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What Are Lockdowns Good For? States with Opposite COVID Strategies Have Nearly Identical Virus Rates

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Nearly a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nation’s first statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus, masks remain mandated, indoor dining and other activities are significantly limited, and Disneyland remains closed.

Florida, on the other hand, has no statewide restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people for not wearing masks. And Disney World has been open since July.

Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have seen almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.

The states have both had a COVID-19 case rate of around 8,900 per 100,000 residents since the pandemic began, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And both rank somewhere in the middle for death rates — Florida was 27th as of Friday; California was 28th.

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Connecticut and South Dakota are another example. Both rank among the 10 worst states for COVID-19 death rates.

Yet Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, imposed numerous statewide restrictions over the past year, while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, issued none.

While Lamont ordered quarantines for certain out-of-state visitors, Noem launched a $5 million tourism advertising campaign and welcomed people to a massive motorcycle rally.

“Even in a pandemic, public health policy needs to take into account people’s economic and social well-being,” Noem said at a recent conservative convention.

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Lamont recently announced that he is lifting capacity limits at retail stores, restaurants and other facilities, effective March 19. But bars that don’t serve food will remain closed and a mask mandate will continue.

“This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi. This is Connecticut,” Lamont said, referring to other states that recently lifted mask mandates.

“We’re finding what works is wearing the mask, social distancing and vaccinations,” he said.

As new COVID-19 cases decrease nationally, governors in more than half the states have taken action during the past two weeks to end or ease coronavirus lockdowns.

Some capacity limits ended Friday in Maryland and Oklahoma. Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Wyoming are relaxing restrictions in the coming week.

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Meanwhile, Californians are organizing a recall effort against Newsom that has drawn over 2 million signatures from people frustrated with his long-lasting limits on businesses and churches. Newsom also faces intense pressure over public school closures and the glacial pace of getting them reopened.

“From the earliest days of this pandemic, California trusted in science and data, and we met the moment,” Newsom said in his State of the State address last week.

He added: “We’re not going to change course just because of a few naysayers and doomsayers.”

In his own State of the State address, DeSantis argued that Florida was in better shape than others because its businesses and schools are open.

Florida’s unemployment rate ranked below the national average, and significantly lower than California’s, at the start of this year.

“While so many other states kept locking people down over these many months, Florida lifted people up,” DeSantis said.

Like Florida, Missouri has no statewide mask mandate, ended business restrictions last June and has a cumulative COVID-19 death rate similar to California’s.

In the absence of statewide orders, many of the largest cities in Florida and Missouri imposed their own mask requirements and business restrictions. In Missouri, that meant about half the population was still subject to mask mandates.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has touted “a balanced approach” to the pandemic that left many public health decisions up to local officials and allowed Missouri’s economy “to come back strong.”

New COVID-19 cases and unemployment are both low, and consumer spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels, Parson said this past week.


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