The governors of New York and California — two of the largest economies in the U.S. — have formed alliances with their respective neighbors to coordinate an eventual easing of COVID-19 shutdowns, posing a potential new obstacle to President Trump’s plans to restart the national economy.
In separate announcements, the governors said they’ve agreed to let science, not politics, determine when to lift social and business restrictions.
“Any plan to reopen society MUST be driven by data and experts, not opinion and politics,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said shortly before announcing the move. He added, “We will work together as a region.”
The governors say the measures they’re taking to combat COVID-19 and slow its spread won’t be effective unless they’re all on the same page. But the president — who had previously spoken of restarting the U.S. economy by Easter — insists that he has the authority to open states’ economies.
One of the coalitions aligns New York with New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware. In the other, California is collaborating with its coastal neighbors, Oregon and Washington, to decide when they will lift stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.
Hours after Cuomo and his fellow governors announced their plans, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker became the first Republican in either coalition, aligning his state with its neighbors in the Northeast.
“Our residents’ health comes first,” Govs. Gavin Newsom of California, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington said in a joint statement. “As home to one in six Americans and gateway to the rest of the world, the West Coast has an outsized stake in controlling and ultimately defeating COVID-19.”
“Health outcomes and science — not politics — will guide these decisions,” the Western governors said.
They cited goals such as protecting vulnerable people from both COVID-19 and the effects of shutdown orders; ensuring health care systems can care for those who may become sick; and developing a system for testing, tracking and isolating people who have been either infected by or exposed to the coronavirus.
The governors in the Eastern coalition say they’re forming a council that will judge potential steps toward restoring business as usual, with each state contributing three people to the group: one public health expert, one economics expert and the governor.
“New Jersey is the densest state in America, and we’re in that corridor that is so unique,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a conference call. “It was imperative not to just do the things that we needed to do within our four walls as we closed our state down, but to do it in close coordination with New York and Pennsylvania and Delaware and Connecticut.”
Trump responded to reports earlier Monday about governors being the ones who decide when to “open up the states,” saying via Twitter, “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect…. ….It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue.”
The president, who faces a reelection vote in less than seven months, has shown an eagerness to restart the U.S. economy, which has suffered an extraordinary and painfully swift downturn because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past three weeks, some 17 million people have filed for unemployment benefits.
As the governors announced the new coalitions, some of them characterized the moves as an example of how states, not the federal government, have led the U.S. response to the coronavirus.
“Throughout the crisis, the governors are the ones who have been showing great leadership and taking action to keep our residents safe,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “I think it’s only appropriate that we do the same thing now by coming together and showing regional leadership to reopen the economy.”
More than 570,000 people in the U.S. are confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus. Of that total, 23,000 people have died, including more than 10,000 in New York, according to a COVID-19 dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering. New Jersey is reporting some 65,000 cases, followed by Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — each with around 25,000 cases.