State, Local Governments React to Coronavirus

State, Local Governments React to Coronavirus

( – President Donald Trump’s declaration establishing a National State of Emergency in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will free up to $50 billion in federal funds. Much, if not most, of that money, will go to state and local governments to fight the spread at ground zero.

Schools and Gatherings

As the illness continues to spread, governors across the country have issued orders to create social distancing to try and arrest contamination. To that end, many states have closed down both K-12 and college classrooms.

For example in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine has declared that all public, private, and charter schools be closed for a three week period. In some cases, this will end up being an extension of their already scheduled Spring Break, but it is still causing some concern among parents, who will have to find additional child care.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has closed City Hall to visitors, banned gatherings of more than 50 people on city-owned property, and declared all government meetings would be conducted via voice or video conference calls. NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio also declared a State of Emergency that will cause the stage lights on Broadway to go dark for at least one month.

Potential Overreach

As with any large scale disaster, Americans understand that some of their rights may be curtailed. Nighttime curfews and, as now, restrictions on public assemblies are common and reasonable. But the need for vigilance among the citizens needs to be sharpened at the same time.

In Champaign, Illinois, the city government has broadened its powers in light of the crisis. At issue, however, are some of the specifics (which are only there “just in case” of course) are somewhat concerning, such as these authorities. The government can:

  • Take possession of private property and obtain full title to same
  • Prohibit or restrict entry and egress to and from the City
  • Shutoff of power, water, gas, and other utilities

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order allows for the takeover of privately owned hotels/motels to house and quarantine infected persons. While it is far too early to tell if this situation will lead to any abuses of Constitutional freedoms, keeping an eye on what the various jurisdictions are doing is important.

Tribal Lands

According to the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), there are 326 separate Native American reservations within the borders of the United States. Because each tribe is a sovereign nation unto itself with treaty relationships with traditional governments, the impact of these emergency declarations on them is unclear.

On the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the possibility of mixed levels of medical care exists within the confines of the reservation. Some clinics are run by the federal Indian Health Service (IHS), while others are operated by the Arapaho Nation. The Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan has said they have no testing kits. As a tribe running two casinos (one now temporarily closed), the risk of outside contamination is elevated.

The unprecedented spread of this disease will require a massive response by, and cooperation among, federal, state, and local governments and their citizens. The fear that is spreading due to the overwhelming amount of information (and misinformation) on the internet and social media can cause havoc if people start to panic.

We need to walk the fine line between cautious awareness and hysteria, and that hasn’t always been easy if history is any indication. Let’s hope the information superhighway can spread calm as quickly as it has spread panic.

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