Story at a glance
- President Trump has resisted a national stay-at-home order and has left it largely up to the states.
- Whether or not President Trump has the authority to issue such an order is legally murky.
- While at least 30 states and Washington, D.C. have issued stay-at-home orders, some states have yet to do so, potentially prolonging the outbreak in the U.S.
At the beginning of this week, the White House coronavirus task force released sobering new projections that 100,000-200,000 Americans will likely die from the coronavirus, even with current social distancing guidelines in place.
The explosion of coronavirus cases in the U.S. prompted the Trump administration to urge Americans to stay home and avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more through April to slow the spread of the highly transmissible virus.
As of Wednesday, at least 30 states and Washington, D.C. have suspended school and business operations and ordered residents to stay at home for all but essential activities. On Wednesday alone, three more states — Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania — added or expanded stay-at-home orders.
But there are still a handful of states that have yet to issue statewide stay-at-home orders, prompting the question of whether a quarantine will be issued at the federal level.
Western democracies such as Italy, Spain and France followed China’s lead in locking down their entire countries. India recently imposed a nationwide quarantine, locking down a country of 1.3 billion people.
President Trump said earlier this week he and his administration considered issuing such an order, but noted it was unlikely for now.
But there’s also a question of whether the president even has the power to do so.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told The Hill the president may not have the legal authority to halt interstate travel or require governors to lock down a state.
Top U.S. health officials have alluded to the same suggestion. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday the nation’s federalist system leaves much of the authority on how to respond to such crises to state governors and local officials.
“We live in a nation that has a system of federalism and the governors get to make the decisions, but we’re going to give them the best possible guidance we can,” Adams said on NBC’s “Today.”
“My advice to America would be that these guidelines are a national stay-at-home order,” Adams said.
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Gostin told The Hill the lack of action shows the president should become more involved.
“The truth is we’re only seeing fairly good social distancing in coastal states but not in southern states like Florida and in the Midwest,” Gostin said. “And it’s in those states that he has the most influence to encourage particular red-state governors to do a lockdown. And he could give them political cover to do it.”
Further inaction from some states has experts warning that a patchwork of social distancing measures in the country could prolong the outbreak and overwhelm the health care system in the coming weeks and months.
Meanwhile, the American public seems to be open to the idea of a national quarantine.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released last week of nearly 2,000 registered voters found at least 40 percent said they strongly support a national quarantine, while 34 percent said they somewhat support the idea. Just 19 percent said they were somewhat or strongly opposed.
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