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Today’s read: 10 minutes.
Every state is now easing lockdown restrictions in at least one county, a question about Georgia vs. Colorado and a story about remote work. Check out this map from The New York Times:
Readers push back.
My inbox has been full this week (and I’m still clearing the decks), but I wanted to publish a few responses. First, responding to Monday’s reader question (which included my explanation of why I trusted top news outlets like NYT, WSJ and WaPo) Rob from Washington D.C. and Josh from Owasso, Oklahoma wrote in to note I had left something out: the journalistic malpractice of misleading headlines. While answering a question about how I trust news, I hadn’t mentioned that.
This was a fair point, as misleading headlines are probably the most common kind of journalistic malpractice in today’s environment. I don’t have much to say about them except that they’re awful, typically an attempt to drive traffic and I hate them as much as the next guy. I’ll do my best to keep them out of Tangle.
Frank from Decatur, Georgia took issue with this sentence I wrote in yesterday's newsletter: “Trump is right to criticize the WHO’s initial response. It was, arguably, worse than his own response, which has also been a mess.”
He emailed me yesterday, asking rhetorically, “Can you point me to the WHO recommendations concerning injecting bleach into your body or taking a drug that has no correlation with curing Covid-19 and has already killed people who have taken it?… While their [WHO] response was very bad, it is not in the same galaxy as going on a 350 million person soapbox and saying to literally drink bleach. Also, using ‘arguably’ as the qualifier for a sentence like that is just the sort of hemming and hawing I come to Tangle to avoid. You can say 'arguably...' about nearly anything as long as you are willing to look like a jerk while defending an abhorrent position.” I’ll let Frank’s email speak for itself!
What D.C. is talking about.
The easing of quarantine guidelines. Coronavirus has killed 91,900 Americans and more than 1.5 million people have been infected. But as of today, every state in America has eased restrictions in at least one county or announced a plan to ease restrictions in the coming days. Connecticut lifted its stay-at-home order today, making it one of the last states to do so. In Washington D.C., the stay-at-home order will remain in place until June.
In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he has gone the furthest, announcing a total lift on restrictions for all businesses by the end of the week, meaning bars, restaurants and gyms will return to full capacity. “It will all be open, just like it was prior to the virus,” Dunleavy said. In Michigan, stay-at-home orders are in effect until May 28th, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is allowing manufacturing and auto workers back to work and some restaurants in some counties can begin reopening May 22nd.
In Georgia and Florida, two of the most-watched states, Republican governors moved even faster than the White House advised. Both opened entertainment businesses (bowling, movie theaters, etc), food and drink establishments, and personal care businesses like hair salons, all at limited capacities and with some requirements (like screening workers for fever).
In Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has followed a similar path, reopening retail businesses, restaurants, hair salons and movie theaters all at limited capacities. Rural regions of New York, the epicenter of the virus, are now slowly coming back online. At the same time, politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are encouraging New Yorkers to get free COVID-19 tests that are available at local CityMD’s, and New York’s previously canceled primary has been reinstated for June 23rd.
What the right is saying.
In some corners, there’s something of a victory lap being taken. Trump and the national issues aside, Republican governors who were demonized for wanting to reopen are asking for follow-ups on how they’re doing. When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp began reopening businesses, he was excoriated by liberals. “Front-Runner for Country’s Dumbest Governor to Reopen Essential Bowling Alleys, Nail Salons Friday,” one Vanity Fair headline read.
It’s been nearly a month since, and none of the mass death or mass infections in Georgia that were predicted by liberals have materialized. In Florida, a similar dynamic has played out. Gov. Ron DeSantis was blasted for everything from reopening beaches to quarantining New York residents arriving in Florida who had fled the epicenter. Politico wrote last week that “DeSantis looks more right than those who criticized the Sunshine State’s coronavirus response,” and on Monday wrote that “mass deaths and hospitalizations never materialized.”
William McGurn wrote a story in The Wall Street Journal on Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University who was mocked and accused of endangering his students for inviting them back to campus on March 16th. “The doomsday predicted when Mr. Falwell announced Liberty students would return after spring break never came to pass,” the editorial board wrote. Instead, 1,200 students returned to campus while thousands of others simply opted for online classes. One tested positive for COVID-19, no staff or students died, and the story has largely disappeared from the press.
What the left is saying.
There are a lot of dire premonitions and concerns. Of course, most Americans want the economy to restart — so even in hard-hit places like New York, there are Democrats supporting an easing of restrictions. But at the most basic level, many liberals are concerned that reopenings in states like Georgia, Florida, Texas and Colorado have happened too soon — and are moving with too few precautions now. Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times that coronavirus is a “heat-seeking missile designed to frustrate progress in almost every corner of society,” arguing that even with 90,000 dead the worst is yet to come.
It’d be one thing, many on the left argue, if less-impacted areas were opening with caution and organization. Instead, a culture war is brewing about wearing masks and the flat-earther, “Obamagate,” anti-vax crowd is rallying into a dangerous group of Americans willing to put others at risk for their “freedom.” Instead of mass testing and national CDC protocols — which the Trump administration killed — every state and business is moving at their own pace with their own rules.
And, of course, the issue of testing isn’t just a concern in cities. 68% of rural counties with fewer than 10,000 residents and 54% of all counties have no testing sites. Outside of New York City, and in states like Georgia and Florida, Democrats say the numbers haven’t exploded because there aren’t enough people being tested. And just a week out from some reopenings, or with the reopenings happening as we speak, we’re going to see the explosion of cases soon.
Finally, the mobility trends: Nate Silver and others on the left have noted that while states reopen, people still aren't moving about freely. That’s one explanation for why we haven’t seen explosions of COVID-19 in places like Georgia, where cell phone data shows residents have only really begun leaving their houses in the last week.
At the federal level, I wrote last week about all the things Trump could have done differently. Not much has changed since then, and I think the federal response to COVID-19 — with 92,000 people dead, nearly 2 million infected, the virus still spreading and unthinkable economic carnage — can be described as an abject failure. But when it comes to some Republican governors, their victory laps may very well be in order — soon.
Kemp, DeSantis and other Republican governors who pushed for reopenings or allowed things like beaches to open up in March and April were absolutely eviscerated. Plenty of Twitter pundits accused them of killing their own citizens. Even Trump was cautious about attaching himself to Kemp. But WSJ, Politico and other honest brokers are right: many of those dire predictions haven’t come to pass.
Will they? It’s still very possible. The mobility tracking apps have shown that, despite the “reopenings,” people in Florida and Georgia and elsewhere haven’t actually been moving around that much. There’s also the data we have on transmissions, which seems to indicate outdoor activities are far, far safer than being inside. So maybe beaches and store drop-ins won’t cause outbreaks, but indoor dining has only started in earnest over the last week or two — so what will happen then?
I often talk about “balls and strikes,” and I’m still far from ready to make a call here (I am planning to launch a section called “balls and strikes” soon, though, where I revisit arguments from a few months ago). But if you’re comparing the handling of COVID-19 between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, it’s hard to find a metric where Cuomo has done better. Sure, New York is a uniquely awful place to be for a contagious virus, and there’s no way to know whether DeSantis could have done Cuomo’s job better than he did. But the adulation for Cuomo has little attachment to the actual results he’s produced in New York.
Many on the right have posited that the response in New York City never needed to be the response elsewhere, and plenty of liberals outside the Big Apple have felt that way too. Even with the left’s argument that people still aren’t coming out, the right’s response is obvious: that’s what freedom and personal choice is all about.
It was true before and it is true now that social distancing, lockdowns and quarantine will always be impossible to defend. If the measures didn’t work, opponents would have framed them as an unnecessary government overreach that destroyed the economy. Now that those measures may have slowed the spread, opponents will say the lockdowns were an unnecessary government overreach that destroyed the economy. But if the data stays where it is over the next month as people return to “normal” in Florida, Georgia or other Republican-led states, the governors who were crucified for allowing parts of their states and counties to stay open a month or two ago will rightly ask for apologies as other states join them now — all without the huge predicted outbreaks. And it’ll be hard to make a case why those apologies aren’t in order.
- Michigan announced a state of emergency after two dams were breached under the weight of slow-moving rainstorms that have been hammering the midwest. Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate, making it one of the first national disasters in the U.S. to occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked that evacuees try to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, even though she acknowledged it could be impossible.
- President Trump threatened to withhold funding from Michigan, claiming the state was “illegally” sending millions of “absentee ballots” out to voters ahead of the 2020 election. I know the left and right have lots of opinions on voter fraud, but I want to share a mini “my take” here: Michigan did not send out 7.7 million absentee ballots. The state sent out applications for absentee ballots, which are supported by Republicans and Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state. Michigan is also suffering from historic floods while fighting off some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. I’m sorry, but threatening to pull federal funds from the state during a time like that, all for the crime of making voting more accessible, is horrific and should be classified as such.
- Steve Linick, the State Department Inspector General who was fired last week, had apparently been investigating the Trump administration’s emergency declaration to bypass a Congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Previously, it was reported that Linick was looking into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s personal use of a State Department employee, and Democrats had said that’s why he was removed from his post. Pompeo declined to be interviewed by Linick for his investigation in the Saudi arm sales, indicating he was aware of its existence. Pompeo then asked the president to remove Linick, saying he was undermining the State Department’s mission.
- The full contents of former national security advisor Susan Rice’s email to herself have been declassified. Republicans say the email shows evidence that President Obama had ordered the FBI to spy on the new Trump administration. Democrats say Rice’s memorialization of the conversation shows Obama was trying to do things “by the book” and simply wanted to know if it was safe to turn over classified information to incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn. For a left-leaning narrative, you can read Politico’s coverage here and for a right-leaning narrative, you can read Fox News’s coverage here.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.
Q: Can you compare Georgia’s reopening to Colorado’s?
— Russell, Denver, CO
Tangle: Obviously, I touched on this a bit in today’s main story, but I thought it’d make it simple to include an answer to this question as well.
Generally speaking, the reopenings in Georgia and Colorado have been pretty similar. When both began planning to ease social distancing restrictions in late April, they announced they’d keep schools, bars and nightclubs closed. But they were allowing gyms, salons, tattoo parlors, and elective medical procedures to start back up again — all with certain guidelines in place (like masks, reduced capacity, etc). Perhaps the biggest difference was Georgia allowing restaurants and dining rooms to open as long as they followed 39 guidelines — like screening employees for illnesses and limiting capacity to no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis says he hopes restaurants can open by end of May but made no promises. When Colorado eased restrictions, Gov. Polis emphasized curbside retail deliveries and the fact workplaces would be operating at half capacity. Much like Atlanta leaders in Georgia, the Denver mayor responded to the state’s reopening by saying it needed more time to expand testing and contact tracing before easing social distancing measures. When Georgia reopened some businesses, Gov. Brian Kemp emphasized screening workers for fevers and said it would not be “business as usual” — but much of the focus was on identifying and isolating sick workers.
To be frank, one of the biggest differences in the easing of restrictions was how they were covered nationally. Kemp had a contentious election win and has been abrasive with the press in Georgia — and at times gung-ho about COVID-19 — so when he began easing restrictions there was loads of criticism. Polis has been careful about his language and is relatively friendly with the press, and when he began easing restrictions there was far less criticism of Colorado from national media outlets.
Still, the biggest contrast between the two is that Colorado is moving a step slower and is yet to allow restaurants to open up. And that difference very well may play into why Polis faced far less backlash than Kemp.
As for how people have responded to the easing of lockdowns in each state, it’s mixed. Urban leaders in both Colorado and Georgia have been hesitant to ease restrictions. Mobility trends in Colorado and Georgia (below) show citizens in each state are just getting back to the baseline for normal. The Washington Post ran a fun piece on Georgia highlighting the positive reaction from folks in a wealthy Atlanta neighborhood. In Colorado, there seems to be less enthusiasm for coming out and hitting up the strip, but that is probably because restaurants and bars aren’t letting people in yet as they are in Georgia.
As I said in the lead story, the outcome of these reopenings is still TBD, but Georgia seems a little bit more gung-ho with following or ignoring their restrictions and a bit more enthusiastic about getting back to normal.
A story that matters.
Working from home could be the future. As coronavirus lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted, many companies are realizing it’s simpler — and cheaper — to continue to let their workers stay home. In industries where working from home is feasible, it’s becoming clear that going back to work — or how things used to be — is no longer the best option. Silicon Valley tech giants are leading the way in a permanent work-from-home world, but companies across the U.S. are already extending work-from-home timelines. The implications could be enormous. In overpopulated cities, remote work could mean citizens flee to the suburbs or rural areas and the soaring prices of rent come back down. Commuters could save up to $7,000 a year. Carbon emissions could fall. One report says companies spend $11,000 a year per employee on rent, heating and furnishing. More remote work could save everyone money. “There's no putting this genie back in the bottle,” Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, said. Click.
- 22. The total number of states where CDC data on COVID-19 infections differed by more than 10% from state-level data, according to an analysis by The Atlantic.
- 7%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Arizona, according to new polling.
- 13%. Democrat candidate Mark Kelly’s lead over Republican Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, according to new polling.
- 9%. The percentage of Tangle readers who clicked on yesterday’s “Have a nice day” story about the mom who was reunited with her kidnapped son, the highest click rate of any “Have a nice day” story in two months.
- 17%. The percentage that the world’s carbon emissions fell in April, according to a study published in Nature.
- 49 of 50. The number of U.S. governors whose poll ratings on COVID-19 responses are higher than Donald Trump’s, the lone exception being Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Have a nice day.
A 10-year-old girl living in Danbury, Connecticut has spent her time in quarantine crafting and sending art kits to more than 1,500 children in foster care. Chelsea Phaire has been begging her parents to start a charity since she was seven, her mom told CNN. During the lockdown, she finally got an opportunity to act on her empathetic instincts, and she’s making the most of it. Phaire’s kits include markers, crayons, paper, coloring books, colored pencils and gel pens. She launched “Chelsea’s Charity” in August of 2019, but this is the first time she’s scaled up her donations so much the national media has caught wind of it. Click.