U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams issued a stern warning about the coming week. “Well, it’s tragically fitting that we’re talking at the beginning of Holy Week because this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”
Adams continued, “It’s why we put out these ‘30 days to stop the spread’ guidelines. These are essentially our national stay-at-home order. And we’re working with governors to figure out their needs, their desires.”
Arkansas is one of the nine states that has not issued a stay-at-home order. On Sunday Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson again resisted the call to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. This will not earn him much praise, but it should. As David Marcus has written here, “Even just discussing the relaxation of quarantine, social distancing, closed restaurants and bars carries with it enormous political risk right now. But the safest option is not always the best one.”
Marcus goes on to point out that leadership isn’t measured by following the plan. If there were simply a set of instructions for how to move forward, we wouldn’t need leaders. But there isn’t such a plan, and we do need leadership, now especially.
You cannot put a price on life, but you also can’t just grind people down with a closed economy and hope for the best. Given that the popular strategy right now is to shut everything down, Hutchinson is showing the leadership states need.
When asked about the surgeon general’s statements, Hutchinson responded that the trendline in Arkansas isn’t as severe as it is in largely urban hotspots. He also praised state citizens for practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
In other words, he isn’t going to be cowed into issuing a stay-at-home order and risk further hobbling the state’s economy. Rather, he brought a business and community leaders to discuss the help they’re offering people who are suffering economically. He also reiterated that Arkansas’ response needs to be tailored to Arkansas.
Lost in the conversation about our national response is that we’re a nation of states, each with differing population densities and methods of transportation. New York isn’t Arkansas isn’t California.
Given that Arkansas isn’t a densely populated area, the spread of the virus here has been below projections. People are socially distancing absent a stay-at-home order. Businesses and other organizations that remain open are responding with voluntary measures to slow the spread. A local brewery will even let you order and pay online and send a mask- and gloves-wearing driver to drop beer on your doorstep.
At present, most are ignoring regional differences and instead focusing on national trends. And the national trends certainly look bad, but they paint an incomplete picture.
As Matt Shapiro wrote on Twitter (and the entire thread is worth reading), “Looking at the data by country is a view that simply does not reflect how this thing is spreading in the US. It just does not. It misses regional differences, response efficacy, population size of the US, the fact that we have multiple concurrent infection curves.”
In Arkansas, Hutchinson isn’t looking at the data by country, but at the state level, which is what he was elected to do. In other words, Hutchinson is exhibiting leadership, even though people will disagree with him. It’s what leaders are supposed to do, even when what’s popular is following the herd.
What America needs now isn’t a national strategy, but more local leaders to offer similar levels of courage and leadership. Arkansas’ governor shows one way that actual leaders, and not followers, can do just that. Let’s hope that becomes more popular than taking the path of least resistance.