Phase 1 of dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic is almost finished. Many areas have already passed their peak. Many others are approaching their peak. As Drs. Fauci and Birx have explained many times that even though the fatality count is still rising in many areas that statistic is viewed as a lagging indicator. Doctors focus on the number of hospitalizations, which are levelling off or decreasing in many areas.
Currently, most medical professionals are of the opinion that the curve is flattening. That is great news. But, now, we will be facing another challenge, which I believe will be just as dangerous and just as much a threat to our way of life. Perhaps, in the long run, it will be more so. Of course, I am referring to Phase 2, the reopening of the economy. More on this later.
Just a month or so ago, the economy was roaring; unemployment was at historic lows; consumer confidence was high; and the stock market was at an historic high. Now, unemployment is at levels not seen since the Great Depression; consumer confidence has eroded; and the stock market, though recovering, is down substantially from its highwater mark.
Why? Our political leaders and virtually all medical professionals had determined that in order to defeat the CV we had to completely shut down the economy except for essential services. Most of them agreed at the time, and still do, that such a shutdown was necessary. The tradeoff was to save lives from a deadly, highly contagious virus recognizing that we would be severely damaging the economy in the short run. The hope was that after we had dealt with the virus the economy would recover. For example,
- Entire industries have been virtually shut down.
- Many small businesses, the very backbone of our economy, have gone out of business. Many more are on the verge of doing so.
- Over 16 million people are out of work, just like that, and through no fault of their own. We are talking about real lives, which may never be the same again.
- Schools have been closed.
- “Broadway” in NYC has gone “dark.”
- Professional and amateur sports, which many people need and want as an “escape,” have had their seasons disrupted and/or cancelled. Major League baseball has delayed the 2020 season and may not be able to resume until late summer/early fall. The NBA and NHL may not be able to complete their seasons. The 2020 NFL season will, at the very least, be severely disrupted. All NCAA sports have been disrupted and/or cancelled, including, among others, the highly-popular and profitable men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. All this has affected not just the athletes, but also the countless ancillary jobs and services that depend on them.
- The list goes on and on.
Next, we will face a unique situation. We will have to reopen the economy. This has never been done before. No one really knows how to do it. No one really knows what the ramifications will be. There will likely be unintended consequences that will last for years, if not decades. Everyone has an opinion. Who will make the final decision? The President? Individual governors? Whose advice will be paramount? The medical professionals? The business people? A combination? Again, no one knows. Anyone who claims to is lying and not to be trusted.
Opinions as to how to proceed differ radically. Generally, the medical professionals are being cautious. Many of them are warning of substantially more deaths or even a resurgence of the CV if we move too quickly. Some of the more conservative ones would like to wait until we have developed a proven vaccine. More on this later.
The businesspeople and the unemployed individuals are becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of losing their livelihood permanently. Many economists are warning us that the longer we wait the harder it will be to return the economy to the way it was. The politicians are caught in the middle. They know that regardless of what they do people will suffer. They also know that their decisions will be closely scrutinized after the fact, and if things turn out wrong they will be blamed, and perhaps lose their positions. More on this decision-making process later.
Below please find an outline of some of the recent significant developments as reported by various news outlets including the NYT, Fox News, CNBC, and CNN, among others:
- According to Worldometer, as I write this the total cases worldwide are in excess of 1.8 million with some 110,000 fatalities. In the US the numbers are approximately 533,000 cases and over 21,000 fatalities. Moreover, the total US deaths when all is said and done are projected to be 60,000. Every death is a tragedy, but we should be happy that the current projected total is considerably fewer than the 100,000 to 240,000 that was predicted just a few weeks ago..
- The situation in various states varies widely. Some have been hard-hit, others not so much. Some have reached their peak, while others are not close. In all likelihood, this will result in a variance of restart dates for their respective economies. I do not envision a “one size fits all” situation. For example,
a. The governors of TX and FL are already discussing reopening schools and businesses in their respective states.
b. On the other hand CA, PA, WA and NY are exhibiting more caution. NY Gov Andrew Cuomo told reporters he will not reopen non-essential businesses until “widespread testing” for CV is available. Schools in NYC, CA, PA and WA will be closed through the end of the school year.
3. Most likely, the timing and nature of the restart will also differ by industry. For instance, healthcare, beauty salons and restaurants will probably get up to speed fairly quickly. There is a pent-up demand for those services. (If you doubt me, talk to your wife.) It has been reported that the auto industry is targeting May 4. On the other hand, the airline and cruise ship industries will probably not return to normal until 2021, if ever. Of course, these and all other businesses will be dependent on child care facilities being up to speed.
4. Some industries, such as financial services will likely have to adapt to a new normal. Many employees of financial institutions have been working from home successfully throughout this period. This arrangement has been aided and abetted by the wonders of modern electronic communication. Moreover, it has yielded several financial benefits to both employers and employees. There may be no returning to the old ways.
5. The retail industry as we knew it, is in grave trouble. People have gotten used to shopping on-line. They have experienced and gotten used to the obvious advantages. Brick and mortar stores will find it increasingly difficult to compete, and many will be closing.
6. As we return to work both employers and employees should be mindful of the federal guidelines for dealing with the CV, many of which are common sense:
a. Test as many people as possible or practicable.
b. Take your temperature before going to work.
c. Wear protective gear, i. e. face mask and gloves
d. Practice social distancing.
e. Employees that feel sick should go home or to a doctor immediately.
f. Avoid sharing any items, such as headsets, that people keep near their face.
g. Try to avoid congregating in groups.
h. Keep the workspace clean and disinfected, especially frequently-touched surfaces, such as counters and bathrooms..
7. The latest controversy is over Easter church services. Individual states are dealing with them differently. For example, FL and TX have exempted them from the stay-at-home order, whereas in GA and IN worshippers are being urged to attend services online. Authorities in KY will record group worshippers’ license plates and hand them over to local health officials who will then enforce a 14-day quarantine. Some church groups have been protesting any restrictions as impinging on their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
8. The daughter of a woman who died at the Seattle nursing home where there was a cluster of CV-related deaths has filed a lawsuit against the facility.
9. Dr. Chris Murray, director of the IHME, which created the model that the White House has been using, told CNN that he believes the US’s daily death toll, which exceeded 2,000 Friday, has peaked. Worldometer has reported that Saturday’s US death count was minimal. Despite this, Drs. Fauci and Birx continue to warn that we should not get overconfident. They caution that we need to continue to follow the mitigation guidelines that have worked so well. If not, they and others predict a spike in infections and fatalities.
10. Widespread testing is generally considered to be critical in controlling the CV. According to President Trump the US is “leading the world in testing” thanks, in large part, to Abbott Labs’ development of a five-minute test. Currently, the US is conducting in excess of 100,000 tests per day and has completed over 2 million in total.
President Trump has characterized the decision of when and how he will seek to restart the country’s economy as “without question the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.” Accordingly, he has said he will consult with a broad spectrum of experts, including doctors, economists, business people and federal, state and local politicians of both Parties. He will also consider what has and has not worked in other countries. Finally, he will be introducing an “opening our country council” on Tuesday, which will be heavily involved in all decisions. I think this is the correct approach. It is wise to cast as wide a net as possible. As the old saying goes, “better to have him/them inside your tent p***ing out than outside your tent p***ing in.”
Apparently, some people are concerned that Mr. Trump will make decisions regarding the economy unilaterally. This is absurd on its face. Nevertheless, in response to reporters’ questions on this matter the president has repeatedly assured he will “listen to the experts.” In addition, he has assured that “we’re not doing anything until we know this country is going to be healthy [after the restart].
Many of Mr. Trump’s enemies in the media and elsewhere have been openly critical of his performance during this period. It is their right as Americans to express contrary opinions. However, some of them seem to be openly routing for the country to fail because they feel it will mean that Mr. Trump has failed. Some House Dems are even talking about an investigation of Mr. Trump’s handling of the CV crisis. I maintain that it is Congress’ constitutional right, or even duty, to conduct oversight over the executive branch. But, based on recent history, I fear such an investigation will devolve into another “witch hint.” Now is not the time for that.
All this political partisanship is most bothersome to me. During a crisis such as this we all have to pull together. I don’t think the GOP was rooting for us to lose WWII to make FDR look bad. In my view, this is no different. This, too, is war, and it is incumbent upon us to rally behind our leaders.