As coronavirus exploded nationwide without a strong federal response, many governors, including Washington’s Jay Inslee, stepped up. Sweeping state-level orders to shutter schools, ban gatherings and stay home from nonessential tasks tamped down the catastrophe.
These restrictions remain essential to public health. But the nation’s eyes have turned longingly to the resumption of socializing and capitalism. More than 2,000 protesters in Olympia Sunday rallied in violation of orders, urging the governor to roll back the closures, even as COVID-19 deaths continue to accumulate. Clearly, the agitators here and in Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan are dangerously misguided. But in the absence of coherent national policy, it is incumbent on every state’s leadership to map a safe route back to business.
Gov. Inslee’s decision to coordinate the state’s reopening decision with those in Oregon and California was a shrewd move in several ways.
The states share the Interstate 5 corridor, access to the Pacific Ocean and immense economic overlap, so pooling coronavirus data and decision-making resources to craft a plan makes sense. The Western States Pact also potentially can combine purchasing powers of the three states for economies of scale on key supplies, such as the masks, gowns and gloves hospitals need. And if social restrictions are generally the same in all three states, there will be little opening for flouters to exploit differences in rules by hopping borders.
Lastly, the coalition-building puts more political pressure on the federal government to respond to states’ needs. After the Western states and a group of seven East-Coast states announced intentions to act collectively, President Donald Trump retreated from his troubling assertion of total authority over social restrictions.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told governors Thursday, the same day a group of seven Midwestern governors announced a third alliance.
The Western States Pact does not solve every problem Washington, Oregon and California leaders have encountered. Only federal authority can mobilize the defense supply chain to manufacture more coronavirus supplies, as Inslee has repeatedly requested. Widespread testing is needed on a national level, not a regional one. And each state has unique concerns to weigh. In the name of social distancing to prevent infection, Inslee freed hundreds of prisoners early and stopped residential construction. Across the Columbia River, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declined to make similar moves.
But, by actively working together, the states can more powerfully and efficiently handle their common mission. In the absence of the federal action America needs, it’s the strongest way for the West Coast to find the road back to normalcy.