Coronavirus Lockdowns: Different Approach Needed for Less-Affected Cities & Counties



A pigeon flies down a shuttered and empty Mulberry Street in New York City, April 27, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Not every place in the U.S.A. is the same.

In the coronavirus debate, the word “patchwork” tends to be a pejorative.

The Guardian warned, “U.S. states’ moves to ease coronavirus lockdowns risk dangerous patchwork.”

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Colorado Public Radio wrote of an emerging flexible approach in the Centennial State, “Officials Raise Concerns as State Heads Toward Patchwork of Orders.”

Several weeks ago, MLive in Michigan noted the opinion of the state’s Democratic governor, “Whitmer says ‘patchwork’ response to coronavirus with no national strategy could prolong fight.”

But a country as immense and diverse as ours is inherently a patchwork, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise in our response to the virus.

On Meet the Press yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx sensibly stood up for an approach that takes account of differences from state to state and county to county, “Each state is different. And the reason we made the guidelines [for re-opening] and gating criteria very specific was also — and I’m sure a lot of people have missed the asterisk that said to look not only statewide, but also county by county.” She added that she’s been struck by “how different the outbreaks are from the metro regions, to the rural regions, to the county regions.”

Indeed, if you look at the county data, it’s clear that the emerging state-by-state “patchwork” that has some observers so worried isn’t nearly fine-grained and diverse enough — because regions and localities within states are enormously different, too.

To illustrate the point, consider what might be the 142 most absurdly locked-down counties in America (all drawn from the New York Times data set for the sake of consistency). New York State, along with New Jersey, has been incredibly hard hit, but not all of New York equally. These 12 counties haven’t been hit so hard:

Hamilton, with 3 cases;
Schuyler, 7;
Lewis, 9;
Yates, 17;
Franklin, 14;
Seneca, 38;
Schoharie, 35;
Essex, 30;
Chautauqua, 29;
Cortland, 28;
Cattaraugus, 45;
and Allegany, 35.

In Michigan, where sweeping, arbitrary rules fueled a protest that got national attention, there are 23 counties with no deaths:

Alcona, with 4 cases;
Antrim, 9;
Baraga, 1;
Benzie, 4;
Chippewa, 2;
Houghton, 2;
Huron, 13;
Lake, 2;
Leelanau, 9;
Lenawee, 82;
Luce, 1;
Mackinac, 5;
Manistee, 11;
Mason, 5;
Menominee, 3;
Montmorency, 5;
Newaygo, 15;
Ogemaw, 9;
Osceola, 8;
Oscoda, 4;
Presque Isle, 10;
Roscommon, 13;
and Schoolcraft, 3.

Virginia has already extended its lockdown to June 10, yet has 5 counties with one case (Lancaster, Highland, Floyd, Covington, and Bristol). It has another 35 with 10 or fewer cases:

Craig, with 2 cases;
King and Queen, 2;
Norton, 2;
Patrick, 2;
Rappahannock 2;
Carroll, 3;
Lexington, 3;
Radford, 3;
Russell, 3;
Giles 4;
Lunenburg, 4;
Mathews, 4;
Middlesex, 4;
Surry, 4;
Tazewell, 4;
Galax, 4;
Alleghany, 5;
Buena Vista, 5;
King William, 5;
Rockbridge, 5;
Essex, 6;
Poquoson, 6;
Scott, 6;
Charlotte, 7;
Clarke, 7;
Nelson, 7;
Northumberland, 8;
Amherst, 9;
Salem, 9;
Lee, 8;
Greene, 10;
Cumberland, 10;
Pulaski, 10;
Staunton, 10;
and Waynesboro, 10.

California has a host of counties that aren’t anything like Los Angeles or San Francisco, like these 24:

Humboldt has 53 cases;
Kings, 52;
San Benito, 47;
El Dorado, 42;
Madera, 41;
Nevada, 37;
Shasta, 30;
Sutter, 29;
Mono, 24;
Inyo, 19;
Butte, 16;
Yuba, 16;
Calaveras, 13;
Mendocino, 11;
Amador, 7;
Lake, 6;
Glenn, 5;
Siskiyou, 5;
Plumas, 4;
Colusa, 3;
Tuolumne, 3;
Del Norte, 3;
Alpine, 1;
and Tehama, 1.

In Ohio, which moved quickly to lock down, there are 33 counties with fewer than 20 cases:

Carroll, with 19 cases;
Defiance, 19;
Fulton, 19;
Logan, 18;
Mercer, 18;
Union,  18;
Coshocton, 16;
Guernsey, 15;
Knox, 15;
Hocking, 14;
Fayette, 13;
Perry, 13;
Seneca, 13;
Champaign, 12;
Brown, 11;
Muskingum, 11;
Highland, 9;
Paulding, 8;
Ashland, 6;
Gallia, 6;
Scioto, 6;
Holmes, 5;
Noble, 5;
Adams, 4;
Harrison, 4;
Henry, 4;
Jackson, 4;
Morgan, 4;
Athens, 3;
Pike, 3;
Van Wert, 3;
Monroe, 2;
and Meigs, 2.

Out West, most people in Nevada live in two counties, Clark and Washoe, where almost all the cases are. Consider these 10 others:

Humboldt, with 36 cases;
Carson City, 37;
Nye, 31;
Lyon, 26;
Douglas, 19;
Elko, 12;
Churchill, 3;
White Pine, 3;
Lander, 1;
and Mineral, 1.

You can do this anywhere with state lockdown orders. These are obviously the most extreme examples, but there’s no reason that places with fewer people and different conditions than urban areas should be treated the same as major cities. There is much to argue about in America’s reopening, including what risks we should be willing to take with public health or the economy and what kind of testing regime would be realistic. About this, though, there should be no doubt: We need a “patchwork.”


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