One of the few silver linings relative to the coronavirus pandemic is that we are reminded of what a great country the US is. We may have our differences most of the time, but as most of you know, time after time, the US has demonstrated its formidable power when it unites to combat a common enemy. We have defeated fascism, communism, terrorism and tyrannical governments. We have survived previous epidemics and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. We have defeated diseases such as smallpox and polio. I am confident that we will defeat the coronavirus as well.
In watching the daily briefings on tv one sees that the full weight of the US has been mobilized. One can debate about the degree of readiness, whether we, as a nation, should have been better prepared, and who is to blame. However, I maintain that that is a debate for another day, after the virus has been neutralized. A wise man, or country, learns from his mistakes so as not to repeat them, and hopefully, we will.
At the present time, the private sector has risen to the challenge in a manner that is uniquely American. The hallmarks of the private sector are free enterprise and competition, and we are seeing them both on full display now. The private sector is teaming with the federal, state and local governments and the scientific and medical communities to defeat the virus, and I am confident that we will succeed. Why? Simply, because we always have. As I have said many times, I am a “glass half full” guy.
Below please find the significant developments of the last few days, which will illustrate my point. As always, the following is derived from a combination of reports from various media outlets such as the Washington Post, NY Times, Vox News, CNN and Fox, among many others:
- As I write this, the total cases worldwide has risen to roughly 435,000 with some 19,600 fatalities. By the time you read this, it is likely that the numbers will be close to 500,000 and 20,000, respectively, as the trend has been sharply up. The virus has spread to 195 countries. (I didn’t even know that there were 195 countries in the world.)
- The numbers for the US are about 55,000 and 800, respectively.
- The current hot spots are Italy, France, Spain, Iran and the US. There are many theories as to why those countries, but no one really knows for sure. In my opinion, two major factors are the relative mobility of the respective populaces (except for Iran) and better identification and reporting of infected people.
- Within the US the hottest spot, by far, is NY State. Presently, it has reported approximately 1/2 of the cases and 1/3 of the deaths in the entire country. Within NYS, the preponderance of cases and deaths has been in the NYC metro area, including Long Island and Westchester. Alarmingly, lately, the number of cases in NYC have been doubling every three days. According to Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, this has been exacerbated by NYC residents fleeing the city for those areas. Many of them are not exhibiting symptoms, however, they may be in the very early stages of the disease or they may just be asymptomatic but capable of infecting others. Accordingly, the authorities have urged anyone travelling from NYC to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.
- Even worse, the NY Times has reported that some 60% of new cases nationwide are in the NYC metro area.
- As bad as the US numbers may be, most independent observers agree that they would have been considerably worse if President Trump had not taken prompt, decisive action to restrict travel into the US and encourage symptomatic people to self-quarantine for 14 days. In particular, Vice President Mike Pence and medical experts like Drs. Fauci and Birx maintain that those actions bought us time to gear up.
- When President Trump took these actions at the end of January the mainstream media vilified him. A sampling of headlines from early February: Washington Post – “Get a grippe, America” The [seasonal] flu is a much bigger threat.” The NY Times characterized the move as “racist attacks against Asians.” Vox News – “Is this going to turn into a deadly pandemic? No.”
- On February 9 commentator Mark Levine encouraged people to feel free to celebrate the Chinese New Year in NYC’s Chinatown. He admonished, “If you stay away you are missing out.” NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot chimed in, “enjoy the parade; ignore ‘misinformation’ ” [about the threat of the coronavirus]. How ignorant do those headlines and comments seem now?
- What was Congress focused on during this time? A “fools errand” trying to impeach and remove Donald Trump from office. So, if anyone was “asleep at the wheel” it was Congress and the mainstream media.
- Testing is, in the words of Dr. Birx, “ramping up.” We are now up to some 70,000 per day, much of it through drive-through facilities. Dr. Birx and others have told us the amount will increase prospectively. Furthermore, self testing kits will soon be available. The timeframe between testing and results will be decreasing from days to hours. Ninety percent of the tests have been negative.
- The fatality rate has been dropping to below 1%.
- As I said, the private sector is “all in.” For example, many large companies are providing large quantities of medical supplies such as surgical masks, ventilators and respirators and retooling their plants to produce even more. Additionally, many companies have been paying or donating money to their workers. Some individuals have made it a point to patronize their favorite restaurant and tip service workers a little extra.
- VP Pence has characterized the private sector’s involvement as “deeply inspiring [and] “extraordinary.”
- Drs. Fauci and Birx have been telling us that various scientists and pharmaceutical groups have been working feverishly to develop a vaccine, however, they caution none will be ready for general use for at least one year. In the meantime, there may be some therapeutic treatments available. There has been much talk about the efficacy of the anti-malarial medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. These drugs have been in use for well over 50 years for treating malaria and have been very effective. Many people who have taken these drugs for treating the virus have been cured. For example, there have been reports of a Florida man who was near death, took the drug, and recovered. But, medical professionals are cautioning people not to take these without a doctor’s prescription. They have not undergone clinical trials for treating the virus, and there are many potential side effects.
- There have been reports of hoarding and price gouging, particularly with respect to medical supplies. Of course, this is unconscionable. President Trump has directed AG William Barr to investigate, and he is.
- Congress has been debating the terms of an aide package of up to $6 trillion. As I have said in previous blogs, this is desperately needed to assist corporations, small businesses and individual workers through this crisis. They are suffering through no fault of their own. In order to combat this virus the government has decreed that nonessential businesses be closed and their employees stay home. The bill contains a variety of cash payments, loans and other benefits specifically aimed at those affected by the pandemic. It is not designed to be a general handout. Unfortunately, typically Congress moves at a snail’s pace, so, as I write this, the package has not been passed. (Note, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has disclosed they have an agreement and hopefully they will approve it today.) Reports indicate that the House and Senate were very close to a deal over this past weekend, but then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the far left wing of the House, seeking to take advantage of the exigent situation, attempted to add some highly partisan last minute amendments. These were pure “pork barrel” and part of the ill-fated Green New Deal and far left “wish list.” Shame on them! They had nothing to do with combatting the virus. To their credit, the other members of Congress refused to be bullied and blackmailed, so the bill has stalled. This type of maneuvering may be typical in normal times, but this is not the time for it. Time is of the essence. People are suffering severe economic hardship. We are on the verge of a severe recession or even a depression.
As I have written in previous blogs in addition to the severe medical impact of the virus there was a very real possibility that the economic impact could be worse and more long-lasting. Shutting down the economy, though necessary in the short run, is a really bad idea in the long run. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to reboot once the virus has been neutralized. The collateral damage and unintended consequences could last for many, many years.
President Trump realizes this as do many others. He senses Americans are a nation of “doers.” They want to get back to work. It’s imperative that we have an economy to go back to once we have conquered this virus.
Throughout this ordeal he has tried to strike a balance between optimism and reality. He has been criticized by his detractors, but, for the most part, his decisions have been right. According to the latest Gallup Poll 60% of Americans approve of the way he has handled this crisis.
He has set a goal to be back on line by Easter, which is April 12. It may or may not happen, and he assured us he would not force it if we were not ready, but it is good to set goals. Perhaps, it will be a gradual return to normalcy as sections of the country become ready.
Some of you may remember President JFK in the early sixties setting a goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Many people mocked him for that bold prediction, and it seemed unattainable, but we did it. Yes, it is good to have a goal to shoot for. It tends to focus the effort. It did so for the moon landing. Let’s hope it does so in this case as well.