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GOP governors in spiking states looking for silver linings

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. AP image.

In Iowa, which has eased most of its earlier coronavirus restrictions, COVID-19 hospitalizations also hit a record high last week.

Posted: Oct 11, 2020 8:38 AM

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have hit their highest points recently throughout the Midwest, where the growth in new cases has been the worst in the nation.

But that's not the message coming from a number of Republican governors in the region, who are working to find silver linings in the ominous health data as outbreaks surge in their states.

“In South Dakota, we didn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach and the results have been incredible,” Gov. Kristi Noem told lawmakers in her state, which Johns Hopkins University says ranks second in the country for new cases per capita.

Oklahoma's governor has been effusively upbeat about progress against the virus, despite what figures compiled by public health experts and a White House task force show. North Dakota's governor has called his state's test positivity rate an achievement, even though its rate of new cases tops the nation.

The rhetoric in some cases is mirroring that of President Donald Trump, who continues to downplay the virus' risk even after being hospitalized with COVID-19. And it's worrying public health experts concerned about a flu season that may exacerbate the outbreak's effects.

“Public health is built on the backs of thousands of individual actions. ... In order for there to be behavior change, there has to be trust on the data and the guidelines," said Dr. Thomas Tsai, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Most of the Midwest Republican governors where the virus is worsening have either refused to enact statewide mask restrictions or have been rolling back restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.

Trump, who tweeted “don't be afraid of Covid" as he was being released from the hospital, cheered Noem for her speech to the Legislature last week, where she championed her refusal to issue a stay-at-home order or other restrictions.

But South Dakota's new cases and positive test rates rank at or near the highest in the country. The number of people hospitalized in the state because of COVID-19 reached a new high last week, but Noem prefers to emphasize that only about 10% of the state's hospitalizations are because of the virus.

Doug Burgum, North Dakota's Republican governor, acknowledges his state's numbers are moving in the wrong direction as it hit new highs for active and newly confirmed cases, as well as hospitalizations. But he's also touting the state's test positivity staying in the 7% range.

“That’s an achievement compared to many, many other states that have never been in the spot to have this low of a positivity rate and have their economy open,” Burgum said. “If you’re saying that among the states, who’s doing a great job, those would have to be some of the criteria you would have to look at.”

In Iowa, which has eased most of its earlier coronavirus restrictions, COVID-19 hospitalizations also hit a record high last week. Gov. Kim Reynolds, however, has defended the state's decision to reopen bars and send students back into classrooms without masks required.

“The president is also right. We can’t let COVID-19 dominate our lives,” Reynolds said.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has cited where he sees his state making progress, even as a White House task force recently listed it in the “red zone" for its high rate of new cases and positive tests. The state also recently hit a new high for hospitalizations. Parson and his wife were both diagnosed on Sept. 23, though they've both recovered.

“The fight is not over, but we are on the right track, and we will get through this," Parson said in a video posted Sept. 30.

Some governors are even pushing back against Trump's own advisers for giving blunter assessments of their states' situations. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt lashed out at the White House Coronavirus Task Force after it said high community transmission led to “many preventable deaths" in Oklahoma.

“The governor maintains that Oklahoma has performed much better than the nation as a whole in terms of protecting our most vulnerable, and the White House agrees with that assertion," Stitt's office said.

The governors putting a positive spin on their states' worsening situations face little political fallout for doing so, and are even facing pressure from the right to lift any remaining restrictions. That's the case in Arkansas, where a group of Republican lawmakers are suing to invalidate a mask mandate and other directives imposed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson also has been criticized by Democrats, teachers' groups and others who say the governor has sent mixed messages about the seriousness of the state's outbreak.

“I understand the drive and need to put a positive spin on things, but I would like to see a greater sense of urgency," Democratic Sen. Greg Leding said.

Hutchinson has cited progress with the state's testing positivity, but has acknowledged it needs to improve in other areas such as hospitalizations and rate of new cases. Hutchinson has continued resisting calls to roll back some of the state's reopening, saying he's relying more on personal responsibility.

“We're Republicans, we're conservative and we don't want to increase restrictions on business, we don't want to increase mandates and the only way you can navigate through this crisis is by simply making sure that we have individual discipline," Hutchinson told his cabinet last week.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 132122

Reported Deaths: 2381
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin33719984
Ramsey13909358
Dakota9686137
Anoka8552150
Washington583071
Stearns574343
Scott334834
Olmsted323230
St. Louis291267
Wright243214
Clay228043
Nobles225716
Blue Earth20367
Carver17677
Sherburne166521
Kandiyohi16585
Rice16289
Mower150815
Winona124319
Crow Wing99021
Chisago9812
Lyon9596
Waseca9279
Benton9238
Beltrami8767
Otter Tail8517
Todd7865
Steele7563
Itasca71917
Nicollet71817
Morrison7129
Douglas6723
Freeborn6664
Le Sueur6205
Polk6184
Martin61117
McLeod5884
Watonwan5784
Goodhue57311
Becker5513
Pine5310
Isanti5275
Chippewa4293
Carlton4231
Mille Lacs40115
Dodge3920
Hubbard3792
Wabasha3700
Cass3665
Pipestone34517
Meeker3253
Rock3244
Brown3203
Yellow Medicine2815
Cottonwood2760
Murray2753
Redwood27111
Roseau2590
Fillmore2570
Renville25011
Sibley2493
Faribault2280
Wadena2243
Jackson2081
Kanabec20510
Swift2011
Unassigned20153
Houston1971
Pennington1851
Lincoln1820
Stevens1811
Aitkin1772
Koochiching1674
Pope1550
Big Stone1360
Wilkin1334
Lac qui Parle1323
Lake1180
Norman1140
Mahnomen1102
Marshall1101
Clearwater1050
Grant964
Red Lake772
Traverse550
Lake of the Woods441
Kittson380
Cook130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 114201

Reported Deaths: 1620
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18758288
Woodbury712294
Johnson580330
Black Hawk551098
Linn5420129
Dubuque510957
Scott444638
Story397318
Dallas342044
Pottawattamie320444
Sioux239616
Buena Vista224512
Marshall199536
Webster182415
Plymouth163527
Wapello150762
Clinton145726
Muscatine142058
Cerro Gordo135425
Des Moines135410
Crawford135214
Warren12147
Carroll111412
Jasper108134
Henry10465
Marion98310
Lee94310
Tama93737
Delaware76212
Dickinson7257
Wright7161
Boone7119
Mahaska67824
Bremer6619
Washington65011
Harrison64611
Jackson5963
Benton5692
Lyon5427
Clay5244
Louisa51715
Winnebago47419
Hardin4697
Hamilton4664
Winneshiek4669
Kossuth4600
Poweshiek45411
Cedar4445
Buchanan4434
Jones4344
Floyd43011
Emmet42317
Clayton4073
Iowa3968
Cherokee3922
Page3890
Sac3894
Mills3871
Guthrie38415
Franklin38018
Cass3783
Fayette3684
Shelby3671
Butler3662
Allamakee3608
Madison3563
Chickasaw3461
Clarke3453
Humboldt3203
Hancock3124
Palo Alto3092
Grundy3035
Calhoun3004
Osceola2721
Mitchell2670
Howard2669
Monroe25811
Monona2411
Jefferson2341
Taylor2312
Union2294
Appanoose2233
Pocahontas2212
Lucas1996
Fremont1971
Ida1882
Greene1840
Van Buren1722
Davis1704
Montgomery1687
Keokuk1601
Adair1551
Decatur1490
Worth1420
Audubon1411
Wayne1173
Ringgold882
Adams790
Unassigned140
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