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By Robert A. Vella

Reopening the economy is on everyone’s minds today after President Trump released his “guidelines” to do so yesterday even though he has reluctantly conceded that authority to state governors.  The coronavirus pandemic has left the global economy in tatters with consumer spending virtually halted from necessary restrictive orders, commercial trade and travel slowed to a trickle, and unemployment rising to depression-era levels.  Governments too are being financially crushed under the weight of vast expenditures to assist laid-off workers, failing businesses, overstressed hospitals struggling to contain this massive public health crisis, and compounded by dramatic decreases in tax revenues.

The longer COVID-19 ravages the world, the deeper the economic hole we will fall into and the harder it will be for us to climb out.  Eventually, the damage could be so severe that it pushes humankind into a dystopian future only envisioned in science fiction stories.  So, we simply must get back on our feet.  But, here’s the problem.

If we rush ahead recklessly to restore normal economic activity, we risk prolonging and exacerbating the pandemic.  That means much more sickness, many more deaths, and a lot more people afraid to venture out in public.  The economy would naturally crash once again no matter what governments did to stop it.  Until an effective vaccine and medical treatments become viable, such a risk is far too dangerous to take.

The interim solution is clear.  Expand diagnostic testing and contact tracing as comprehensively as possible to identify where the virus is.  That data can then be used to isolate clusters of infections and to quarantine contagious individuals in order to allow uninfected and possibly recovered people to return to normal life.  Unfortunately, that level of testing is occurring only in a handful of countries.

In the U.S., the laboratory capacity to perform diagnostic testing is not being maximized.  States, local governments, and the healthcare industry are unable to procure the required supplies, and the federal government is not filling the void because the Trump administration is refusing to take on that responsibility (for political reasons).  Consequently, testing is being largely reserved for hospitalized COVID-19 patients only.

Here’s today’s news:

From:  China revises up Wuhan death toll as US plots re-opening

… the economic devastation was clear to see in China where gross domestic product slammed into reverse for the first time since records began.

And Wuhan’s city government added 1,290 deaths to its toll, bringing the total to 3,869 after many dead were “mistakenly reported” or missed entirely, adding to growing global doubts over China’s transparency.

[…]

World leaders are grappling with the question of when to re-open society, seeking a life-and-death balance between unfreezing stalled economies and preventing a deadly second coronavirus wave.

While Trump declared Thursday that the time had come for the “next front in our war” with a phased reboot of the US economy, others took the opposite path — Japan, Britain and Mexico all expanded current restrictions.

[…]

But some European countries — such as hard-hit Spain and Italy — were embarking on a long road back to normality, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals stripped of their usual throngs of tourists.

From:  U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll May Only Be ‘Tip of the Iceberg,’ Says CDC Adviser

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the U.S., obtaining an accurate tally of cases and deaths has become a growing challenge.

Death counts may be underestimated due to several factors. Staff shortages and bureaucratic red tape around accessing death records in certain states have also reportedly added to the issue, causing delays in reporting the latest state figures to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But many potentially infected people have been dying at home. These deaths are currently unaccounted for because of a lack of testing before they died.

Several metropolitan areas of states with some of the highest death tolls in the country have reportedly seen a spike in fatalities at home that may have been from COVID-19.

From:  ‘Massive blindspot’: Missing data in COVID pandemic leaves US vulnerable

“We, in the U.S., have a massive blindspot because of the lack of testing,” Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor who worked on a website to help bridge the data gap, told ABC News. “We’ve not really had a deep understanding of the amount of illness that happened in the community.”

“Without knowing, it creates a real barrier to us to be able to effectively model and project out the epidemic in the U.S. because we need to understand how much infection has taken place,” Brownstein added.

Brownstein believes the number of cases in the U.S. is more likely in the millions. He said through the website he helped create, which allows the public to self-report any symptoms, some 400 people who responded (out of the 400,000 who used it) said they tested positive for COVID. But 4,000 displayed all the symptoms of the disease. The most severe cases may include fever, heavy dry cough, and serious breathing issues that can lead to hospitalization or even death. While 80% of cases are believed to have mild or no symptoms at all.

“The majority of people, at least 10x or more, who were displaying COVID symptoms said they were not tested,” he said.

Out of the estimated 329 million people who live in the country, only 3.2 million have been tested, according to the Johns Hopkins data.

[…]

Experts estimate that a robust contact tracing program, to monitor and stamp out outbreaks and help open up the economy could mean spending $3.6 billion and hiring 100,000 workers. Tracing systems are used to track the flu and other contagious diseases.

From:  Americans are much more worried about scaling back social distancing too early than too late

New polling from Pew Research Center suggests that Americans are more likely to side with the experts than with Trump. By a 2-to-1 margin, they are more concerned that distancing measures will be rescinded too quickly than too slowly. There’s a partisan split on the question, but not as big as you might think. Among conservative Republicans, views are about split. Among moderate Republicans, a large majority is more worried about moving too quickly than too slowly.

The partisan divide narrows when you overlay income. Wealthier Democrats are much more worried about rescinding the orders too soon than are lower-income Democrats. Lower-income Republicans, on the other hand, are more worried than wealthier ones about moving too quickly.

Americans also generally give Trump low marks on his handling of the pandemic — particularly in terms of his presentation of its risks. A majority think that Trump has made the coronavirus outbreak seem better than it is. About 4 in 10 — mostly Republicans — think that he’s presented the risks fairly. Almost no one thinks that he’s overplayed the dangers it poses.

From:  The rightwing groups behind wave of protests against Covid-19 restrictions

While protesters in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and other states claim to speak for ordinary citizens, many are also supported by street-fighting rightwing groups like the Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups and other elements of the radical right.

On Wednesday in Lansing, Michigan, a protest put together by two Republican-connected not-for-profits was explicitly devised to cause gridlock in the city, and for a time blocked the entrance to a local hospital.

It was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which Michigan state corporate filings show has also operated under the name of Michigan Trump Republicans. It was also heavily promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, a group linked to Trump cabinet member Betsy DeVos.

But the protest also attracted far right protest groups who have been present at pro-Trump and gun rights rallies in Michigan throughout the Trump presidency.

Headlines:

Kentucky, Indiana to join Midwest regional partnership for reopening states’ economies

Michael Cohen will be released from prison due to pandemic

Montana Judge Blocks Keystone XL Permit for River Crossings

EPA guts rule credited with cleaning up coal-plant toxic air

13 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Reopening the economy, and the problem of testing

  1. What a debacle! If we don’t reopen our economy with care, we risk having a resurgence. Until general testing is readily available, I will definitely curtail my movement in public spaces to the essential.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. He reluctantly ceded authority to the state’s governors … as long as they do his bidding. Those that appear prepared to buck him, he is inciting protests and riots in their states. Such professionalism, eh?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The protests are even taking place here in California. On Friday, April 17, over a hundred of his faithful supporters converged on Huntington Beach to demonstrate against our coronavirus stay-at-home rules.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I read that this evening, and included mention of it in my a.m. post for today. The last place I would have expected it. Sigh. My fear is that we’re on the cusp of violence breaking out at some of these protests, especially if Trump, conservative groups, and Fox News keep egging them on.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Trump’s inciting rhetoric is an act of political retribution because he was forced to concede that his “total authority” to reopen the economy doesn’t actually exist. BTW, those right-wing nutjobs are also protesting in states with Republican governors (e.g. Ohio, Maryland, and Idaho).

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  3. I agree. Testing, testing, testing and contract tracing are the only reasonable ways forward as evidence from South Korea and Germany indicate. The question becomes ‘how do we scale up those specific industries to meet the needs of even 50% of the world’s almost 8 billion people?’ Many academics in various corners of the planet are calling for restructuring economies to respond directly and specifically to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the absence of a vaccine or viable treatments for the virus (as you’ve noted), perhaps we need to settle in for the long haul (possibly years) and begin planning for such a restructuring.

    Liked by 1 person

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