America Closes Down: A Third of Citizens Told to Stick to Home

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Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.

New Yorkers and Illinoisans were told that their freedom of movement, and motives for it, would be curtailed drastically: nonessential businesses must close and all but emergency travel is discouraged. Those residents — plus those in California, Connecticut, Nevada and Pennsylvania, all with strict orders of some kind put in place Thursday — compose about one-third of the U.S. population of 328 million.

Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, where early nursing home deaths gripped the nation and cases have climbed to almost 1,400, is set to speak late Friday. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he would issue an order Saturday to close most businesses and potentially drop the 50-person limit on gatherings or perhaps ban them outright.

“The No. 1 opportunity to make a difference here is to flatten the curve,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters in Albany. “The best way to do that is by reducing density — density control, density control valve, right?”

“We’re going to take it to the ultimate step, which is we’re going to close the valve.”

Emulating Asia

The unprecedented intrusion on Americans’ constitutional right to assemble is intended to slow the growth of the novel coronavirus, emulating places like China and South Korea where strict governmental controls helped stymie the infection that has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide.

Slow-to-respond Italy, by comparison, has reported more than 3,400 deaths — more than China’s official tally — including at least a dozen physicians.

The American governors, lacking strong direction from the White House, acted on their own on a day when U.S. cases surpassed 15,000 and more than 200 people had died. President Donald Trump refused to address the anxieties of millions of Americans fearful for their health, homes and livelihoods.

“You’re doing sensationalism,” Trump told an NBC News reporter who asked for the president’s message to a “scared” nation during a White House press conference.

Some governors said the stay-at-home order was the step they had dreaded most. Murphy, of New Jersey, declined to detail just what he had in mind for Saturday’s announcement, saying it was important “to get it right.”

Hanging Loose

Though the limitations were startling by American standards, they reflect the more open nature of U.S. society: Residents aren’t ordered off the streets totally, as they were in Asia, nor will there be house-to-house searches for people with fevers. But governors said they could accomplish the most with social separation.

“The only way we’re going to beat this darn virus is if we literally stay home and stay away from each other,” Murphy said at a news conference in Paramus, where more than 650 people were swabbed at the state’s first drive-through testing center. Hundreds of others were turned away to ensure enough test kits to run a seven-day-a-week operation.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, standing with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, on Friday issued a “stay at home” order to take effect Saturday at 5 p.m. and extended school closings through at least April 8.

“We don’t know yet all the steps we are going to have to take to get this virus under control,” Pritzker said. Illinois confirmed 585 cases and five deaths.

Essential Illinois services, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations, will be allowed to operate for almost 13 million residents. Mass transit will run and garbage be collected. Residents also can go outside and travel open roads.

Lightfoot said the directive wasn’t a lockdown, but said it was “time to do more to flatten the curve,” a reference to the cases’ steep surge in a short time, far more taxing to treat than cases over a prolonged period.

Clampdown Rumors

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the shelter-in-place mandate would be expanded statewide, from 20 counties initially.

“We need some tough decisions,” Newsom said. “We need some straight talk.”

The San Francisco Police Department, meanwhile, debunked rumors that officers were issuing $400 tickets to people not keeping social distance or leaving home without an allowable purpose.

“The SFPD has not issued any citations related to the public health order,” Adam Lobsinger, a spokesman, said in an email. “As always, we continue to educate individuals about these critical protocols designed to help slow the spread of Covid-19.”

— With assistance by Shruti Singh, and Sophie Alexander

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