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As state-regulated COVID-19 restrictions around the country ease, Americans separated by state and county borders find themselves living increasingly polarized lives. A short, masked walk is currently a great freedom to someone living in New York City while those living in Texas may feel as if life has returned to normal. Most live somewhere in between these two extremes, in a sort of quarantine limbo.
But with stay-at-home orders lifting and business resuming, a new problem has emerged. It’s become difficult to define what it means to be fully “open” and if any one state is more “open” than another. Financial advisory and research site, WalletHub, looked at 11 key metrics to determine which areas had the least restrictions. Factors included whether face masks were recommended or required, if travel was restricted, if there were large-gathering restrictions, if nonessential businesses and schools were allowed to open, and if residents were asked to shelter in place.
The study found that the states with the fewest restrictions were South Dakota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Missouri, and Utah. The areas with the most restrictions were Vermont, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Illinois.
The divide is almost evenly split between red states and blue states. The least restrictive states all voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, and the most restricted states voted in favor of Hillary Clinton, showing that safety precautions around COVID-19 have become increasingly politically disjointed.
Trump’s son Eric took to Fox News this week to claim that coronavirus-related shutdowns were part of a Democratic conspiracy to stop the President from being reelected. “[Former Vice President Joe] Biden loves this. His campaign is thrilled. They think they’re taking away Trump’s greatest tool, which is going into an arena and being able to fill it with 50,000 people,” Eric Trump said. “You watch, they’ll milk it every single day between now and November 3rd. And guess what, after November 3rd, coronavirus will magically go away and disappear, and everybody will be able to reopen. To a lot of them this is a very cognizant strategy that they’re trying to employ.”
The President has also advocated economic reopenings and downplayed the need to wear a mask. In comments made this week, he suggested that even without a vaccine COVID-19 will “go away at some point. It’ll go away.”
In a Rose Garden press conference, the President said that economies should reopen without vaccines: “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back. And we’re starting the process. In many cases, they don’t have vaccines and a virus or a flu comes, and you fight through it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone remain at least six feet apart from people not in their immediate household and cover their mouths and noses with a cloth face cover when around others to prevent the spread of the virus.
Democrats accuse the right of also politicizing the pandemic. “In the wake of disaster, Donald Trump once again showed us who he is—threatening to pull federal funding and encouraging division,” Biden said of Trump’s visit to Michigan on Thursday. “Michigan is in the fight of its life as it battles this pandemic and flooding disaster, and now more than ever, leadership and empathy matter.”
The messaging has trickle-down effects on politicians and voters. A recent study by Pew found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to see the virus in more serious terms. About eight in 10 Democrats and Democratic leaners told Pew that they believe the outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole; only half of Republicans and GOP leaners (52%) said the same. Meanwhile, about 40% of Republicans believe the country is overreacting to the outbreak, while half of Democrats say people across the country are not taking the outbreak seriously enough.
Another poll by Civiqs found that 36% of Republicans are not concerned at all about a coronavirus outbreak in their local area and just 9% are extremely concerned. Only 3% of Democrats, meanwhile, are not concerned at all, and 55% are extremely concerned.
Still, death rates and a lack of restrictions are not always in line. States like Utah and Idaho have few restrictions and low death rates while New York and New Jersey have high restrictions and are among the hardest-hit states. But other Trump voting states, like Iowa, Mississippi, and Alabama, have chosen to limit COVID-19-related restrictions despite having some of the highest death rates in the country owing to COVID-19.
The lack of restrictions and “reopening” of economies also don’t line up with unemployment numbers. South Dakota, the state with the least COVID-19-related restrictions in the country was also the state with the fourth biggest increase in unemployment claims owing to the coronavirus last week. Vermont, meanwhile, which is one of the most restrictive states, was almost at the bottom of the list for increased unemployment claims.
Impartial officials are asking the country to end the politicization of the virus. “My short message is: Please quarantine politicizing COVID,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a United Nations press conference in Geneva. “We should work across party lines, across religious lines. We shouldn’t waste time pointing fingers.”