I am writing this column sequestered at home in Minnesota. The university where I work has been closed for about two weeks now and will remain so for the rest of the academic year. Starting on April 1, I will continue teaching my classes online.
I have been watching Greek news and I see how the Greek media report government actions in Greece and the US. I believe that the actions of the US government and President Donald Trump are accurately depicted. I will not elaborate further here, but it is clear that: 1) The US system, together with most others in the world, was not adequately prepared for the coronavirus pandemic; and 2) President Trump is incompetent.
What the Greek media do not report is that some states of the US have been dealing with the issue better than others. My home state of Minnesota is an example of a state which has been dealing with the crisis effectively. Minnesota is almost twice the size of Greece in area but about half in terms of population. As of April 1, we have had about 689 cases of Covid-19 and 17 deaths.
The reason Minnesota is doing better than most other US states is that the governor moved quickly and decisively. He ordered the closure of schools, restaurants, bars and all non-essential businesses. He asked people to stay home – he called it “shelter at home” – and that if they go out to keep what we call here a “social distance” of about 2 meters from each other. There are no penalties for ignoring the governor’s order but the people of the state have been obeying the directive. Admittedly, staying at home is easier here than in Europe; even in a big city like Minneapolis-St Paul, population 3,5000,000 but with an area seven to eight times that of Athens, there is plenty of space to go for a walk and stay away from your neighbors. The people have listened and the results have been good. Meanwhile the state government is preparing for the next two to three weeks, when everyone expects things to get much tougher. I have no idea what the future will bring, but it looks to me that Minnesota might do better than other parts of the US.
As I watch the news from Greece, I cannot help but think that the way the Greek government is dealing with Covid-19 is similar to the way the governor of Minnesota is. Both Minnesota and Greece are taking measures which are devastating for the economy but vital for public health. The Greek prime minister and the governor of Minnesota are prudent pragmatists, willing to do whatever will work rather than whatever will promote their agenda and political interests. I am sure that my Greek friends can tell me of many instances where the Greek government mishandled the situation or did not act quickly enough. I have no doubt that this is the case in Greece as it is in Minnesota. I also don’t know what tomorrow will bring and how the measures of the governments of Greece and Minnesota will look in the near future; we are dealing with a virus which seems to keep surprising us time and again. Nevertheless, as I sit in my home today, nervous for my future and that of my family and friends here and in Greece, I feel better knowing that both governments are acting in a decisive and wise way.
John A. Mazis is a history professor at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.