Cities are not “magically” opening up
Cases are down (for now)! This is good news!
Earlier this week, I observed that conservatives seem over-eager to claim a double-standard over easing “lockdowns” under Joe Biden.
The theory—rarely articulated in detail it out sounds preposterous spelled out—is that Democratic politicians locked down in an effort to hurt Trump, who lost reelection almost three months ago. Now that Biden is President, Democrats are “magically” fine with letting people go to restaurants.
I have a simpler theory: in most places, cases have peaked and hospitalizations are declining, so these jurisdictions have allowed more business to reopen.
This theory has the virtue of reflecting reality: almost every “reopening” cited by COVID skeptics unwinds restrictions first imposed after the November 3 election—i.e. restrictions that could not possibly have been imposed to hurt Trump.
I do not understand why conservatives complain about these reopenings. In all cases these represent the second round of reopenings. All of these places previously reopened to the same level they are now during the Trump administration. Mayors and governors responded to rising cases in November by imposing restrictions, and conditions have since improved. Even if you think lockdowns “don’t work,” they were earnestly imposed in an effort to save lives (as they have been around the world)—not because of who occupies the Oval Office.
It should be good news states are reopening! It may be short-lived. Due to the new strains, I bet some of these places will lock down again.
Anyhow, let’s walk through each supposed example of Democratic hypocrisy.
[Added 1/26] After writing this post, another state loosened restrictions, which is also claimed to be because of Biden. Like the others, the political theory makes no sense: Gavin Newsom imposed a state-wide stay-at-home order effective December 7 when daily cases were high and rising. I honestly do not understand commentary like this:
If California concluded that over 25,000 cases per day and rising hospitalizations were intolerable, they would have closed and opened exactly when they did—especially considering fears about the Christmas holiday and accompanying travel. From the perspective of virus mitigation, it makes perfect sense.
But from the perspective of politics, what’s Newsom’s angle on restricting his neighbors and sabotaging his state’s tax base in a safe one-party state on December 7, and then ending the restriction January 25?
This one is the most clearly non-Trump-related, but it’s weirdly the most commonly-cited example. What actually happened? Illinois set metrics for reopening in advance, and then those metrics were met.
Jeremy Horpedahl 🍞🔕 @jmhorp@PhilWMagness Seems to clearly be based on positivity rates and hospital numbers. Again, I am not saying there is any scientific basis for these thresholds. But they seem to pretty clearly be using data they precommitted to, rather than who is in the White House https://t.co/7cxqiiamBD
I covered this a little in my Jan. 17 article. Contrary to some right-wing imagination, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot never wanted dining rooms closed when the state forced her hand in late October. Lightfoot was mugged by reality as cases surged through November, so she let the issue slide until last week.
January 15, Lightfoot against begged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow Chicago to open dining rooms—as she did before the election. The governor responded that Chicago would first have to meet the criteria the Health Department set up for reopening. Saturday, it did. “Chicago and suburban Cook County Tier 2 mitigations with three consecutive days of positivity rates below 8%.”
These reopening criteria—low test positivity, over 20% hospital capacity and declining hospitalizations were set months ago when the ban was imposed.
The metrics are arbitrary, but they weren’t met because Biden became president. The situation actually improved.
Baltimore’s newly-elected mayor closed all restaurant for dine-in on December 11, after the election of course. The city still faces high levels of community spread and deaths. Daily deaths in Baltimore (and Maryland) are almost as bad as they were in the April/May peak. That said, hospitalizations have plateaued, and cases are down even though testing is up (the positivity rate is significantly lower):
As with all the other “reopenings,” Baltimore’s new restrictions are actually pretty onerous. It imposes a 25% indoor capacity cap and one-hour limit per customer (preventing long nights with many rounds of drinks). Many businesses remain unviable under these restrictions.
Elsewhere in Maryland, Montgomery Country chose to extend its dining room ban last week, apparently persuaded more by the high case count than Biden’s inauguration. Likewise, restaurants in Montgomery County remain closed as they have been since December 15—well after the election.
It’s certainly reasonable to second-guess any of these decisions, but given the timing Democratic TDS didn’t cause them.
Critics have also cited Massachusetts, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to lift a 9:30 pm restaurant curfew effective January 25. Once again, the curfew was imposed after the election Trump lost, on November 6. (While Baker is Republican, he’s NeverTrump, so let’s assume for the sake of argument he wanted to hurt Trump.)
Baker cited the drop in cases and hospitalization since January 1 as a reason to loosen restrictions. Cases have dropped.
It’s true that cases remain much higher than when the curfew was imposed, but the trajectory is currently good. If it gets worse, I’d expect Baker to reverse.
Clay Travis sarcastically remarked it “is probably just coincidental” Gretchen Whitmer announced bars & restaurants can reopen. Formerly respectable think tank wonk Jeffrey Tucker likewise sarcastically commented on the decision.
Biden’s inauguration is in fact coincidental, unless you have a theory that explains how Whitmer was trying to hurt Trump by ordering dining rooms closed on November 16 after Trump already lost the state.
In November and December, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths looked bad. Now hospitalizations are down almost 50% from the peak and even the most-lagging indicator (death) has obviously rounded the corner.
Like Illinois, this isn’t a close call. The situation is clearly better; all three metrics are better than they were when bars and restaurant dining closed:
Dine-in resumes February 1, but only at 25% capacity; this isn’t a full “green light.”
New York lost a lawsuit, folks.
Dine-in service in Albany and Erie didn’t get restored to help Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s buddy Biden, but because a judge signaled the state would lose.
As with other examples, these restrictions were imposed after the presidential election (not that Trump could have won New York anyway). Dining rooms remain closed in New York City since December 11, having been allowed for only about two months with limited capacity and hours prior to that date.
While Gov. Cuomo appears to have shifted his focus toward allowing businesses to open, as I noted in my Sunday article this seems to have been a gradual evolution unconnected to Trump’s election. For example, the state and city prioritized reopening New York City schools in person, which started December 7 with elementary schools.
Ok, this one looks irresponsible.
That said, D.C.’s restrictions make little sense from a “get Trump” perspective. The district only imposed restrictions on December 23, and D.C. was never electorally close (and neighboring states were also considered safe for Biden). It’s hard to imagine how these restrictions could hurt Trump.
To be fair, perhaps Mayor Muriel Bowser was concerned that a bunch of seditionist mask refuseniks would swarm her city and spread disease if businesses were open for dining. If so: good call! But probably not.
The truth seems to be more disappointing in terms of local leadership: likely D.C. was simply following Maryland counties.
Now that Baltimore opened, the district seems to be following suit, even though conditions appear worse than when the restrictions were imposed.
Don’t be surprised if some of these places close dining rooms again
Restrictions have been imposed on businesses around the world due to this pandemic. This happens because we face a deadly disease. Conservatives should not casually imbibe dark and toxic partisan thoughts that politicians have saddled their neighbors with costly policies in an effort to implausibly hurt Trump or Republicans.
Unfortunately, I think the virus may prove my point by forcing another round of closures in Biden’s term. SARS-CoV-2 has learned new tricks in South Africa and England. The new strains appear to be much more infectious than the types afflicting most of the United States right now, so cases likely rise again.
If they do, and if restrictions again tighten, I hope folks like Clay Travis, Ted Cruz, and Jeffrey Tucker understand that it isn’t happening to score political points in an election that already happened months ago.
We resort to closures because human beings appropriately regard life as precious, and we don’t have very many tools to pump the breaks on a virus, but closures are one.
We can disagree about policy and tradeoffs, but for the love of God stop assuming its about Trump.