It's a remarkable turnaround for governors who have said from the beginning of the pandemic that they will follow the science in their decision-making, but it's also a nod to reality: Another round of lockdown orders would likely just be ignored by a pandemic-weary public.
The political dynamics have changed markedly in recent weeks as vaccination rates have grown, warmer weather has returned, and the public and business owners have become increasingly vocal about reopening schools and loosening restrictions around social gatherings.
“I think we have a real compliance issue if we try to go back to the sort of restrictions that were in place in March and April of last year,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat who had supported previous shutdown orders by Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat. “I don’t think there’s any appetite for that in Pennsylvania at all.”
COVID-19 cases have been increasing in Pennsylvania, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows it has one of the highest per capita case counts in the nation over the past week. Even so, Wolf's administration said it “has no plans at this time to reinstitute any shutdown orders." It instead noted that mask-wearing, gathering limits and social distancing remain required as the state gradually reopens.
Other governors also are staying on course to reopen society as they simultaneously expand vaccine eligibility, potentially complicating President Joe Biden's efforts to conquer the pandemic.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has pleaded unsuccessfully with the Biden administration to redirect more vaccine doses to her state as it struggles with the nation's highest COVID-19 case rate. But the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said Monday that vaccines wouldn't immediately quell a surge because they take up to six weeks to take full effect.
“The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test," Walensky said.