This chart shows the spread of COVID-19 in Kentucky (blue), under Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, and Tennessee (yellow), under Republican Governor Bill Lee. Note the steep exponential increase in Tennessee. Elections matter.
On March 6—the same day that the Kentucky legislature introduced a bill to limit Beshear’s power to issue executive orders—the governor used that power to declare a state of emergency, freeing up funds and resources to begin the state’s fight against COVID-19. This was a week before Trump declared a national emergency. In fact, it was a day before Andre Cuomo declared a state of emergency for New York.
Beshear issued recommendations on social distancing the next day and began a daily update to reassure the state on actions being taken as well as provide details on the status of the outbreak. Two days after that, he restricted visitations to extended care facilities and prisons. And just five days after the original declaration of emergency, with eight known cases in the state, Beshear instructed every school to close. In the next week, the state ended in-restaurant dining, extended unemployment, and offered free testing to every person in the state—all at Beshear’s direction.
Meanwhile Tennessee had it’s first case on the same day as Kentucky, and Bill Lee did … nothing. As Beshear was closing schools in Kentucky, Lee told the people of his state that there was no reason to close schools or workplaces. Finally, on March 12, Lee declared a state of emergency. And he instructed the schools to close on Friday, March 20.
The result of these two policies is that the neighboring states are on very different paths. While Kentucky has seen an increase in cases, that increase has been slow. Not only does Kentucky have only 48 identified cases, it has conducted 768 tests. Tennessee now shows 228 cases resulting from many fewer tests, and it’s on an arc that is growing at a much higher rate. When cases are moving up exponentially, every moment counts, and acting early has huge implications down the road.