Comment: What to make of diverse regional approaches to covid

Our red and blue politics doesn’t appear to explain why some states are more cautious than others.

By Tyler Cowen / Bloomberg Opinion

The homogenization of America — through national TV and politics, cheap transportation and big online or nationwide businesses such as Walmart and Amazon — is a longstanding story. Regardless of how true it is, or ever was, a new truth is emerging from the pandemic: In the last year, the differences among the U.S.’s states and regions have become increasingly apparent; and they are more temperamental than political.

I recently spent two weeks in Miami Beach, and the mood was festive. On the street, many people wore masks, but once they entered the packed restaurants and clubs, the masks came off and the partying started. (Disclosure: I am vaccinated, and was an observer, not a participant.) The midnight curfew was by no means always respected.

That scene might make you recoil in horror, and many observers predicted catastrophe for Florida’s policies. But Florida’s death toll is close to the national average, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is extremely popular. The state’s lockdowns were never very strict, its schools have been open since August, and Miami’s NBA team is welcoming fans, albeit with seating restrictions. The economy has been booming for some time, in part because people who wish to spend money or organize get-togethers have been drawn to Florida.

And my sense is that most Floridians feel vindicated. I spoke to several people who admitted they had had covid earlier in the year and described the experience with a giggle or a smirk, as if it were nothing serious. Just last week DeSantis announced that Florida would have nothing to do with plans for vaccine passports.

You might think this is all because Florida is a Republican-leaning state. But Donald Trump won only 51.2% of the vote there last year, and Joe Biden won Miami-Dade County by 7 percentage points.

I read broadly similar reports about Texas; namely, that the state has remained fairly open, enforcement has been lax, and the citizenry is reasonably happy with these policies. Many of Texas’s biggest cities have Democratic mayors, but the overall response, even in those cities, has been closer to that of a red state.

San Francisco is one obvious point of contrast. The schools still have not reopened, with no clear date in sight, even though the teachers have been offered vaccines. (Meanwhile, the school board decided to rename many of its schools.) Large public gatherings are rare, and inside dining has been largely prohibited. Like Florida, the city can boast of very low death rates from covid, and like Floridians, many San Franciscans seem proud of their course.

I am also struck by the differences between the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington. Northern Virginia, where I live, has been more open for longer and has felt commercially more vital. Virginia, though a solid blue state, has shown it belongs to the Southeast in a way that neighboring Maryland does not. At the same time, Northern Virginia, where mask wearing is common and reasonably disciplined, is not at all like neighboring West Virginia.

As these state and regional differences have become more vivid, might they guide the future evolution of those states and regions? Now that Northern Virginia has seen how different it is from Maryland’s Montgomery County, it might continue to behave differently. What if Texas becomes more Texas (is that possible?) and Florida reimagines itself as a center of party culture and risk-taking? San Francisco might end up as America’s most fearful and restricted place, while Nashville (where unemployment is just 4.4 percent) emerges with a newfound confidence.

Overall the Southeast would seem to be a big winner, as the psychological effects of low rates of unemployment may prove more durable than the effects of high rates of casualties.

I have taken several trips through the U.S. during the pandemic and been shocked by just how different each region has felt. New York City seemed grave and serious. Downtown seemed to be a new center of town, and Times Square, with its theaters closed tourists absent, felt like a devastation from a science fiction dystopia.

Maybe, as vaccination spreads, all of this will be forgotten within months. Yet I can’t help but wonder if instead America’s different states and regions will lean into their new identities; and, ultimately, their new destinies.

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.”

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, April 18

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Ian Terry / The Herald

Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens.

Photo taken on 03302017
Editorial: Lawmakers must keep at transportation’s grand deal

The complex mix of bills can accomplish too much to surrender to opposition to taxes and costs.

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listen, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over motions in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  (Court TV, via AP, Pool)
Viewpoints: Chauvin trial centers around three questions

Jurors will consider the differences between force and violence and being subject to the law or above it.

Comment: State’s drug abuse reforms should include prevention

Lives and money can be saved if efforts build on existing work to prevent drug abuse and addiction.

Comment: Lawmakers can start restoring equity to state taxes

Lower-income families pay a greater share of taxes than wealthier families. That needs to change.

Thanks to those who found truth of 1987 arson at EvCC

Thanks to The Daily Herald for the March 26 article, “Arsoninst behind… Continue reading

We should add clean energy and keep Snake River dams

Regarding the plan to remove the four Snake River hydroelectric dams as… Continue reading

This Aug. 23, 2020 photo shows a long line of unsold 2020 models charge outside a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo.  The European Union is lacking sufficient charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, according to the bloc's external auditor. In a report published Tuesday, April 13, 2021, the European Court of Auditors said users are gaining more harmonized access to charging networks but the EU is still “a long way from reaching its Green Deal target of 1 million charging points by 2025." (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Editorial: Bills’ merger makes clean-driving future possible

Combining two bills will aid the sales of electric vehicles and ensure ample charging stations.

FILE - In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. (NY Governor's Press Office via AP, File)
Editorial: Vaccine passports can nudge more toward immunity

Used to persuade rather than exclude, the passports could increase access to businesses and venues.

Most Read