PHOENIX — As the U.S. goes through the most lethal phase of the coronavirus outbreak yet, governors and local officials in hard-hit parts of the country are showing little willingness to impose any new restrictions on businesses to stop the spread.
And unlike in 2020, when the debate over lockdowns often split along party lines, both Democratic and Republican leaders are signaling their opposition to forced closings and other measures.
Some have expressed fear of compounding the heavy economic damage inflicted by the outbreak. Some see little patience among their constituents for more restrictions 10 months into the crisis. And some seem to be focused more on the rollout of the vaccines that could eventually vanquish the threat.
The most notable change of tune came from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who imposed a tough shutdown last spring as the state became the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.
“We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open,” Cuomo said this week as confirmed infections in the state climbed to an average of 16,000 a day and deaths reached about 170 per day.
Theaters remain closed and there is no indoor dining in New York City, but Cuomo said Tuesday that if a system of rapid virus tests could be developed, it could allow those things to return safely.
In Arizona, where the pandemic is raging, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has been steadfast in his opposition to a statewide mask mandate or the closing of bars, gyms and restaurant dining despite repeated calls from hospital leaders to take such steps. And high school officials voted Tuesday to allow winter sports, reversing a decision made four days earlier to cancel the season.
“If we’re really all in this together, then we have to appreciate that for many families ‘lockdown’ doesn’t spell inconvenience; it spells catastrophe,” Ducey said.
Governors in other hot spots, including Texas, have expressed similar sentiments, while other states are loosening restrictions even as the U.S. death toll closes in on 380,000 and cases top 22.7 million. Deaths nationwide are running at more than 3,200 a day on average. Minnesota allowed in-person dining to resume this week, Michigan is set to do the same, and some bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area are extending their hours. Nevada, meanwhile, is extending restrictions on restaurants that were set to expire Friday.
In Kansas, the state’s largest school district with 47,000 students plans to resume in-person learning.
In Idaho, where many lawmakers refuse to wear masks in the statehouse, a federal judge on Tuesday said he won’t order stricter coronavirus precautions while a lawsuit moves forward from two legislators concerned about being exposed.
Even in states with strict measures in place, such as California, people are flouting the rules. On Monday, as intensive care units in Southern California found themselves jammed with patients, people packed beaches in San Diego to see this week’s high surf, many standing less than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart with no masks.
Other Americans have ignored the rules as well. U.S. tourists flocked to Mexico’s Caribbean coast over Christmas and New Year’s, while thousands of University of Alabama football fans crowded into bars Monday night to celebrate the school’s national championship. More than 9.3 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a slow rollout for a campaign that will have to inoculate perhaps 85% percent of the population, or close to 300 million people, to conquer the outbreak. On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced plans to speed things up by releasing practically twice as much vaccine, instead of holding large quantities in reserve to make sure that people received the required second dose on time.