Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET
Urged by President Trump, states across the country are beginning to eye the next phase of their response to the coronavirus: the cautious process of lifting their widespread restrictions, piece by piece, and returning to a semblance of daily life before the pandemic settled in. But how should that happen — and when?
Three broad coalitions of states — one on the West Coast, one in the Northeast and one in the Midwest — have taken shape to collaborate on their response to the crisis. Among them is Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who is working with at least six neighboring governors in the bipartisan Midwestern partnership.
“It’s something that just naturally occurs,” DeWine told NPR’s Weekend Edition on Saturday, “and during this coronavirus, it’s something that, you know, is even more urgent that we we do — that share these ideas.”
Part of that urgency is coming from the president, whose administration has released guidelines for states considering reopening and who has targeted Democratic governors with tweets calling for them to “LIBERATE” their states. That handful of states includes Virginia, which Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine represents.
Kaine, in an interview with All Things Considered on Saturday, said he considers the tweets an attempt to “foment division in our country in the midst of a global pandemic,” noting that the president is “urging them to protest the social distancing guidelines that his own administration is urging us to follow.”
DeWine downplayed the president’s tweets, saying he doesn’t think Trump is calling for insurrection with the all-caps command to his followers to “liberate” their state from administrations led by his rival party: “You know,” DeWine said, “to fixate on two or three tweets by the president of the United States doesn’t make any doesn’t make any sense to me.”
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Part of the urgency DeWine and his fellow governors feel is also coming from protesters, many of whom dressed in Trump campaign gear, who have flouted state social distancing recommendations and gathered at rallies not only in Ohio but in a number of other states across the country, as well.
Balanced against that pressure are the recommendations of health officials, who have warned that easing social distancing restrictions and allowing nonessential businesses to reopen too quickly — without extensive testing and sufficient medical resources — will merely lead to another deadly surge in coronavirus infections. The U.S. has suffered by far the biggest outbreak in the world, with more than 700,000 confirmed cases and a death toll surpassing 37,000, as of Saturday afternoon.
In Ohio, which has reported more than 9,000 of those confirmed cases, state officials are aiming for a “phased-in reopening of the state economy” beginning May 1.
DeWine said that the protesters “have every right to demonstrate” — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be getting their way.
“I understand the demonstrators. They want to get the economy moving again. No one is more anxious to do that than I am, so I understand where they’re coming from,” he explained.
“But we also have to do it in a rational way. We have to do it in a phased way that protects human life and protects our medical institutions for being totally overrun. So this is a nuanced balance of things that we’re trying to do here.”