Restaurants in Illinois and Ohio have been ordered to cease all dine-in service. In California, eateries are being told to cut their occupancy in half. Bars and theaters in New York City are shuttered, but carryout can continue. St. Louis city and surrounding counties have banned gatherings of more than 50 people, while elsewhere, it's 25.
We're witnessing what happens when a health crisis is met with a vacuum of national leadership: Well-meaning state and local leaders step in to protect the public, creating a patchwork of different measures to deal with a virus that knows no city limits or state borders. The result is confusion about what the public actually should be doing. That sows distrust in governmental responses.
So it's something of a relief that the Trump administration finally upped its game Monday. It released more specific guidelines of suggested behavior by individual Americans to avoid a potential spike in coronavirus infections that could overwhelm hospitals in coming weeks. In a news conference, President Donald Trump managed to avoid earlier gaffes that downplayed the danger and descended into political backbiting. For the first time, it felt like this White House understands what's at stake here.
The new administration guidelines (they're just that, not mandates) suggest people refrain from gathering in groups of more than 10 and avoid going inside restaurants and bars. Those with even minor symptoms should self-quarantine. Family members living together should self-quarantine for 14 days if anyone in the household tests positive. Most people should refrain from visiting elder care facilities. These guidelines go beyond what most local jurisdictions are ordering and could nudge states and cities toward some needed uniformity — or at least give individuals specific practical guidance.
That's a far cry from the shrugging response Trump initially gave to the pandemic. It was a welcome departure to hear Trump on Monday acknowledge candidly, "This is a very bad one," and admit that it could be driving the economy toward recession but that full focus on the virus is what's needed right now. These were all uncharacteristically blunt comments that dispensed with self-aggrandizement and blame-throwing.
Among the greatest roadblocks to fighting this pandemic had been the president's refusal to acknowledge the scope of the crisis. That enabled his more fervent followers to dismiss well-justified fears as media hype or a political scam. Perhaps even Trump sycophants like Rep. Devin Nunes will now start speaking responsibly.
It isn't often that this newspaper quotes Trump in agreement, but we'll do it here: "Each and every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus. If everyone makes ... these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation, and we will defeat the virus."
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