Progress in some states on COVID-19, but don’t pop the champagne yet

There's been some progress since U.S. PIRG and health experts across the country called on decision makers to shut down, start over, and do it right to contain COVID-19, but it's far too early to celebrate. 


Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

In mid-July, U.S. PIRG partnered with health professionals across the country to send a clear message to America’s decision makers: shut down, start over, and do it right to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). At that time, COVID-19 cases were raging uncontrolled across much of the country. More than a month later, there’s been some progress, but it’s far too early to head out to a bar for a celebratory drink. 

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s changed since we initially sent our open letter to state governors, the Trump Administration and Congress. 

Health professionals continue to raise their voices across the country

  • Nearly 1,400 health professionals from 48 states have signed our open letter to America’s decision makers urging them to shut down, start over, and do it right.
  • The letter continues to provoke public awareness and conversation, including in this recent USA Today piece. Dr. Krutika Kuppalli and Dr. Maura McLaughlin also placed opinion editorials in the Mercury News and the Roanoke Times, respectively, calling on their governors to act. 

Several states take action to slow virus spread 

  • California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a tiered reopening plan based on each county’s risk of community transmission of the virus. Counties in the “widespread” transmission category will have more stringent restrictions, including closures of bars and indoor dining. Counties in the lower tiers can reopen further. Check out our full statement here. 
  • U.S. PIRG re-delivered our open letter to Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige, emphasizing that recent half measures wouldn’t fully address the state’s surge in cases. Last week, the governor went further, issuing a temporary stay-at-home order, and mandating the closure of non-essential businesses. He’s also committed to ramping up testing, contact tracing and isolation efforts during that time to contain future outbreaks.
  • Since we initially delivered our letter to state governors, at least six states, including Wisconsin, Maryland, and Mississippi, have either established or expanded their mask mandates. At least ten states, including Washington, North Carolina, and Illinois, have paused or rolled back their reopening plans. 

It’s not time to get complacent

  • As Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted recently, COVID-19 has gone from “very high levels to high levels in much of the U.S., but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security—danger is still very present.”
  • Key metrics show the situation in Arizona is improving, but the state still hasn’t hit the benchmarks public health experts set for effectively suppressing the virus. Despite that, parts of the state are already lifting some restrictions
  • An indoor wedding in Maine, a state with consistently low COVID-19 numbers, has sparked the state’s largest outbreak. The wedding has now been linked to more than 100 infections from one end of the state to the other. 
  • According to the Covid Exit Strategy Map, nineteen of the U.S. states are seeing uncontrolled spread of the virus, while only six states are in the trending better category. 

Setting the record straight

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration, took aim at the notion that the United States should push for herd immunity on COVID-19, similar to Sweden’s approach. Simply put, such a move would result in thousands, if not millions of lives lost unnecessarily. 
  • Some economists and health professionals worry that shutdowns are too blunt and not an effective long-term strategy for containing the virus. Shutdowns are not a strategy in and of themselves. Shutdowns are only effective at breaking chains of transmission and bringing case loads down quickly. We also need to have robust testing, contact tracing, and isolation protocols to contain future outbreaks once the economy reopens. It’s not shut down OR prioritize testing. It’s both.

Moving forward, we’ll continue to push our elected officials to make the hard calls in order to save lives. 


Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

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