And the hits just keep on coming. With the world already reeling from the coronavirus outbreak the latest news is mostly bad. The experts have been telling us that despite all our efforts things are expected to get worse before they get better, and unfortunately they appear to be correct. As I write this, a summary of the significant developments as reported in the “NY Times,” CNN, and elsewhere is as follows:
- First, some good news. China is reporting (1) the mortality rate in Wuhan Province was lower than previously reported. Instead of 2 – 3 1/2 % of those infected, we are now being told it is 1.4%. (2) China is advising that there have been no new infections. Of course, most of us take any information disseminated by the Chinese government with the proverbial “grain of salt.”
- Italy’s fatality count has now surpassed 3,400, which exceeds that of China. This is particularly disturbing since Italy’s total population is only 60.5 million compared to China’s 1.5 billion.
- What do we or can we extrapolate from the terrifying situation in Italy? How did the virus get out of control so quickly? I don’t know. I have not seen a rational explanation. The situation is particularly disturbing since Italy was the first European country to impose travel restrictions on its citizens. That action should have mitigated the impact of the virus, but apparently it did not. Furthermore, it has called upon the military to lend assistance. In an effort to stem the tide, the army has provided doctors and other health professionals, set up field hospitals, and provided a variety of other emergency services. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti has asserted Italy’s “restrictive” measures are working, but if these measures are “working” I would hate to see what would have happened had they not been enacted.
- The US death toll continues to rise. It is now approaching 11,000. Basically, most of us are confined to our own homes for our own good. We only venture out for necessities, such as food and medicine. Our lives have been placed on hold, for how long, no one knows.
- The State Department has raised its travel advisory level to four, which is the top level warning. It is recommending (not requiring) that all Americans presently abroad should return home. President Trump disclosed that the military will be available to assist those who are seeking to return but are stranded. Alternatively, they should shelter in place. Several other countries have also issued travel advisories .
- Various medical supplies, such as testing kits, respirators, ventilator masks, and hospital beds remain in short supply, although federal, state and local governments and the private sector are coordinating feverishly to rectify the shortages. For example, a huge, fully-equipped hospital ship has docked in NY to provide assistance, and GM has offered to build ventilators in its plants.
Several parties have been proceeding with researching possible vaccines. Mr. Trump has advised that his administration has “slashed red tape” in order to expedite this process. There appear to be various possibilities in the pipeline, although a usable vaccine is likely a year or more away. According to Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, the most promising drugs for treating the virus appear to be chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which have actually been used for 70 some years to treat malaria. Dr. Hahn added that unfortunately, these drugs have not been tested for effectiveness against the virus, and there is no assurance they will be effective in treating it. Another drug, remdesivir, may be approved for “compassionate use” only, i. e. for patients who would die otherwise.
- The economy, which had been roaring along, is heading for a recession, perhaps a deep one. Some people are predicting a depression. The stock market remains jumpy. Some people are panicking over their dwindling 401K accounts, but remember the market suffered similar declines after “9/11” and during the SARS and H1N1 epidemics and came roaring back. In an effort to calm fears President Trump stated that he “believe(s) in the V curve” for both the economy and the stock market (rapid decline followed quickly by rapid recovery). For what it’s worth, so do I.
- The Congress has approved a $1 billion aide package, which will include, among other things, cash payments to certain workers and loans to small businesses. The hope and expectation is that this will mitigate the economic downturn. I believe it will certainly help, but how will it be delivered, how soon, and will it be sufficient?
Governors continue to close restaurants, bars, schools, gyms and other meeting places in their respective states, and restrict gatherings to a certain maximum number of people. Texas is the latest to do so. The governor has declared a “public health disaster” for the first time since 1901.
- Georgia has self-quarantined its state legislature after a state senator tested positive for the virus.
- NY Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order waiving mortgage payments for 90 days for those persons facing hardship. He also felt it necessary to deny ridiculous rumors that the state was going to declare martial law or “lock people in their homes.”
- Connecticut has joined the list of states that have delayed their primaries (from April 28 to June 2).
- There are rumors that some locales may be releasing prisoners from jails due to “unsafe overcrowding.”
- There was a report that in Philadelphia police will no longer enforce “minor” crimes. If true, these last two would be very scary. In my opinion, they would signal a breakdown in safety for ordinary citizens.
As the economy continues to deteriorate and the stock market remains in freefall I am reminded that last year certain far left liberals, for example, comedian Bill Maher, expressed dismay that the economy was setting records, because it was reflecting well on Donald Trump. They were wishing for a downturn so he would be blamed and then possibly be defeated for re-election. I know they weren’t wishing for the virus, but this reminds me of the old adage “be careful what you wish for.”
The ramifications of this virus may reach far beyond the medical issues. It may plunge what was arguably the best economy ever into a depression. In addition, it may swing the presidential election. A month ago President Trump looked like a strong bet to win. If this keeps up or gets worse, it may cost him the election.
On the plus side, this crisis has even managed to get political opponents, to mend fences, at least temporarily. For example, President Trump, CA Governor Gavin Newsome and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo have been coordinating efforts fairly seamlessly, even complimenting each other. Even Rep Ilhan Omar has praised Mr. Trump’s efforts. Most politicians realize that now is the time to put aside differences and unite against the common enemy. The virus does not distinguish between GOP and Dem, black and white, or rich and poor. Now, if we can only get CNN and MSNBC to climb on the bandwagon that would be impressive.