A letter from President Donald Trump to the nation’s Governors Thursday afternoon is advising them that the federal government will be asking them to make those assessments on whether counties are high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk, a potential sign of a dramatic change in strategy toward what Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Trump allies already have been signaling recently.
That strategy is locally-focused control, containment, testing and treatment strategies for fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the Nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus. This will incorporate robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country,” Trump’s letter states. “Under these data-driven criteria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”
“As testing gives us more information about who has been infected, we are tracking the virus and isolating it to prevent further spread,” the letter continues. “This new information will drive the next phase in our war against this invisible enemy.”
Following Trump’s lead from comments made earlier this week, DeSantis has increasingly advocated for a locally-controlled response to the outbreak. DeSantis has argued that there is no justification for a statewide shutdown, when the outbreaks are largely in hotspots like South Florida, and perhaps increasingly like Orange and Hillsborough counties.
“Right now you clearly have an outbreak in places like Broward, and Dade County, and Palm Beach now,” DeSantis said.
It might not be just about which counties have outbreaks, but which counties have case trend lines that could suggest an eventual deep infection of the county’s population and a potential overload of the county’s hospitals.
Such a strategy could allow DeSantis, and by extension Trump, to applaud efforts of strict local control, while refusing to take broader actions, and while also talking about relaxing coronavirus containment efforts in other areas.
Tighter focuses to the county level might also lead to denser data from that level. On Wednesday in Orlando, DeSantis repeatedly complained about the lack of good data.
“You talk about these orders, about saying this. There really is no data to support it. It’s just people saying, ‘Do it!’ Wouldn’t it be nice to have more data so that we know exactly how this virus may be operating in some of those communities?” he said Wednesday.
But the risk is that the virus would know no county lines, and not be containable to one or a few counties, especially in busy metropolitan areas such as South Florida, Tampa Bay, or greater Orlando, with millions of people who frequently cross county lines.