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States Without Coronavirus Lockdown Orders Are Under Scrutiny


Most people in the United States by now have been ordered to stay at home - most but not all. Although most states have blanket lockdowns now, some are a patchwork of rules, with cities and counties mandating their own restrictions. And some states have no stay-at-home orders at all. Frank Morris of our member station KCUR in Missouri is reporting on the stay-at-home rules. Hi there, Frank.


INSKEEP: What's it like in your state, Missouri? You're in Kansas City.

MORRIS: Right. Missouri is among a number of states that don't have a blanket stay-at-home order. But cities and counties have imposed them. Kansas City, for instance, and the surrounding counties issued stay-at-home restrictions March 24. St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia - all the most populous parts of the state are under municipal or county stay-at-home orders, even though the governor hasn't imposed one.

INSKEEP: Are there also some states where there are no stay-at-home orders at all, neither a statewide nor locally?

MORRIS: Yeah, that's right, Steve. There are five of those - North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and Iowa. But they're under increasing scrutiny for those decisions. Here's Iowa's governor, Kim Reynolds, who insists that a statewide stay-at-home order is just not necessary now.


KIM REYNOLDS: I can't lock the state down. I can't lock everybody in their home. You know, we have to make sure the supply chain is up and going. We have an essential workforce that has to be available.

MORRIS: In Iowa, cities and counties don't have the constitutional authority to declare a stay-at-home order of any kind. Some have been asking for them, but the governor would be the one to impose one.

INSKEEP: OK, so no local stay-at-home order, no state stay-at-home order. Does that mean there are no restrictions on people's movements or activities at all?

MORRIS: Well, no, not at all, Steve. Just because states don't have a statewide lockdown doesn't mean there aren't any rules. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson made that point pretty forcefully when speaking on WAMU's talk show 1A yesterday. He says there are a lot of piecemeal restrictions.


ASA HUTCHINSON: We have closed schools. We have closed restaurants and bars, except for dine out. We've closed lodges at state parks. We've closed barbershops, massage therapy clinics, spas. We've closed gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, indoor amusement centers...

MORRIS: You get the idea. Hutchinson calls that a targeted approach. And he scoffs at the idea that blanket lockdowns are inherently better.


HUTCHINSON: People are misled by this idea that this stay-at-home order is magical because there's so many exceptions to it in every state.

INSKEEP: Although we are in a situation where White House officials are saying they need better and better social distancing. The number of deaths is increasing in this country. What is stopping states from just going that extra mile, going for the blanket lockdown?

MORRIS: Well, they say they're trying to strike a balance between saving lives and killing businesses. For instance, South Dakota Senator John Thune represents a state without a lockdown. And though a statewide stay-at-home order is not his call, he appears to empathize with the difficulty in making it.

JOHN THUNE: It really has attention. And it's a hard thing to come to grips with because businesses want to survive. You want to see them survive. But I think that, you know, the advice you have to give, whether you live in a small town or a big town, is if you're gathering in big groups, you're taking a big risk.

INSKEEP: Well, that thing about the big risk is certainly true because we've seen in other states that had small amounts of cases a couple of weeks ago now have a large amount of cases.

MORRIS: Absolutely, Steve. Medical professionals say that statewide stay-at-home orders check the spread of the virus in and between states and ultimately curb the death toll. And Joshua Sharfstein, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, says we're on the verge of overwhelming the U.S. health care system.

JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: We're looking at more people sick than our hospitals have the capability to take care of. This is a moment to be really convincing your friends and neighbors to take it seriously because everyone's life, at some level, may depend on it.

MORRIS: And that's the message we're hearing from medical professionals everywhere. This virus doesn't respect state borders.

INSKEEP: Frank Morris of KCUR in Kansas City, thanks.

MORRIS: You bet, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.