Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, April 25 through Friday, May 1, 2020 [#41]
The Week’s Most Notable
Now opening 30 states! The week was filled with statements for and against re-opening states from the COVID-19 induced coma. Soon to be irrelevant (and now possibly infected) gun-toting protesters stormed the Michigan state house. Medical experts galore warned that we’ re not ready – not enough full-service testing capability and no policy to guide it. The White House and much of the GOP want to stop talking about the coronavirus and instead focus on the “economic recovery.” Yet the economy seems headed into an already burning dumpster. All of this looks like a formula for cacophony, confusion, and more coronavirus outbreaks. Give us the merry month of May to see what happens.
Saturday, April 25
[Coronavirus] U.S. Cases: 938,154; Deaths: 53,755; Hospitalizations: 93,270
[Coronavirus] White House Briefings Halted – Following the disastrous “inject disinfectant” briefing of last Thursday, the daily Trump show was cut short on Friday and canceled altogether Saturday. The daily Trump show is over. However, as the week progressed Trump was unable to stay out of the limelight and the White House arranged other types of semi-coronavirus-related appearances.
[Coronavirus] WHO Warns There Is No Evidence People Cannot Be Reinfected – One of the most significant unknowns about COVID-19 is the degree of immunization, if any, from having had an infection. Some viruses produce a very high degree of immunization that can last for years. Other viruses have weak and/or short-term immunization. Although studies are underway, this critical aspect of COVID-19 is a missing piece in the ability to determine the return of epidemic levels of infection.
Sunday, April 26
[Coronavirus] Birx Says Social Distancing Needed Over Summer – In a statement that displeased the White House, Dr. Birx warned that even with the reopening of the economy it will be necessary to maintain six-foot distances, to avoid crowds, and to limit public exposure.
[Coronavirus] CDC Adds to the List of Coronavirus Symptoms – The significance of the six new symptoms (chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell) is that COVID-19 tests are often conditioned on the basis of presenting “official” symptoms. Now there are nine such symptoms (including fever, cough, and shortness of breath). The changes are indicative of the steep learning curve associated with this novel virus.
[Coronavirus] Tyson Chairman Warns of Meat Shortage – Adding to the air of crisis surrounding coronavirus outbreaks, his statement that the “food supply chain is breaking” sets up a high-pressure dynamic between keeping plants open and public safety. This aspect of the crisis is just now coming to public attention, as dozens of meat processing plants report extremely high infection rates among employees.
Monday, April 27
[Coronavirus] Trump Announces New Coronavirus Testing Guidance – Guidance is the key word here, as Trump reiterated that states are expected to develop their own testing plans. There will be no federal effort to coordinate or develop a national testing regime. According to Trump, “The testing is not going to be a problem at all.” He also predicted a final death toll of 60,000 to 70,000, which is interesting because by the end of the week the U.S. already had 65,000 deaths with no end in sight. We are on track to have a hundred thousand deaths by the end of May.
[Coronavirus] New Zealand Declares End of Coronavirus Community Transmission – Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said that the spread of coronavirus seemed all but over and that the country would be relaxing its restrictions. As per the CDC guidance in the United States, New Zealand has had a declining infection rate for more than 14 days, has adequate testing capability, and is in a position to do contact tracing.
[International Relations – China] Trump Considers Billing China for Coronavirus Damage – Similar to calling on Mexico to pay for the border wall, Trump’s vacant threat signaled a new right-wing offensive to lump together China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO problems, and Joe Biden. Of course, China immediately returned the compliment by accusing Trump of deflecting from the deficiency of his own policies. These are opening salvos in what may be an ongoing war of words to serve propaganda agendas. It’s debatable whether American voters care much about any of this.
Tuesday, April 28
[Coronavirus] Trump Orders Meat Processing Plants to Stay Open – Using the Defense Production Act, Trump issued an executive order forcing continued production even when plants have extraordinarily high coronavirus infection rates. The rationale is simple: If plants closed based on the harsh reality of illness and death, then the U.S. meat supply could be cut by as much as 80%, a catastrophe in many eyes. Significantly however, Trump did not simultaneously order plants to meet CDC and OSHA coronavirus-related requirements for public health and safety. This is an astonishingly bald-faced move that kowtows to industry pressure, putting profits and production over the health and lives of workers.
[Coronavirus] VP Pence Eschews Mask at Mayo Clinic – While touring around the clinic, Pence was the only person not wearing a mask, in violation of clinic policy. Pence explained he is regularly tested and isn’t infected. Good for him; now if we could just apply that to about 320 million other Americans. As they say, this was not good optics.
Wednesday, April 29
[Economy] Economy Contracts at 4.8% – The figures for the first quarter include the first two “good months” of January and February before the coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, the nearly 5% contraction is the largest since the crash of 2008 and officially signals the end of a long economic expansion. Economists expect the second quarter numbers to be far worse, possibly approaching an annualized drop of 40% in the economy.
[Economy] Fed Will Maintain Interest Rates Near Zero – As one of the few bright spots in the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, the Fed stepped in early and hard to prop up the U.S. financial system, which so far has remained stable. In closing a two-day policy meeting, the Fed announced it will maintain current short-term interest rates.
[Coronavirus] Fauci Announces “very optimistic” COVID-19 Treatment – The announcement kicked off a round of very excited discussion about potential treatments and cures. Dr. Fauci emphasized that this particular drug, remdesivir, is not a cure but apparently does help speed recovery in some patients. On Thursday, the FDA announced emergency authorization for remdesivir. Also, Fauci made another good news announcement by saying that a vaccine might be possible by January 2021. [Cynics, STFU.]
[Coronavirus] California Closes Some Beaches – The principal beach area closed by the governor was in Orange County where reportedly 90,000 gathered over the hot sunny weekend. The closure touched off a round of complaints from county officials and local protesters. Closing of beaches is a hotly debated subject in epidemiology since open air and sun are considered good physically and mentally, but crowding and close contact are bad for virus control.
Thursday, April 30
[Economy] Unemployment Insurance Claims Rose Another 3.8 Million – Last week’s addition brings the official total national unemployment to around 30 million. This is an undercount because many people are still unable to file their applications. Analysts believe we may be concluding the first round of unemployment, those directly created by coronavirus closures. The next round will result from ripple effects of the closures; for example, layoffs of suppliers, middlemen, and support workers.
[Coronavirus] FEMA to Send PPE to Nursing Homes – Surgical masks, gloves, eye protection, and gowns have been almost nonexistent for nursing homes and elder care facilities. FEMA’s distribution of PPE to 154,000 facilities is aimed at blunting criticism for ignoring their crisis. Although known to be hotbeds of COVID-19 infection with very high death rates, on a national or even state basis, exact numbers are rare because of the chronic lack of testing.
[Immigration] Court Rules Against Withholding “Sanctuary City” Funds – The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower court opinions blocking Trump administration efforts to withhold millions of dollars from cities that do not cooperate with anti-immigration activity. The next step for this issue is the Supreme Court. [Trump announced he is considering withholding coronavirus funds from sanctuary cities.]
[Coronavirus] White House Social Distancing Guidelines Expire Today – It’s all up to the states now.
Friday, May 1
[Coronavirus] U.S. Cases: 1,103,000; Deaths: 64,943; Hospitalizations: 121,748 – Even with the intense mitigation efforts the death total is already greater than any seasonal flu outbreak except 1967 (100,000), 1957 (116,000), and 1918 (675,000).
[Coronavirus] White House Blocks Fauci from Giving House Committee Testimony – In another typically incendiary move, Trump challenges constitutional powers; except that he is permitting Dr. Fauci to testify before the Senate.
[Election 2020] Biden Flatly Denies Sexual Assault Allegation – In a prepared statement and an appearance on the Morning Joe television program, Biden said, “I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago. They aren’t true. This never happened.” Although Biden complied with demands that he make a direct statement, it is unlikely to quell the controversy – if only because Republicans are unlikely to let it rest, despite Trump’s own record in this area. By the November election the issue is likely to be a wash.
[Gun Control] Canada Bans All Assault-Style Weapons – In response to the mass shootings in Nova Scotia two weeks ago, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import, or use military-grade assault weapons – although it is still permitted to own such guns.
Coronavirus Crisis Notes
Here’s an outline of most elements required for coronavirus testing (either viral or serum):
- Test kit manufacturing – quality control, management, production tracking, kit assembly
- Distribution of sample test kits – allocation management, inventory and shipping management
- Point of use management – kit receiving, inventory control, proper storage, delivery to point of use
- Collect sample from patient – swab or collector, container, labeling system, PPE, collecting personnel
- Transport sample for processing – transport system, tracking-management system, shipping personnel
- Laboratory processing – test processing machinery, test chemicals, test tracking, testing personnel
- Test results processing – results analysis, lab monitoring, results reporting system, sample storage
- Results reporting – medical personnel, results interpretation, results follow-up
It’s a surprisingly lengthy and fragile chain. In a country with the population of the U.S., all of this must be performed at scale, meaning large numbers – tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions – per day. There are hundreds of manufacturers, both domestic and international. There are hundreds of processing laboratories. There are tens of thousands points of use, and ultimately many millions of people to be tested, ideally multiple times and in different ways. Besides reporting for individuals and their doctors, it’s easy to see that to convert all of this into useful medical management at any level (local, state, regional, or national) requires a great deal of sophisticated coordination. Normally this coordination would be done at the federal level by the CDC with the support of the FDA, FEMA, and possibly other agencies. This is not happening. Trump has turned testing over to the states and the result is a patchwork, at best. The predictable outcome is that COVID-19 testing is not uniform in protocol or standards, is not reliably analyzed on a national basis, and is not used in an organized way to guide public policy, such as the “reopening” of states. This will cost many lives.
Polls continue to show overwhelming support for COVID-19 controls. Typical examples are 81% support continuation of stay-at-home restrictions, 85% oppose reopening of schools, and 98% said they would not inject themselves with disinfectants.
How bad will it be? Very few people really understand how precarious the U.S. (and world) economy actually is. Right now, it’s projections, enigmatic numbers: 40% decline in economic activity, 32% unemployment, 10% loss in GDP. Soon though, these numbers will become misery, poverty, fear, anger, and a lot of other unpleasant states of mind. What will people feel like, say by the end of summer, when tens of thousands of businesses have gone bankrupt? What happens when unemployment insurance runs out? What happens when tens of millions default on loans and payments? What will this type of economic depression feel like? Quite literally, no sane economist believes we will quickly recover from this traumatic shock. Confidence (to spend money) is lost in such anguish – whether consumer or business – and does not return easily or quickly.
And yet for the Trump-Republican-Right-Wing a quick recovery is exuberantly predicted:
Hoorah! We’re going back to normal! Real soon! We are all-in: the coronavirus threat was exaggerated, damn the COVID-19 and go back to work. Trump said “we’re going to have the greatest third quarter,” the economy will be great by August, or according to Jared by June, “a lot of the country should be back to normal.” The Kool-Aid du jour is happy talk; everybody gets a unicorn decorated with gold and jewels. This seems like the biggest political gamble, perhaps ever.
The next tranche of coronavirus relief (plus maybe stimulus money) will be a game of chicken. Yes, this is not a game; but Republicans are digging in their heels about providing money to states and local governments, or to continue extending unemployment insurance. They somehow resurrected their old-time no-debt religion. Democrats, states, and local governments are frantically pointing out that the coronavirus crisis debt has nothing to do with fiscal management. It’s a natural crisis and without support the essential services provided by workers such as cops, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and teachers, many will lose their jobs – millions of them, at the worst possible time for the economy. The betting (the hope) is that this is a political dumb-show on the part of the GOP, and that McConnell will flinch, folding like a cheap picnic chair when pushing comes to shoving by July. The message has gone out, not just from the Fed chair but from executives – do what it takes to save the economy; that is, spend the damn money. Then too, liberal economist Paul Krugman is reminding us that we have historic low interest rates. The government can borrow money right now for next to nothing, literally.
Democracy and the USPS: On the one hand, Democrats and most of the public want voting by mail as the safest, surest method available. Republicans and Trump say no, too much fraud by mail. Republican solution – try to kill the United States Postal Service by denying coronavirus crisis aid. This won’t work because public sentiment and the Democrats will force some bailout, but it won’t be enough money and Republicans are counting on a relatively dysfunctional USPS by November.
It’s official: Trump-GOP counting on economic rebound for electoral victory and the main tactic will be happy-talk. This does not seem like a good bet.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quotes of the Week
“Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?” Trump tweet, 4/27/2020.
“My red line going forward on this bill is [that] we can’t pass another bill unless we have liability protection. You have to carefully craft the liability protection to deal with the money that would be supplied to state and local governments conditioned upon them enacting at the state level the kind of legislation that would provide liability protection for those [companies] that are seeking to go forward and get the economy back to work.” Mitch McConnell [R-KY] on Fox News, as reported by The Washington Post, 4/28/2020.