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Let the Lockdown End, County by County

Coronavirus map
Grassroots protests are multiplying against the draconian stay-at-home orders, and every day brings new announcements of states ending parts of their lockdowns.  The challenge is to do it intelligently to avoid a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Geographically, the way to do that is to end the lockdowns on a county-by-county basis, as I will advocate in this report.

Government has responded to this crisis as it always does:  Fail to prepare before a crisis strikes, then try to ignore or minimize the threat in its early stages, then over-react.  This is true of both broad political alignments, the Left and the Right, of both major political parties, and of government at all levels—federal, state, and local.

The over-reaction has been in the form of essentially a national lockdown, covering 95% of the population and causing the most dramatic and rapid crippling of the American economy in our nation’s history.  We have treated the entire nation as if it is New York and New Jersey, the states hardest hit by the pandemic.  The mainstream media are mostly headquartered in New York and Washington, and are so parochial in their social and political biases that they eagerly buy into this viewpoint.  They are expatriates in their own land, insulated from and contemptuous of the viewpoints of their fellow citizens outside that Washington-New York corridor.

In its broadest form, we have seen America divided—politically and culturally—between the East and West Coasts and the Heartland.  While cultural influences tend to flow from west to east, politically the movement is usually from the east to the west, and the pandemic has solidified the dominance of the East Coast’s Washington-New York corridor.  But the natives in between the coasts and south of Washington are getting restless.

Geographically, America is a huge continental nation, and its demographic, cultural, and political mosaics are just as varied.  To demonstrate the relevance of those differences to the coronavirus pandemic, let’s look at the five states most dramatically different from New York and New Jersey during this crisis.

The 5 Heartland States without a Lockdown

Five states in the Heartland have had no statewide lockdown and no metropolitan lockdowns—North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Arkansas.  And why should they be governed by the same rules as New York and New Jersey?  They are as different in their COVID-19 death rates as they are in their population density.

New York and New Jersey have had 22,904 reported coronavirus deaths as of April 25.  The five no-lockdown states have had a combined total of 261 deaths.

We have seen that this pandemic strikes hard at dense urban areas.  That’s true not only in New York but also in cities such as Detroit and New Orleans.  These five Heartland states have no big cities comparable to those metropolitan areas.  Why should they be subject to rules that treat them as if they were the same?

Indeed, even within these five Heartland states a substantial portion of their deaths are concentrated in their relatively large cities.  In Iowa, half of the deaths occur in just two of the state’s 99 counties—Linn County (Cedar Rapids) and Polk County (Des Moines).  And in Nebraska, 73% of the state’s deaths are in just two of that state’s 93 counties—Douglas County (Omaha) and Hall County (Grand Island).

This is why I have come to the conclusion that coronavirus restrictions should be determined on a county-by-county basis.  The variations within each state are as great as the differences between the East and West Coasts and the Heartland.  The folks in rural areas have even less reason to be restricted in their movements than the people in moderately-sized cities.

By the way, even in these 5 Heartland states there are some restrictions, just no statewide stay-in-place lockdowns.  South Dakota has no statewide directives at all and is the only state in the nation, far as I can determine, where the restaurants and bars have been allowed to stay open for dine-in customers.  But even there the schools are closed.

The Other 43 States

In between these extremes of New York-New Jersey and the 5 Heartland states are the other 43 states.  Seven states have no statewide lockdown but cities within them have shelter-in-place rules: Wyoming, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, and South Carolina.  The conditions within all 50 states—even New York and New Jersey—are so varied that the county-by-county rule should apply in all of them.

For example, the state in which I reside, Virginia, has 448 deaths from the virus.  That places it somewhere between the two extremes I’ve used in my example.  But Virginia has 95 counties and 38 independent cities, and they are vastly different in how the pandemic has affected them.

Of those 448 deaths, 175 (39% of the statewide total) have occurred in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. (known as NOVA).  Another 121 deaths (27% of the statewide total) have occurred in the Richmond area.  Together these two urban areas account for two-thirds of all the reported COVID-19 deaths in Virginia.

In the area of the state where I reside—the northern Shenandoah Valley—there thankfully have been no recorded deaths so far.  Yet we are governed by the same statewide directives that apply to NOVA and Richmond.  This is patently unjust and makes no sense.

You can do the math as it applies to your state and locality.  The New York Times compiles constantly updated statistics.  Scroll down to “Cases and deaths by state and county.”

Powerful forces want a nationwide lockdown that ignores these differences between states and within each state.  Bill Gates, for example, argues that “because people can travel across state lines, so can the virus.  The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere.”

But a national rule is not necessary.  If states perceive a threat from people fleeing to them from other states, they can enact their own travel restrictions.  As an extreme example, Texas has placed 14-day quarantines on air travelers flying to Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Louisiana, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami.  (“Don’t mess with Texas” is the state’s motto.  Obviously they mean it.)

A fundamental basis for safeguarding liberty in America is to keep political power as close to the people as possible.  This is especially true with regard to the coronavirus pandemic, where a federal mandate is unwarranted and even state directives can be grossly unfair.  As much as possible, we should let the people in each of America’s more than 3,000 counties decide how and when to restrict activities while fighting the virus.

This article first appeared on and is posted here with the kind permission of the author and


David Franke's Previous Pandemic Reports:

How Big of a Threat Is the Coronavirus? (March 26)

How Bad Has the Pandemic Been? How Bad Will It Be? (April 6)

An Economic Shutdown Based On…What? (April 15)

Is Sweden’s Problem Coronavirus or Immigration?  (April 21)

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