REOPENING THE ECONOMY

As you know, the world has been battling a serious CV pandemic since January.  The CV has been so virulent that most countries, including the US, have virtually shut down their economies for about the last month.  Presently, all 50 states are operating under a state of emergency.  This is the first time that has ever occurred.

Additionally, at the present time, 43 of the 50 states are operating under stay-at-home directives imposed by their respective governors.  Recently, in SD, one of the seven states that is not operating under such a directive, a Smithfield factory reported 769 cases of CV.  The factory was closed, and currently there is a widespread demand within SD that Governor Kristi Noem issue such a stay-at-home order.  So far, she has stood her ground saying she has “faith” in the people of SD to continue to exercise prudence.

The shutdown’s draconian measures have devastated our economy.  Unemployment has gone from the lowest on record to the highest since the Great Depression.  Over 22 million people have been put out of work through no fault of their own.  The private sector has just suffered a devastating quarter, and many businesses are on the verge of going under.  The medical community has told us that these sacrifices were necessary to defeat the CV.  For the most part, people have listened and obeyed at great economic and emotional cost.

Now, by most measurements, the CV is receding.  The rates of infections, ICU admissions, hospitalizations and fatalities have flattened or decreased.  At long last, we are nearing the time to restart the economy.   The questions are how do we do it and who will be in charge of it.

At first, Mr. Trump insisted it was the purview of the federal government.  The states’ governors pushed back, insisting that the Constitution gave them the authority to do so.  After some days of political wrangling and sniping it was agreed that the individual states would decide how and when to reopen their respective economies with the guidance and support of the federal government.  This makes sense to me as I maintain that the governors of each state are in the best position to determine an appropriate course of action for their state.  The situations are very different from state to state, or even from section to section within a given state.  For example, in NY, where I live, the situation in the NYC metro area is vastly different from that of the rest of the state.  I expect NY Governor Cuomo will take that into account.  So, the governors have secured the authority, but with the authority comes the responsibility should anything go wrong.

Basically, the plan is to reopen the economy in stages as areas are deemed safe to do so.  The states’ individual governors will have wide latitude to reopen the economies in their respective states in accordance with the federal guidelines suggested by the president and the CV Task Force headed by VP Mike Pence.  The reopening will consist of three phases.  A state or region will pass through each phase depending on its degree of readiness, according to the criteria outlined above.  For example, some states, such as AK, WY, ND, NE, WV, VT, NH, ME, HI, UT and MT are likely ready or close to ready right now.  On the other hand, states such as NY, and NJ still have quite a ways to go.

Everyone agrees that the safety of the people will be paramount.  All reopening plans will be data-driven and will rely on extensive testing, people wearing PPE, and social distancing.  There are shortages of some PPE, such as cotton swabs and reagents used in testing, but the feds are working hard to rectify them.

Below please find the current status of various states’ reopening plans:

  1. Doctors in some states have noted that the CV has been attacking the kidneys.  Twenty to forty percent of patients in ICU have been suffering kidney complications  and have needed dialysis.  This has led to a shortage of relevant machines, supplies and staff and may delay some states’ re-openings.
  2. There are increasing signs of public dissatisfaction with staying at home.  People want to return to work and commence earning money.  For those people, economic considerations are taking precedence over medical considerations.  There have been protests in several states, such as MI, VA, CA and TX.
  3. Florida has reopened some of its beaches, i.e. Jacksonville, but its schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.  SC is also planning to open its beaches.
  4.  Some governors are considering easing the social distancing guidelines, while others are being more conservative opting to delay reopening until testing is more widespread.  According to the Task Force, presently, the US is testing about 175,000 persons per day, and the total tested is around 4.2 million.  This is, by far, the most of any country.  But, a Harvard University study suggested that reopening should be delayed until the daily testing rate has been increased to about 600,000.
  5. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the border with the US, which is the longest of any two countries, will remain closed for an additional 30 days.
  6. President Trump announced that the small business loan program is “fully drained.”  As I write this, Congress is negotiating a plan to authorize additional funds, which are sorely needed.
  7. VP Mike Pence delivered a commencement speech at the Airforce Academy in CO, where graduates were required to sit six feet apart for proper social distancing.
  8. Texas governor Greg Abbott announced he intends to begin relaxing restrictions next week.
  9. Idaho will be opening some “non-essential” businesses for curbside pickup such as flower shops and jewelry stores in advance of Mother’s Day.
  10. Montana plans to commence a phased reopening after April 24.
  11. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers disclosed he will be extending the state’s stay-at-home order until May 26, but he will be lifting the ban on craft stores (which sell PPEs).
  12. North Dakota plans to commence reopening gradually after April 30.
  13.  There have been some odd events, which make one wonder what country we are living in.  In NJ there were reports of police stopping cars to demand the drivers tell them where they were going.  In Philadelphia a man was dragged off a bus and arrested for not wearing a face mask.  In CO a man was “cuffed” for having a “catch” with his daughter in a park.  Several hundred people who were listening to church services in their cars were fined.  However, MI Governor Gretchen Whitmer wins the dubious prize for executive overreach.  For example, she has forbidden people to travel to their vacation homes, to go fishing, or to buy seeds to grow their own food.  But, she is allowing people to buy liquor and lottery tickets.  Go figure.  MI is really suffering, and many people are fed up.  It has 25% unemployment, has lost the most jobs of any state, has the 5th most number of cases and the 3rd most number of deaths.  She has tried to walk back some of the damage, saying she will be reviewing the state’s guidelines on May 1, but the damage is done.  She had been on some lists for vp, but now her chances have diminished.   The above examples are enough to make one wonder what happened to the Bill of Rights.

CONCLUSION

I believe the pain of the shutdown has fallen disproportionally on those who are most vulnerable economically, the middle class and working class.   They are more likely to have the types of jobs most effected, such as factory jobs, service jobs and blue collar jobs.  Many of the wealthy work in jobs that can be done at home in which case their income has not been affected materially.  All the more reason to reboot the economy as expeditiously  as possible.

I understand why schools, shows and sports venues should remain closed for now.  But, I see no rationale for not opening small businesses such as dry cleaners, doctors offices, jewelry stores, and stationary stores to name a few, as long as patrons wear PPE and practice social distancing.  I believe we could even find a way to open office buildings and movie theatres under the same guidelines.  Workers need to work, and patrons need to get out of their homes.

Most experts agree that the re-opening will be a very delicate process.  It has never been attempted before, so there is no guidebook to follow.  If we blow it, we could become mired in a depression that would rival the Great Depression.  Therefore, it is essential that we put aside political differences and act in concert.

That said, I already have seen signs of divisiveness.  Each Party is blaming the other one for delaying to recognize the gravity of the CV.  I believe that one can ascribe blame to either side, but the major villain in this matter is China.  It was China where the CV started, most likely due to careless safety procedures in one of their labs; it was China that failed to contain the outbreak at its early stages by allowing infected people to travel internationally; it was China that launched an extensive public relations program to deflect blame onto others; it was China that withheld vital information about the CV, including that it could be transmitted from animals to humans; it was China that enforced a news blackout; it was China that cracked down on those who wanted to tell the truth, likely sending them to work camps or murdering them; it was China that expelled foreign journalists; it was China that misled other countries’ medical experts with false information; and it was China that withheld vital medical supplies to other countries.

I say to our politicians, stop blaming each other.  Our politicians and medical experts did their best.  They unwittingly relied on false information provided by China.  The real culprit is China, China, China, and China again.  When the pandemic is over the world community must investigate China’s actions and inactions thoroughly and levy appropriate sanctions.  Congress is considering a bill that would permit US citizens to file suit against China for damages.  That would be a good start.

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