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Every state — including 12 slackers — must join the fight to beat COVID-19

A nationwide lockdown by President Trump is unlikely and possibly unconstitutional. It’s up to our nation’s governors to do what’s right to beat the coronavirus.

A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves walks near the “Bean.” As part of the coronavirus lockdown, access to the attraction has been closed.
A woman wearing a protective face mask and gloves walks near the “Bean.” As part of the coronavirus lockdown, access to the attraction has been closed.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

UPDATE: On Friday, the governors of Alabama and Missouri on Friday announced stay-at-home orders.

As of Thursday afternoon, 12 governors still had not issued the statewide stay-at-home orders that are the best defense against the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

We have to wonder how many more of their residents must catch the virus, and how many more must die, before these 12 state chief executives wake up. We have to wonder whether they understand that they are endangering every American. A pandemic respects no state lines.

There is not a moment to spare. The toll of the virus is mounting by the day. More than 225,000 Americans — and more than 1 million people worldwide — have contracted COVID-19. More than 5,000 Americans, including 157 in Illinois, have died.

And the worst by far — possibly up to 240,000 American deaths — is yet to come.

Yet these 12 governors have ignored the advice of the best public health experts. They have refused to shut down daily activity as fully and widely as possible.

Can’t look to Trump

President Trump has been of little help in this regard. He has been all over the board on how to respond to the spread of the coronavirus, creating unwarranted skepticism. He originally predicted the virus would magically disappear. Then he issued a call, a week ago, for the United States to be “open for business” again by Easter.

Now Trump is saying that dramatic measures to contain the virus will have to remain in force at least through April, but he has been loath to call out governors — all Republican — who refuse to act.

Trump may also lack the constitutional authority to order states to go on lockdown. As constitutional scholars Laurence Gostin and Sarah Wetter wrote this week in The Atlantic, “Constitutional authority for ordering major public-health interventions, such as mass quarantines and physical distancing, lies primarily with U.S. states and localities via their ‘police powers.’”

That leaves it to the nation’s governors to move quickly and decisively, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done in Illinois. Yet many just won’t.

Piecemeal shutdowns not enough

In Missouri, which of course shares a border with Illinois, Gov. Mike Parson and public health officials have issued orders that amount to suggestions. Residents are “encouraged” to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and “avoid eating or drinking at restaurants, bars, or food courts,” according to NPR. Parson has shut down schools, but nothing else.

You are free to catch the bug at a burger joint in Missouri, row a boat across the Mississippi River, and spread the disease to everybody you chat up in Illinois.

The same goes in Arkansas and Nebraska. Grab a beer in a crowded bar, catch the virus and take it on the road.

This piecemeal approach is woefully inadequate. As Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote this week in the Washington Post: “This is a recipe for disaster. . . . The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere.”

All of this must be galling for the millions of residents of Illinois and 37 other states — including neighboring Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky — who have been making extraordinary personal sacrifices to fight the virus. They are hunkered down at home day and night, venturing out only for necessities and in emergencies, maybe going a little stir-crazy. They have lost jobs and paychecks, or are at risk of it, and they are unable to see friends, family and neighbors.

By government decree, schools, workplaces and nonessential businesses have been closed. Public gatherings have been curtailed. Parades, concerts and sporting events have been canceled. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has shut down our beloved lakefront.

We grumble. We do love our lakefront. But for the most part, we understand — our health, and the health of everybody else, must come first.

Best bet to beat virus

Does all this social distancing work? You bet.

A massive lockdown has been credited with beating back the coronavirus in China. Similar measures went a long way toward defeating the 1918 Spanish flu in the United States. And new research from California and Washington State — excellent news — suggests that social distancing in those two states has slowed the rate of infection. It is flattening the curve.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious disease and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has not called for a national lockdown. We wish he would, though we understand he’s got a difficult job in trying to manage Trump’s ego so as to stay in the president’s good graces and remain effective.

Yet in an interview Thursday, Fauci made clear that he believes some governors are being too lax, allowing too many exemptions to stay-at-home orders or failing to enact them altogether.

“I can’t make any official proclamations here, but I can say, ‘really, seriously consider, are those exemptions appropriate when you think about what’s going on?’ ” Fauci said on NBC’s Today Show. “I urge the people in leadership at the state level, to really take a close look at those decisions.”

To the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, we would say this:

Do what’s right or watch people die.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.