Southern governors may form a deadly 'Confederacy of Dunces' to restart their economies amid a pandemic: report

Southern governors may form a deadly 'Confederacy of Dunces' to restart their economies amid a pandemic: report
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, photo via Twitter.

Amid a leadership vacuum in DC, governors in neighboring states on the East and West Coasts and in the Midwest have formed alliances to coordinate their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They're working with public health experts to navigate the delicate task of easing up social distancing measures as soon as it's appropriate to do so.

According to Politico, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told Fox News that he's been in discussion with his counterparts in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi to go the opposite route, re-opening their economies even as public health experts warn that doing so will likely cause a "perfect storm" of illness and death.

The newly formed coalition includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, a part of the country that has underfunded health systems, as well as high rates of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses that amplify the deadliness of the coronavirus.

And unlike their peers in New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states that have been working cooperatively since last week to restart their economies, the six in the South have lagged on testing and social distancing measures.

“If you put these states together, there is a perfect storm for a massive epidemic peak later on,” said Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. “The Southeast region is not known for having the best health record. Diabetes and heart disease come to mind. I am very concerned about how our states will do it.”

And in addition to being especially susceptible to serious illness and death from COVID-19, these states are also way behind the curve in testing.

As of Tuesday morning, the six states had collectively tested about one-tenth of 1 percent of their total populations. Mississippi, which ranks 15th nationally in testing, had the group’s best testing rate at 1.7 percent of its population. Georgia was the lowest, with a testing rate of less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent, or 42nd in the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

By comparison, the coalition of seven states in the Northeast has a collective testing rate twice that of the Southeast, having swabbed more than two-tenths of 1 percent of their collective population.

Five of the seven states included in the Northeastern coalition are in the top 15 nationally in per-capita testing.

There is no serious debate about whether we should be reopening schools and businesses or containing the pandemic. Nobody wants to maintain social distancing for longer than it takes to get the infection rate down and adequate testing and contact-tracing in place to do so safely. We know from past outbreaks that cities that imposed lockdown measures not only had fewer infections, their economies also rebounded more quickly than those which adopted a more relaxed approach. We face a choice between a deeper public health crisis and more economic pain, or less human suffering and a milder recession. These governors appear poised to go with the first option.

DeSantis is a Trumpian character, and it's unclear whether this alliance will come together or he was merely braying when he mentioned the move on "Fox & Friends." If it does, and they yield to pressure from the White House to jump-start their economies over the warnings of epidemiologists, it's clearly going to end in disaster.

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