These 5 States Are Expanding COVID Restrictions After Resisting Doing So During First Wave

With spikes in coronavirus transmission pressuring hospitals and driving up fatality tolls across the country, officials in five currently hard-hit states have recently backtracked prior resistance to widespread mitigation orders, including mask mandates and expanded business restrictions.

The vast majority of U.S. states implemented stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic, requiring nonessential businesses to close and residents to self-isolate inside their respective households to the greatest extent possible. Only Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming did not issue statewide mandates asking people to remain home in March and April, at the COVID-19 outbreak's onset. However, most—with the exception of South Dakota—still directed nonessential businesses to close, and all suspended in-person instruction at schools.

Each of those seven states experienced relatively mild virus outbreaks in the spring, when soaring case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 were concentrated in populous sections of the Northeast—such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. As the pandemic progressed, large portions of the country's western and midwestern regions began to report increasing virus transmission, and in November, the states that resisted stay-at-home orders earlier this year are seeing some of the most severe resurgences.

Governors in five of them—all but Arkansas and South Dakota—have responded with a recent wave of restrictions aiming to curb further spread.

Iowa implemented a mask mandate that requires residents to wear face coverings in public indoor settings this week, alongside new restrictions for dine-in services at bars and restaurants.

Following months of opposition, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also issued a mask mandate late last week, as the state's marked uptick in COVID-19 infections threatened to overwhelm its hospital system. Burgum's executive order outlining North Dakota's face mask requirements also included capacity limits for public venues and dine-in restrictions for bars and restaurants.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced new restrictions that aim to address the state's rising COVID-19 cases on November 9. The protocols—which took effect two days later and will remain so through the end of the month—elevated Nebraska's social distancing recommendation to a formal mandate, and established additional requirements for mask use in public settings. They additionally placed occupancy limits on certain indoor gatherings and prohibited large indoor social events, such as dances and carnivals.

In Wyoming, Governor Mark Gordon released updated protocols that expand requirements for mask use, capacity limits, and social distancing procedures inside businesses on Monday. The protocols are effective through next Monday, November 23, unless officials determine the need for an extension. About a dozen Wyoming counties have effected mask mandates that apply to residents of their individual jurisdictions.

Wyoming COVID-19
Visitors are photographed at Yellowstone National Park on June 15 near Jackson, Wyoming. In response to rising COVID-19 cases, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon announced expanded mitigation protocols earlier this week. Wyoming was one of seven U.S. states that did not issue a stay-at-home order in the spring. George Frey/Getty

Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced mandatory mask requirements last month, in conjunction with localized restrictions on gatherings based on individual counties' COVID-19 rates, after previously opposing such directives.

While Arkansas implemented a face mask order over the summer, Governor Asa Hutchinson has rejected renewed calls for business restrictions amid the state's COVID-19 spike. A message appears at the top of its COVID-19 resource webpage that urges residents to practice social distancing and personal hygiene, as well as remain home if they are sick.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem continues to resist widespread public calls for increased mitigation protocols—despite skyrocketing COVID-19 cases reported throughout the state. South Dakota's 7-day and 14-day average test positivity rates approached 20 percent as of Wednesday, when the health department last updated its dashboard.

Newsweek reached out to Hutchinson and Noem's offices for comments, but did not receive replies in time for publication.