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Saturday, April 11, 2020

OCPA column: Surprise -- NYC and Boise City are very different


Surprise: New York City, Boise City, are very different
By Jonathan Small

New York City and Boise City, Oklahoma, are very different places. That’s not a news flash to most, but it is to some who want COVID-19 responses implemented nationwide as though there’s no difference between one state and the next.

An important debate is underway about our nation’s federalist system, which gives states great latitude to adopt different policy approaches based on differing local conditions—including how states work to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

A “one size fits all” nationwide edict on COVID-19 would either fail to protect the most vulnerable citizens or unduly restrict the lives of millions to no effect. Consider the following facts, which should be included in any calculation regarding virus spread. New York City has a population density of over 27,000 people per square mile. Oklahoma City’s population density is 956 people per square mile, and Oklahoma’s statewide density is 54.7 people per mile. Cimarron County, Oklahoma, where Boise City is located, has a population density of 1.3 people per mile.

No serious person would argue the steps needed to reduce virus spread in Cimarron County and New York City are the same, yet some activists suggest otherwise.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has not issued a statewide “shelter in place” mandate, recently argued, forcefully, that states should base policies on facts and science in their own state, not elsewhere.

“The people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety,” Noem said. “They are the ones that are entrusted with expansive freedoms—they’re free to exercise their rights to work, to worship, and to play—or to even stay at home, or to conduct social distancing.”

She noted South Dakota officials have urged citizens to socially distance and practice strict hygiene measures since February. Because people have observed those admonitions, Noem said South Dakota “has been able to bend the curve a great deal” and the projected peak for COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continues to move “farther and farther out into the future.”

“South Dakota is not New York City,” Noem said, noting in particular the state’s “sparse” population density.

“The calls to apply for a ‘one size fits all’ approach to this problem in South Dakota is herd mentality,” Noem said. “It’s not leadership.”

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has issued COVID-19 projections for all 50 states. Early this week those projections showed South Dakota would hit a peak of nine COVID-19 deaths per day in late April. In contrast, New York’s peak was expected to hit 878 per day.

Those figures show Noem is correct. Those who argue South Dakota’s approach is a failure because it doesn’t copy New York’s virus response are not facing reality; they’re ignoring it.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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