Some Good News Going into the Weekend

A flag flies beside the marquee at The Anthem music venue reading a message referring to the coronavirus, Washington, D.C., April 2, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It’s Friday — although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast — and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter focuses on the good news and signs of hope that are probably getting overlooked — and read to the end for an important message from National Review.

When Americans Need to Act Fast, They Can Move Like Lightning

By no stretch of the imagination are we anywhere near “out of the woods” yet. But the dire warnings about overwhelmed hospitals — and dire reports out of facilities in New York City — have gotten many parts of the rest of the country to move quickly to take big steps to expand capacity. And now, bit by bit, parts of the country are starting to think they are, if not fully prepared for any wave, much better equipped than even a week ago.

The state of Florida has now posted a regularly updated chart of hospital bed capacity. As of this writing, the state has about 24,000 beds available, or about 40 percent, and 2,240 ICU beds available, or 37 percent.

The city of Dallas, Texas is also posting that information; as of this writing, the city’s hospitals have 48 percent of hospital beds unoccupied, 44 percent of ICU beds unoccupied, and 69 percent of ventilators are not being used.

New Jersey says its surge capacity is now ready to go:

After weeks of planning and preparations, New Jersey is now ready to activate its hospital-capacity contingency plans, as facilities in the northern counties are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by a surge of patients with COVID-19.

State officials are preparing to shift patients with more limited clinical needs from existing hospitals to the new “field medical station” set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Meadowlands in order to make room for individuals who need critical care; the field station, in Secaucus, is expected to start accepting patients Monday. Newark’s University Hospital, the region’s Level 1 trauma center, will oversee the field station and transport the patients by ambulance or air, if needed.

The coronavirus response in Washington State isn’t getting nearly enough attention. The state that had the first coronavirus case in the U.S. now ranks tenth in total cases, with 6,585 as of this writing, and 272 deaths. Credit the early application of social distancing, and I’ve heard some people speculate this reflects that people in the Pacific Northwest aren’t quite as touchy-feely and social as other parts of the country. Another big factor is that the medical community recognized the threat early and ramped up capacity quickly:

“We still have capacities at our hospitals, we are not overwhelmed. That is very different from what you are seeing in New York,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.

Regarding the supply of ventilators, state officials say there are 1,000 intensive care unit ventilators in Washington hospitals and around 50 ventilators in ambulatory surgical facilities.

The state requested 1,000 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile and received 500. The state also bought 500 ventilators.

Cassie Sauer, of the hospital association, said the big concern now is finding interim facilities for COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms who don’t need full hospital care but who also aren’t ready to go home.

She estimates that statewide, at least several hundred patients who could be discharged remain hospitalized, taking up beds.

The state of Maryland, which has the 18th-most cases in the U.S., is keeping up with demand for care so far:

Maryland is seeing an increasing number of cases of the coronavirus. Bob Atlas, CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said no hospitals are overwhelmed yet, but they are preparing.

“I wouldn’t say any hospital is at all overwhelmed, nothing like New York at this point,” Atlas said. “Probably the biggest area of need is staffing. It’s hard to flex, and there’s a limited supply. Everyone is looking everywhere they can. The governor’s executive orders have made it so that retirees, people with expired licenses can come back into service.”

Equipment is in short supply across the country. Atlas said they’re getting concerned about a shortage of ventilators as some hospitals are already at their limit. Personal protective equipment is also a concern.

“What I’m hearing from hospitals is one hospital might be in need of masks and one hospital might be in need of gowns, and so we’re starting to do some matchmaking (to) create a little bit of an ad hoc marketplace so that people can trade supplies,” Atlas said.

The coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns are brutal on the hotel industry — but in New York City, at least 20 hotels have signed contracts with the city to convert their rooms into hospital space, creating another 39,000 beds for patients who need care but not intensive care:

Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said Wednesday that the city’s current state of emergency has allowed officials to fast-track contracts with hotels. Workers will move into convert floors of rooms into hospital wings, build out nursing stations, and outfit rooms to house patients who are in need of medical care.

“We are in disaster mode so that contracts can be quickly signed. When it’s operational, patients who don’t need to be incubated, who are recovering but not well enough to leave the hospital, will be sent to hotels,” Katz said.

The city pays the hotels and FEMA reimburses the city; this might help keep these hotels afloat at a time when there are no tourists.

You’re starting to hear cautious optimism that the ramped-up hospital capacity will be sufficient around St. Louis, the San Francisco Bay area, Orange County, Calif., Vermont, southern Arizona, Ohio, and Utah.

Meanwhile, there’s been a decline in the number of cases in Bucks County, Pa.:

In contrast, Bucks County health officials reported an overall decrease in the spread of the coronavirus, although most such cases are doctors, nurses, first responders, store workers, and other essential workers serving the community.

“We are definitely seeing a decrease in the number of cases who don’t know where the heck they got it,” county Health Director David Damsker said. And between 50 and 60 people of the 407 who have tested positive for the coronavirus have recovered and come out of quarantine, he said.

Other Good News You Might Have Missed . . .

  • A side effect of so many Americans staying at home is that we’re not getting into the usual trouble that puts people into the hospital. Some emergency rooms are surprisingly quiet — in part because “COVID-19 cases are immediately secured elsewhere in the hospital without entering the ER, segregating the infected patients from the hospital population. At the same time, fears of the virus are discouraging some people who might otherwise go to the ER for a relatively minor medical issue to stay home.”
  • New York state lawmakers revised the recently passed controversial bail law to “expand the roster of serious crimes under which judges could still set bail for defendants to include offenses like sex trafficking and grand larceny, as well for certain persistent offenders.”
  • For those who thought the recently passed economic recovery bill represented creeping statism, some corporations are not sure they are willing to accept the strings that are attached to the aid money. The flight attendants’ union doesn’t want the federal government to take an equity stake in airlines that accept taxpayer-funded assistance.
  • Gun bans are wildly unrealistic proposals for a country where the right of citizens to own a firearm is written in the Constitution. But it’s also revealing that as the country faces a major crisis, Americans go out and ensure that they have a firearm and ammunition for their personal safety: “The FBI reported a 41% surge in background checks by individuals attempting to purchase firearms in the United States last month, according to newly released data from the agency, a significant increase over the same period last year. The new figures indicate 3.7 million gun purchase background checks were conducted in the month of March alone, marking the greatest number of background checks conducted in a single month since the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was launched in 1998.”

My buddy Cam noticed a growing pile of anecdotes of self-described progressives purchasing firearms. “It will be interesting to see just how many folks on the left side of the political aisle discover a newfound appreciation for the Second Amendment, and how many of them in places like coastal California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts end up discovering that the gun control laws and anti-gun politicians they may have supported in the past are actually making it impossible for them to acquire a firearm during the current emergency.”

Maybe you see a surge in gun sales as an ominous sign or a reassuring one — hey, it means some businesses out there are still thriving! — but either way, it reinforces how spectacularly implausible the fantasies of “hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15” were. This country is going to be dealing with the repercussions of the coronavirus for a long, long time. The idea of some sort of national gun confiscation initiative was always a batty idea, but any lawmaker who tries to enact some sort of widespread seizure of firearms will get, at minimum, laughed out of office now — probably by those who would be asked to seize the weapons from law-abiding citizens.)

ADDENDUM: You have probably noticed that we at National Review are asking for money again, our spring webathon. At NR, we’re . . . doing okay, although we certainly could use a little extra help right now. We understand everybody’s hurting right now — laid-off workers, closed businesses, overworked health workers. But if you can spare it, we could use your help, too. Hopefully, you have felt that the reporting from my colleagues and myself have helped illuminate the current crisis — the role of China and the regime’s lies about the virus’s contagiousness, the continuing implausibility of virus figures from Beijing, the plan of attack to control the virus’s spread, the decision-making of New York City leaders, and how Senator Tom Cotton seemed to see this crisis approaching better than most.

For many of us, our darkest hours also turn out to be our finest hours. I hope you feel that way about National Review and find our continuing efforts worthy of your support.


Ominous Indicators

A sign on the floor asks customers to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus while on line at a bank in Falls Church, Va., March 25, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On the menu today: Plague, Famine, War, Death . . . yup, we’ve got four horsemen on the horizon.

Keeping Social Order during Social Distancing

When the mild-mannered among us stop acting mild-mannered, sit up and take notice.

Adam Schefter is a reporter who covers the NFL for ESPN, and a darn good one. His beat is usually signings and trades and personnel moves. He doesn’t shout much, he doesn’t court controversy, and he rarely criticizes the league’s management. He’s the walking portrait of level-headed amiability.

But yesterday on ESPN, Schefter seemed to reach a point of angry incredulity that the NFL Draft, where teams take turns picking players coming out of college, was scheduled to go forward April 23 to 25. It will be done mostly virtually, without the usual live audience of fans, players in attendance, and hoopla. Schefter can’t believe it’s going forward, during the current crisis:

And we all hope that [the NFL season] happens, frankly. We all want that back. We all want to see the days when we have that distraction of football. We all want [organized team activities]. That’s not happening. The offseason program? That’s not happening. The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly! They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets!

Are we headed towards “carnage in the streets”? At the moment, that sounds overdramatic — at least for those of us in the United States. Hospitals in some cities are in an absolute crisis mode, but for the rest of us, life is quiet and probably increasingly lonely. But fear spurs people to do things they otherwise never would, and there are some ominous indicators for some other parts of the world.

Global Pandemics Do Not Help Food Get Where It Needs to Go

Here in the United States, we’re probably better equipped to endure this crisis that many other countries. For starters, our supply chain for food is at least okay for now; in fact, because of the various trade wars, the U.S. supplies of chicken, beef, soybeans, and dairy are at or near all-time highs. But the virus has forced the temporary closures of certain ports, truck stops, and service areas. Farmers are worried about having enough workers to harvest crops in time. Those who work in the food-processing industries that feed the rest of us get sick, too.

Some countries such as Vietnam, Russia, and Kazakhstan have temporarily stopped food exports.

The United States will not face famine. But countries that depend the most upon imported food are going to face higher prices and much greater stress on their societies.

When the Government Fails, Thugs Will See an Opportunity

Italy has its hands full with the coronavirus, with 110,574 cases and 13,155 deaths, as of this writing. (The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the official number “tells only part of the story because many people who die from the virus don’t make it to the hospital and are never tested. In the areas worst hit by the pandemic, Italy is undercounting thousands of deaths caused by the virus, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows, indicating that the pandemic’s human toll may end up being much greater, and infections far more widespread, than official data indicate.”)

Perhaps in a circumstance such as this, social unrest and violence is inevitable:

Police have been deployed on the streets of Sicily’s capital, Palermo, amid reports gangs are using social media to plot attacks on stores. A bankrupt ferry company halted service to the island, including vital supplies of food and medicines. As the state creaks under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, officials worry the mafia may be preparing to step in . . .

The lockdown has hit the 3.7 million Italians working in the underground economy particularly hard since they don’t receive a regular salary and have difficulty accessing unemployment benefits. Many of them are concentrated in the South.

(Those headlines of “Why I’d Rather Be in Italy for the Coronavirus Pandemic” look different now, huh?)

All around the world, police forces from the best to the worst are being asked to enforce quarantine rules. I suspect extreme conditions like this are a bit like having too much alcohol: It doesn’t change you, it just reveals you. This crisis is going to bring out the best in good cops and the worst in bad cops.

The lockdown conditions put people in a situation where they could be breaking the law for taking mundane actions — and a stressed police force can always respond in the worst way, as apparently recently occurred in Spain:

In one video clip that has been shared widely on social media, officers in northwest Spain’s Basque Country are seen stopping a 22-year-old man and asking him three times why he was out on the street with his mother.

Under Spain’s state of emergency regulations, citizens can only go out alone to buy food, seek medical care, for emergencies or to work in essential industries.

When the man, identified by local media as being of Moroccan background, refuses to explain, officers ask to see his papers.

The film then shows that when the man approaches an officer, he is pushed back to a wall and hit twice with a baton.

Witnesses watching from flats above yell: “Abuse! Abuse!”

His mother, who tries to intervene, is also knocked to the ground by officers.

The coronavirus is just starting to hit India, and that country sounds like another powder keg, ready to explode:

By the time paperwork was completed and the body was taken to a riverside crematorium on Monday night, local residents had surrounded the hearse, said two police officers, who asked not to be named.

A crowd of around a hundred people demanded the body be taken elsewhere, fearing Samir’s cremation would contaminate the area, one of the officers said.

“The mob grew in numbers and turned aggressive,” the officer said.

Police called in reinforcements and baton-charged the crowd, before cremating Samir’s remains around midnight.

The backlash in Kolkata may not be an anomaly. News reports have emerged across India of mobs harassing people they suspect of carrying the virus, including doctors and air crew.

Some healthcare workers in rental accommodation have been forcefully evicted by their landlords over infection fears, a doctor’s association said this week.

In Kenya, the enforcement of coronavirus-related curfews and quarantines is turning violent and reckless:

Kenya on Friday began imposing a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and violence quickly followed.

Police fired tear gas at a crowd of hundreds of commuters who tried to reach a ferry in the port city of Mombasa before the first night of curfew began. Elsewhere, officers were captured in mobile phone footage whacking people with batons.

Another death has been blamed on police enforcement of the curfew. A motorcycle taxi driver, Hamisi Juma Mbega, died from his injuries after being beaten. He had breached the curfew by taking a pregnant woman to a hospital in Mombasa, according to a post-mortem report obtained by the AP.

And the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian body established by parliament, said it is looking into another death blamed on police brutality, that of a bicycle taxi driver in Homa Bay county.

It’s a similarly grim scene in South Africa: “South African police and soldiers have used rubber bullets to enforce lockdown after hundreds of shoppers gathered outside a supermarket in Johannesburg.

Closer to home, you probably heard about the Kansas City extremist who wanted to blow up a hospital. You may not have heard about the lunatic who crashed a train in Los Angeles because he had some nutty conspiracy about the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy:

A train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles was arrested this morning on federal charges for allegedly running a locomotive at full speed off the end of rail tracks near the USNS Mercy.

Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, was charged today in a criminal complaint with one count of train wrecking as a result of an incident Tuesday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint filed in United States District Court, Moreno admitted in two separate interviews with law enforcement authorities that he intentionally derailed and crashed the train near the Mercy.

Moreno ran the train off the end of tracks, and crashed through a series of barriers before coming to rest more than 250 yards from the Mercy. No one was injured in the incident, and the Mercy was not harmed or damaged in any way. The incident did result in the train leaking a substantial amount of fuel oil, which required clean up by fire and other hazardous materials personnel…

In a second interview with FBI agents, Moreno stated that “he did it out of the desire to ‘wake people up,’” according to the affidavit. “Moreno stated that he thought that the U.S.N.S. Mercy was suspicious and did not believe ‘the ship is what they say it’s for.’”

And of course, there are still other terrorists out there:

The Department of Homeland security is warning that terrorist groups may try to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to attack already strained health care systems.

In a bulletin issued Mar. 23, and labeled unclassified, the agency warned, “Violent extremists are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets, and promote their ideologies and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months.”

According to the bulletin, on Mar. 19, ISIS issued a newsletter “which contained calls for attacks in Western countries against healthcare systems that are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The newsletter also included “directions for ISIS supporters to kill (non-Muslims) wherever you find them.”

The memo also says white supremacist extremists have advocated for violence against a range of targets, including critical infrastructure and faith-based and minority communities — including Asian-Americans — in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

White supremacist groups “also have called for infected individuals to intentionally spread COVID-19 in diverse neighborhoods and in religious institutions such as mosques and synagogues,” according to the bulletin.

Are we headed towards “carnage in the streets,” in the sense of mass social unrest and violence? Based upon what we see and know right now, probably not. But there are some people out there who want to make it happen.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, the return of the sports world still looks pretty far-off, the 2020 Democratic National Convention is probably not going to go on the way it was scheduled, and Turkmenistan takes the championship for world’s worst response to the coronavirus.


There’s No Spinning This One

An ambulance worker sprays disinfectant inside an ambulance outside The Brooklyn Hospital Center during the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, March 31, 2020. (Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)

It’s April Fool’s Day, but I think most of us just aren’t in the mood for wacky pranks — at least not ones that involve the coronavirus. Maybe we could all use something along the lines of “Taco Bell purchases the Liberty Bell and renames it the Taco Liberty Bell.” Unfortunately, today the news is mostly grim, both at home and abroad.

‘This Could Be a Hell of a Bad Two Weeks.’

When a president who is known for his ability to spin just about anything goes before the American people and declares, with brutal honesty, “this could be a hell of a bad two weeks,” all naivete and denial should be dispelled. The #FilmYourHospital loons running around the country filming empty parking lots at hospitals, and contending that this is some sort of epic hoax, should stop. (Hospitals with coronavirus patients don’t allow visitors, so you’re not going to see lots of cars in the parking lots.)

If you’re the kind of person who thinks every government all around the world would get together to make up or wildly exaggerate the effects of a potentially lethal virus,

You can find plenty of videos of the recently deceased at Brooklyn Hospital Center and Maimonides Medical Center and Bergamo, Italy and elsewhere. This is the equivalent of running around the United States in mid-December 1941 and insisting that the Japanese didn’t really bomb Pearl Harbor and that Franklin Roosevelt is trying to trick everyone. And the coronavirus is as deadly to those who think the media is overhyping it as it is to everyone else.

Certain parts of the country are starting to bump up against their hospital capacity limit, and it’s not just the places you would expect.

Arizona: “Northern Arizona Healthcare, which operates Flagstaff Medical Center, and Tuba City Regional Health Care will reach critical care capacity by Saturday due to care of COVID-19 patients, Coconino County officials said Friday.”

Michigan: “Unfortunately we know several of our hospitals in the state, particularly in southeast Michigan, are at capacity,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health in Michigan, said in a news conference Monday. “Based on the trajectory of the spread of this disease and the number of people who are requiring hospitalization, we need to utilize alternative nontraditional sites of care.”

Chicago: “Dan Regan, a spokesman for Sinai Health System, confirmed in an email that ICUs in its system were running at 95 percent to 100 percent capacity Tuesday, and it was ‘ramping up our surge plans’ to expand.”

New York City, obviously: “At Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in New York, the intensive care unit is at capacity, patient beds line the hallways of the emergency department, and the morgue is overflowing.”

Meanwhile, outside of the country’s bigger cities, the surge hasn’t arrived yet . . . but the hospital capacity and ICU beds just aren’t there in the numbers they are in our biggest cities.

Georgia: “While most hospitals have stopped elective procedures to free up beds and the state is ordering “medical pods” that have up to 25 beds and can function like a regular hospital, 57 Georgia counties have no hospitals while 93 have no ICU beds.”

New Mexico: “Estimating the number of intensive care unit beds at 365, [Department of Human Services Secretary David] Scrase said that under the surge in severe cases anticipated, the state needed to prepare for 2,175.”

North Carolina: “In Wake County specifically, current trends show that bed space would be critically low if just 1 percent of the county’s population contracted the virus . . . Statewide, beds would run out if just 1.5 percent of people have the disease.”

Here in Virginia, the hospital administrators are asking the federal government to open up military and veterans hospitals for testing and treatment of coronavirus patients. This state has about 2,000 ICU beds, 1,250 known cases, 165 hospitalizations, and 27 deaths.

The Asian Countries Aren’t out of the Woods Yet, Either

Most of the discussion about the coronavirus has lamented that the United States hasn’t contained the spread of the virus as well as South Korea has. The South Korean government indeed has done an impressive job, involving massive amounts of testing, the widespread use of masks, and more or less the end of privacy: Authorities use security camera footage, credit-card records, GPS data from cellphones, and car navigation system to track every move of someone infected. Those who test positive are required to download an app on their phones that tracks their movements and relays that information to authorities.

But it’s worth noting that even with all of these measures, South Korea is still having 100 to 150 new cases and five to ten deaths per day. And we should keep in mind that tracking the virus spread among a smaller population in a smaller area is easier than tracking a larger population in a larger area. South Korea has about 50 million people in about 38,000 square miles. That’s the population of California and Ohio squeezed into an area the size of Kentucky.

This morning the New York Times reports, “Across Asia, countries and cities that seemed to have brought the coronavirus epidemic under control are suddenly tightening their borders and imposing stricter containment measures, fearful about a wave of new infections imported from elsewhere.”

SARS hit these countries much harder than the United States from 2002 to 2004, and H1N1 as well, so their populations were already conditioned to take warnings about viral outbreaks seriously. Wearing masks to stop the spread of colds and diseases was more or less mainstream in Asian cultures well before this. One also cannot help but wonder if proximity to mainland China made the region’s governments and populations more skeptical about the Chinese government’s early assurances that COVID-19 could not be spread from one person to another.

If you dive into the numbers, it becomes clear that no country has really managed to completely stop the spread. Since March 19, Hong Kong has required all arriving passengers to enter quarantine for two weeks and wear an electronic wristband with a tracker. Once an arrival returns to his house, he is “instructed to walk around the corners of his house, upon arriving home, so the technology could precisely track the coordinates of his living space in which he would remain under quarantine.” Lying to the Hong Kong Department of Health can be punished with a fine of about $600 and imprisonment for six months. Right now, more than 200,000 residents are quarantined at home.

And even with those far-reaching measures in place, Hong Kong is still seeing growth in the number of cases, anywhere from 82 to 32 new cases a day, although they thankfully haven’t suffered any new deaths since March 13. Hong Kong is home to about 7.4 million people.

Singapore closed its borders to most visitors, is threatening people with prison time for violating social-distancing rules, and is threatening to shut down companies if they don’t do enough to help their employees work from home. That country has 926 cases and is trying to figure out 100 cases that are “local unlinked,” meaning they cannot track where the patient caught the virus. Singapore is home to about 5.6 million people.

And then there’s Taiwan, the independent country that some staff at the World Health Organization would prefer to pretend doesn’t exist, lest discussing them offend the government of China.

In a perfect irony, the country that the Chinese government probably hates the most appears to be handling the coronavirus really well. Taiwan implemented their quarantine-phone tracking early. The Taiwan CDC literally started tracking visitors from China last year — right before New Year’s Day. They had their first reported case January 20, the fourth-earliest among all the countries in the world. They banned the export of masks on January 24. They mobilized their armed forces to assist in the production of medical equipment on February 2. The Taiwanese were doing from the word “go” just about everything we’re scrambling to do now in the United States.

Oh, and keep in mind, Taiwan is not allowed to be a member of the World Health Organization because of objections from China.

Taiwan has 329 confirmed cases as of this morning, out of a population of almost 24 million.

The Chinese government birthed and exacerbated this problem, and the authoritarians in Beijing have become so powerful around the world, that most Western elites are afraid to even look at Taiwan as a potential part of the solution.

ADDENDUM: When I get together with Jonah Goldberg to tape The Remnant, it’s usually a jolly time. We had our share of laughs yesterday while taping remotely, but we covered a lot of serious topics — the lies of China and the need for consequences, how the coronavirus is going to change American society and political thinking, and Jonah’s apparent reluctance to shower while the rest of the family isn’t in the house. Give it a listen.


The Truth about Wearing Masks

A New York Police Department officer wears a protective mask during the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, March 20, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

On the menu today: a report that the CDC might want us to start wearing masks after all, some encouraging signs about America’s fevers from a thermometer system that the NSA would envy, how police ought to approach the issue of defiant religious gatherings during a pandemic, and a recent Morning Jolt reaches a milestone.

Are We About to Be Urged to Start Wearing Masks?

Saturday, Dr. Matt McCarthy, an assistant professor at the medical school of Cornell University, tweeted, “CDC guidance on masks expected to change in next 10 days. Americans will be advised to wear masks in everyday life. Current recommendation is for high-risk groups only.”

But later that day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to his tweet, appearing to shoot down that idea. “CDC does not have updated guidance scheduled to come out on this topic.” They referred to the current guidance, which is:

If you are sick: You should wear a facemask, if available, when you are around other people (including before you enter a healthcare provider’s office).

If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then as their caregiver, you should wear a facemask when in the same room with them. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.

Note: During a public health emergency, facemasks may be reserved for healthcare workers. You may need to improvise a facemask using a scarf or bandana.

But this morning, the Washington Post reports the same thing McCarthy claimed:

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to take measures to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing matter of internal discussion and nothing has been finalized.

CDC guidance on masks remains under development, the federal official said. The official said the new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.

Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help “flatten the curve,” the official noted.

I realize the CDC is dealing with an unprecedented situation, and we’re still learning about this virus. But either masks help or they don’t; if they don’t help at all, it doesn’t make sense that they would be needed by health-care workers. (I’m reminded of the head miner confronting the officials in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, scoffing at a not-so-persuasive claim that the masks would offer protection from inhaling radioactive dust. “If these worked, you would be wearing them.”)

There are a lot of problems with the concept of the “noble lie,” and a big one is that it makes it harder for the truth to come out later — and once it does, the authority’s credibility is damaged. If you tell the public that masks don’t work because you don’t want them running out and buying them and hoarding them, some people are not going to believe you if you come back with a different message later. If the CDC wants people to start wearing masks, they’re going to have to persuade a chunk of the public that will instinctively say, “Why should I wear one? I heard those things don’t work.”

Back in late February, Vox reported “most health experts said there’s no good evidence to support the use of face masks for preventing this disease in the general population,” and quoted one professor as saying, “wearing a mask can also appear ‘overly alarmist.’”

Because we sure as heck didn’t want people seeming alarmist about the coronavirus back in late February, now did we?

America Is Having Fewer Fevers. Is That a Sign We’re Winning?

Maybe we’re starting to bend the curve. Maybe.

Kinsa Health produces Internet-connected thermometers and is collecting and analyzing all of that data coming in every day. It’s fascinating, as long as you’re okay with your thermometer doing the kind of consistent surveillance of the details of American lives that we usually associate with, say, the NSA.

To identify clusters of coronavirus infections, Kinsa recently adapted its software to detect spikes of “atypical fever” that do not correlate with historical flu patterns and are likely attributable to the coronavirus.

As of noon Wednesday, the company’s live map showed fevers holding steady or dropping almost universally across the country, with two prominent exceptions . . . By Friday morning, fevers in every county in the country were on a downward trend, depicted in four shades of blue on the map . . .

As of Monday morning, more than three-quarters of the country was deep blue. A separate display of the collective national fever trend, which had spiked upward to a peak on March 17, had fallen so far that it was actually below the band showing historical flu fever trends — which meant that the lockdown has cut not only Covid-19 transmission but flu transmission, too.

Those exceptions were a broad swathe of New Mexico and a ring of Louisiana parishes surrounding New Orleans.

One catch: if you’re dealing with a severe case of the coronavirus, are you using a Kinsa thermometer, or is the hospital using some other one? In other words, is the Kinsa data a good way to measure the milder cases?

Let’s Avoid Unneeded Confrontations with Religious Communities during This Crisis, Okay?

The silver lining to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arresting Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne in Florida is that the conflict did not escalate to a physical altercation. Local authorities really, really, really don’t want the River at Tampa Bay Church to hold services that continue to involve large groups of people getting together and remaining close together, in violation of the CDC’s “social distancing” recommendations.

If you want to persuade someone, you first have to see the world through their eyes, and understand what drives them, what motivates them, and what they value. The moment you turn it into a contest of wills, people dig in their heels. If law enforcement has someone religious in the ranks, that might be the right person to persuade someone that a particular action is consistent with their religious principles. The Hillsborough authorities are at least trying to assure Christian citizens that temporarily suspending services is consistent with their religious values.

That’s why Howard-Browne was arrested Monday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, said Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.

‘Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,’ Chronister said. “Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”

Chronister and Warren held a news conference Monday announcing the charges before the pastor was in custody. That day, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across Florida surged past 5,700.

Warren then took to the lectern and quoted the Bible.

‘I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself,’ Warren said. ‘Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.’

Hard cases make bad law, and we are in the textbook definition of extreme circumstances. In just about any other situation, the state attempting to restrict, block, or ban gatherings of religious believers would be straight-up unconstitutional, no questions asked.

You don’t have to be a fervent believer to be wary about state officials who deem religious services as a unnecessary luxury during this crisis, but who also insist every Planned Parenthood facility must remain open. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who has managed to botch a great many decisions during this crisis, had to go even further and threaten to permanently shut down any religious institution that violates state orders to not hold services. (He doesn’t have that authority.) Yesterday, large numbers of New Yorkers gathered in crowds that violated CDC rules in order to watch the U.S. Navy hospital ship arrive at the pier. The NYPD only offered verbal warnings. While the social distancing rules apply to everyone, religious groups who have a preexisting tense relationship with a nonreligious mayor may fairly wonder if they’re being singled out for particular enforcement.

In a situation such as this, state authorities would be wise to at least try to help the religious communities find alternative arrangements. Here in Virginia, some churches that can find the space are holding “drive-in services,” where families attend in their cars and remain in their vehicles, honking their horns in rejoice. That idea may not work in more urban environments, but you look at a problem differently when you stop seeing the question as, “How can I stop this religious community from gathering?” and instead see it as, “How can I help this religious community find a way to feel a sense of connection that is safe and won’t run afoul of the social-distancing guidelines?”

David Koresh may have been a maniac, but the Branch Davidians didn’t deserve to die for their actions, and had law enforcement understood the belief system of those inside better, maybe that terrible outcome could have been avoided. “While many religious scholars have differing interpretations of the event, they agree that Waco remains the case study on how religious literacy is critical to peacefully enforcing the law in a pluralistic society, whether dealing with apocalyptic groups like the Branch Davidians or the polygamous FLDS.” Living in a free country means allowing people to believe things that the rest of us find nutty; the question is how we figure out a way that functions and abides with the law in a pluralist society.

ADDENDUM: Without going into the specific numbers, I can now say that the timeline of China’s false statements about the coronavirus is the most-read piece I have written at National Review in at least two years, probably much longer.

Health Care

We Have a Difficult Five Weeks ahead of Us

First responders evacuate sick crew members with flu-like symptoms from two cruise ships, the Costa Favolosa and Costa Magica at the U.S. Coast Guard station at the Port of Miami in Miami, Fla., March 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

I wish the news were better, but it is not. The country needs to prepare itself for the coronavirus outbreak and its consequences to get really bad for the next five weeks or so. Also, we know China is lying, but we can only make educated guesses as to how bad the truth really is. The president continues to focus on what interests him. And a long, difficult look at what New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told city residents about the coronavirus that turned out to be wrong.

Brace Yourselves. The Next Five Weeks Are Going to Get Rough.

Someone I respect a great deal said a few days ago that Americans would perceive coronavirus as a true disaster if 10,000 Americans died. That number struck me as a number that could be reached painfully quickly.

We are at 2,489 as of this writing. We are likely to hit 10,000 in a matter of days, and the final death toll is probably going to be measured in the tens of thousands, perhaps well past 100,000. I don’t say this to depress anyone or frighten anyone, but to prepare people. Maybe we will see that curve bend and flatten. I certainly hope it does.

Everything we are seeing right now indicates that the coming five weeks or so are going to be brutal. You can quibble with this projection or that projection, because all of them are trying to account for a million little variables that aren’t easily seen: How strong are the immune systems of those currently infected? How well will the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin treatments work? How well are health authorities keeping the virus out of nursing homes and retirement communities? How much are people practicing social distancing? We’re hoping the worst projections are wrong — and perhaps they’re so scary, they spur people to take additional steps to stop the spread and prevent the bad outcomes that they project.

But here’s what we know: For the last week, the number of new cases is increasing by anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 each day. Yes, some of that increase reflects more widespread testing. Yes, many of those people will recover without needing hospitalization.

More cases overall means more people need hospitalization, and more cases inevitably means more deaths. We’re starting to see names and faces attached to the numbers: Isaac Robinson, a Michigan state representative, age 44. Maria Mercader, CBS News correspondent, age 54Chef Floyd Cordroz, age 59. Country musician Joe Diffie, age 61. Western Michigan University student Bassey Offiong, age 25. A Chicago infant, less than one year old. April Dunn, advisor to the governor of Louisiana, age 33. Joseph Lewinger, Queens Catholic high school girls’ basketball coach, age 42. Songwriter and musician Alan Merrill, age 69. Cedric Dixon, NYPD detective, age 48.

You notice few of those figures listed above would be considered “senior citizens.”

I have criticism of the president below, but I want to encourage one of the president’s better instincts: Give people hope. Show them the signs of progress. Remind us of how strong we can be. Reassure us the country and the world that we can get through this, because we are going to need all the reassurance we can get.

We all know the drill. Stay home unless you absolutely need to go out, and when you go out, try to stay six feet away from people. Don’t gather in groups. “Wash your dang hands.” Right now, America’s manufacturers are rolling out masks and ventilators as fast as they can. Health officials and local and state governments are expanding hospital capacities as fast as they can. (An emergency field hospital is being built in Central Park in New York City.) All around the world, medical researchers are looking for ways to treat the infected and to develop a vaccine. Hang on, hang tough, try to stay out of a hospital if you don’t need emergency treatment.

If we can get through the next five weeks, the worst will probably be behind us.

We Know the Chinese Government Is Lying. So Just How Bad Is the Truth?

Perhaps the most significant and underdiscussed aspect of the biggest story in the world right now is the real status of the coronavirus inside mainland China.

Right now, the Chinese government insists they have defeated the coronavirus and provided a role model to the rest of the world. They contend that there are almost no cases of Chinese people spreading the disease to other Chinese, and that almost all new cases are Chinese citizens returning from abroad.

Wuhan’s bus and subway service has resumed and the train stations have reopened. Students are returning to school in Xinjiang. Chinese government officials say the country’s major industrial provinces fully resumed production today. “China’s National Health Commission reported 31 new infections Monday, almost all of which were among people who were recently abroad, taking the country’s total to 81,470.”

Those numbers are extremely likely to be false. There are several pieces of evidence suggesting that the death toll from the coronavirus was significantly higher than the official numbers.

The official death toll in Wuhan was 2,535 people.

Radio Free Asia: “Seven large funeral homes in Wuhan have been handing out the cremated remains of around 500 people to their families every day, suggesting that far more people died than ever made the official statistics.”

Bloomberg: “Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. Another picture published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.”

Bloomberg: “China Mobile subscriptions fell by more than 8 million over January and February, data on the company’s website show. China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. subscribers fell by 7.8 million in the period, while China Telecom Corp. has said it lost 5.6 million users last month.” That comes out to 21.4 million subscribers that stopped service. Some chunk of that number probably represents workers who were laid off or sent home and who stopped service because they couldn’t pay their bills. But what percentage of that number . . . simply passed away from the virus?

It appears that local officials in other parts of China simply do not believe the central government’s assurances that residents of Wuhan and Hubei province (the surrounding state) are no longer potential carriers of the virus.

The Financial Times: “A strict lockdown of [Hubei] province ended on Wednesday, but many of its 6 million residents who work in other parts of China are finding it impossible to leave as other local authorities defy central government orders and refuse to lift travel restrictions. On Friday that opposition erupted into violence as thousands of Hubei migrant workers tried to cross over a bridge linking Huangmei in Hubei to Jiujiang in neighbouring Jiangxi province. Video footage posted online showed police officers from Jiujiang and Huangmei wrestling with each other and hundreds of people attacking police and overturning their vehicles. Hours after the incident took place, police from Jiujiang and Huangmei issued statements online, which were deleted shortly afterwards, accusing each other of causing trouble.”

The Daily Mail: Prime Minister Boris Johnson “has been warned by scientific advisers that China’s officially declared statistics on the number of cases of coronavirus could be ‘downplayed by a factor of 15 to 40 times’.

60 Minutes Australia: “Two weeks ago the head of Emergency at Wuhan Central hospital went public, saying authorities had stopped her and her colleagues from warning the world. She has now disappeared, her whereabouts unknown.”

China’s official numbers point to a recovery rate of 93 percent. Overall, 21 percent of the world’s cases are classified as “recovered.” In Italy, 13 percent of cases have recovered so far; in Spain, 19.6 percent; in Germany, 14.7 percent; in France, 17.9 percent; in the United Kingdom, six-tenths of one percent; and in the United States, 3.1 percent.

The Chinese ambassador to Ghana declared at a ceremony in that country that although the COVID-19 first broke out in China, it “does not mean that the origin of the virus is China.”

To Paraphrase Rumsfeld, You Go into a Crisis with the President You Have

I realize complaining about President Trump’s Twitter feed is like complaining about the existence of rain in Seattle. But in recent days, as the country has faced a worsening viral epidemic that has claimed an increasing number of lives and brought commerce to a halt, the president has found time to repeatedly tweet about how great the television ratings of his briefings are, made up a new nickname for the governor of Michigan, retweeted Gateway Pundit’s claim that ‘Fox News fired Trish Regan for telling the truth about President Trump,” — this was over her “Coronavirus Impeachment Scam” segment — boasted about how high his poll numbers are and how the Washington Post is understating his public support, declared that the U.S. government would not pay for the security protection of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and also retweeted a two-year-old tweet from Florida governor Ron DeSantis about Andrew McCabe. He tweeted that he was thinking about instituting a quarantine of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which is probably the perfect way to get people to leave a particular area in expectation of a quarantine. A few hours later Trump announced, via Twitter, that a travel advisory was sufficient.

Perhaps most egregiously, President Trump tweeted that he had “much respect” for Chinese president Xi, who is probably more responsible for this worldwide pandemic than any other human being on earth.

This president cares about what he chooses to care about, and he prioritizes what he prioritizes, even amidst a global pandemic that is killing several hundred Americans per day and stands as the greatest challenge to this country in at least a generation. We will have to get through this with a president who simply cannot stop obsessing over television ratings, what’s being said about him on television, Fox News personnel moves, whether governors are giving him sufficient praise, minor decisions involving the royal family, and how nice the leader of China is.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it, on Friday, NR published my comprehensive (nearly 5,000 word) timeline of coronavirus-related statements from New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and other key city officials from January to the closing of schools on March 15. By the end of the project, I found myself feeling sorry for de Blasio. No one expects him to be a virologist or immunologist. When the mayor repeatedly insisted, all the way into early March, that the virus could not be spread by “casual contact,” he no doubt was repeating what other people in the health profession told him. But that information was wrong, and some doctors in the United States were warning it was wrong starting in mid-February. As March progressed, the mayor gave self-evidently contradictory advice — that large gatherings were dangerous for the elderly and the immunocompromised, but not for the young and healthy. (Whom did he think the elderly and immunocompromised interacted with?)

New York City is facing this current calamity for many reasons, not just the bad advice from city officials. But when it counted, de Blasio got it wrong — and the city is paying the price.

Economy & Business

Congress Did a Poor Job

The U.S. Capitol, after Congress agreed to an economic stimulus package created in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2020 (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

We made it to Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus. He announced the news in a tweet this morning. “Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus. I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this.”

No, Congress Did Not Rise to the Challenge of Coronavirus and a Collapsing Economy

This week’s The Editors brought one of those rare moments where I disagreed with Charlie Cooke. Disagreeing with Charlie is a bit like looking at Michael Jordan and thinking, “I can take him one-on-one.” (I’m sure Charlie would prefer a comparison to Gardner Minshew.) That being said, I still think speed mattered, and that the U.S. Senate did not act with anywhere near the requisite urgency that the coronavirus-driven recession warranted.

I probably spoke imprecisely; the U.S. government does not have a Third World structure or response to the coronavirus crisis. But some of our members of Congress are treating it with the rank opportunism, selfishness, small-mindedness, greed, and provincialism we associate with Third World kleptocrats, tinpot dictators, and other leaders who make bad situations worse. The house is burning down, and they’re blocking the fire truck from getting to the scene because the firefighters don’t plan to use their preferred kind of fire hose.

Once the economic-relief bill is signed, it will still take time for the money to reach the people. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin estimates most Americans will get the relief money in about three weeks. If the Internal Revenue Service already has your bank account information on file, you’ll get it quicker. If the IRS doesn’t have that information, the money will be sent by check. In February 2008, Congress and the Bush administration agreed on legislation to send out stimulus checks. Americans started getting the checks in May, June, and July. Oh, by the way, the IRS is attempting to operate under social-distancing rules, just like everyone else, meaning it is probably not working at top speed.

The money going to move slowly, while the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis are accelerating more quickly. It is hard to overstate the scale of the economic shock of more or less declaring that all “nonessential” businesses have to close their doors indefinitely.

Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, laid out how we’re getting the economic equivalent of a Hurricane Katrina, all around the country, simultaneously:

In 2008 the crisis was focused on the financial system and housing market. It was much more narrow. This is, in effect, an economywide shock. When [Hurricane] Katrina hit New Orleans, it was a catastrophe. This is like a natural disaster hitting the whole economy at once. Except for food and grocery stores, most other sectors are all being squeezed at the same time, across industries. All these firms are drawing down bank lines of credit because they’re scared. That’s the mechanism by which this natural disaster is going into the financial system.

Economic analysts are now looking past the current quarter projecting that the economy will shrink by 2 percent for the year — and that’s simply not knowing how quickly we can start the economic engine back up again.

Kashkari, who administered the TARP program, knows a heck of a lot more about this than I do, but his conclusions line up with my instincts — get the money out the door as fast as possible, and fix what goes wrong later. “If a bunch of businesses get help that didn’t need it, that’s fine, that’s much better than taking a decade to rebuild the labor markets. After the fact, some investigator or some reporter is going to find some business, some millionaire who got a free gift from the government because we didn’t tailor the program. And people will say, ‘Oh my gosh, how outrageous.’ And there will be congressional investigations. We just have to get over it, err on the side of getting more help out there.”

Each day, we’re seeing some sort of new ramification of this timeliness problem. The federal government delayed the deadline for filing federal income taxes from April 15 to July 15, and because people often need to know their federal tax bill to calculate their state tax bill (and vice versa), many states are doing so as well. But most state budget years start July 1. In addition to having a sudden crash on sales tax revenue — because no one can buy anything besides groceries and restaurant delivery and take out — states now won’t have income tax payments coming in the way they usually do. Remember, just about every state requires its budget to be balanced (although there is some debate about what qualifies as “balanced.”)

Down in Florida, the state’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, is pointing out that the recently passed state budget didn’t account for any of the coronavirus-induced shocks. The Disney resorts are closed; as of 2015, Disney World was paying close to $600 million in state and local taxes. People are being kept off the beaches. Almost no one is flying south for vacations. How many people are even thinking about going to Florida later this year? The state has a 6 percent sales tax. How much projected tax revenue is being lost with every canceled sporting event, concert, festival, and other big gathering?

“Considering the COVID-19 pandemic the [state] Revenue Estimating Conference should convene to ensure there is sufficient revenue to pay for fiscal year 2020-2021,” Patronis told me in an email. “We all share in a constitutional obligation to ensure the state can raise sufficient revenues to finance the appropriations prerogatives of the legislature.”

Patronis said he’s interested in looking into the effects of the Rainy Day Fund, in a light-to-severe hurricane season, and how we would potentially overlay that with REC forecasting and estimates:

Clearly, government’s burn rate has increased while revenues have decreased. It’s difficult to budget for the future without credible revenue forecasts, which is needed now more than ever before.

Some might argue that when the country faces a problem that is so gargantuan, far-reaching, and so complicated, it makes little difference if Congress wastes another day with Nancy Pelosi insisting the legislation include mandatory diversity reports on corporate boards, an additional $45 million for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Program, an additional $78,000 to the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture, and so on. (Read Pelosi’s bill yourself.) But there’s the time cost and also the symbolism that even at the time of an unprecedented crisis, the federal government’s priority is to find extra money that can be steered to members’ preexisting special spending priorities here, there, and everywhere. This is the most serious of times, and it brought forth some of the most unserious of responses.

We’ve always had carnival barkers, pork-addicted idiots, and used car salesmen in Congress. Representative Jim Traficant of Ohio used to bellow “Beam me up, Mr. Speaker” on the House floor with hair that looked like a dead squirrel resting on his head. (Traficant’s only real policy demand in any given situation was that the federal government buy American-made products . . . which looks pretty appealing from the perspective of 2020!) But when a real crisis hit — the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, 9/11, the anthrax mailings — the grownups were in charge, at least enough to keep their eye on the ball. No one held up the entire government response so they could get some new federal offices in their district.

During negotiations, most lawmakers expected that once a deal was reached, the House of Representatives would pass the bill by voice vote. This is where they ask for all in favor to say “aye,” all opposed to say “no,” and the chair concludes the ayes have it. In the official congressional record, the measure is recorded as passed by voice vote, with no specific vote attached to a particular member. Voice votes are usually only used on less consequential measures such as renaming a post office. But voice votes can only be used with unanimous consent; any member who wants a recorded vote can ask for one and the measure cannot pass until the vote of each member in attendance is recorded.

The Senate passed the economic relief bill, 96 to 0. But now there’s a hitch: “Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican who represents Kentucky’s 4th District, also hinted that he might object to a voice vote in the House of Representatives, which would force all members to return to Washington, D.C. and slowdown movement on the bill.”

“I’m having a really hard time with this. Because they’re saying, well it’s hard to travel, yadda yadda yadda,” Massie said. “Well, last night, 96 out of 100 Senators voted. All we would need is 218 out of 435 to vote,” he added, pointing to a section of Article I in the U.S. Constitution that states “a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business.”

Except we already know the coronavirus is on Capitol Hill. At least 36 members of Congress are in self-quarantine, after learning that they had interacted with someone with coronavirus. Right now, the House of Representatives cannot pass legislation without getting lots and lots of elderly people all together into the same room.

Brendan Buck, a former aide to Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner, observed, “it is quite the statement of his character that Thomas Massie is legitimately threatening the health of his colleagues, many in their 60s or 70s even 80s, for a stunt on a bill he knows is going to pass. I hope no one forgets what he’s done here.”

Congress needs to create a secure and verifiable method of voting from remote locations really, really fast.

ADDENDUM: Obviously, we have to take all news from Russian sources with a certain amount of wariness, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a coronavirus infection has been identified in the Russian presidential administration. He added that Vladimir Putin had not made contact with the patient, and sanitary measures are being taken to stop the spread of the virus.

Because we all need it, here is one minute of puppies from the Atlanta Humane Society exploring the Georgia Aquarium.


Bad News Abounds

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks to news reporters ahead of a vote on the coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 25, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Today is the Morning Jolt I’ve dreaded writing, because the news is almost entirely bad. The Senate economic relief bill is passed, but much later than it should have been; the first coronavirus-related attempted terrorist attack occurs in Missouri; far too much bad news from our nation’s hospitals; and an important note about CPAP machines.

Most Kidney Stones Pass Faster and Easier Than This Economic Rescue Bill

The Senate passed the relief bill. If you’ve been listening to The Editors or Three Martini Lunch, you’ve heard me argue that speed matters a lot more than getting the bill perfectly right in this circumstance. If taxpayer money ends up in the hands of those who don’t need it, some of those people will donate it to causes that do need the money; and if they don’t, there are ways to claw back the money later. Heck, raise taxes on the highest incomes if you have to in a year or two if you have to, but don’t let the current crisis get worse over the fear that somebody somewhere might get a check they don’t need.

I could even see a theoretical argument for taxpayer money going to the Kennedy Center, as that institution employs a couple thousand people — including not-so-wealthy folks such as ticket-booth operators, ushers, janitors, stage hands, set workers, etc. — and right now no one is buying tickets to see any shows. Then again, if you think about institutions who probably have enough generous wealthy supporters to get them through a hard time, the Kennedy Center has to be up near the top. The top institution would probably have to be Harvard University, with its $40 billion endowment; the school has chosen to lay off dining hall employees. Harvard’s president and his wife have both tested positive for coronavirus. The only silver lining is that this has spurred one good joke: “If you thought the coronavirus was insufferable now, wait until it starts bragging about getting into Harvard.”

The important thing was to get the money out the door as quickly as possible. For many people, rent or the mortgage is due on the first day of the month. The money in this bill will not get there in time. The good news is that some states and localities have temporarily suspended evictions — but nowhere near all. And those restrictions are very temporary. In Pennsylvania, it is until April 3; in Virginia, it is until April 6; in Illinois until April 8. If you’re a small business owner whose previously steady income has suddenly dropped to near-zero, the outlook for May doesn’t look so good right now, either.

Each day that the money doesn’t arrive, more businesses are forced by the lack of business to lay off their workers. More are forced to close their doors. Restaurants realize they can’t get by on the much more limited income from take-out and delivery. Bars can’t survive on take-out drink orders. You think anyone is buying a car these days? How many people are having home remodeling or other projects done? Retail was already getting kicked in the teeth by online shopping before most of the nation’s governors ordered them to close their doors. We have slammed the brakes on almost every part of our economy besides health care, grocery stores, and essential government services. Even during the Great Recession, consumer demand declined and dwindled, but it didn’t suddenly disappear one day. Even Thanos left half the world’s consumer demand in place.

It is an unprecedented economic crisis that requires an unprecedented response. This morning, we learned that 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, by far the highest on record ever. California is seeing about 100,000 residents per day file for unemployment. State websites for claims can’t handle the incoming traffic.

All of the usual policy priorities needed to take a raincheck at least for now, if not for the duration of the crisis.

It seemed not enough people on Capitol Hill seemed to realize this, and the worst offenders appeared to be Representative Jim Clyburn, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democrats as a whole — “voting en masse Sunday night against the coronavirus bill they helped negotiate” — Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. All of them, at one point or another, either delayed or threatened to delay passage of the bill because of their pre-coronavirus policy priorities. They saw a moment of leverage for their personal legislative priorities and felt they could strongarm the Republicans into agreeing. They believed, with understandable confidence, that every media institution would quickly rewrite headlines such as “Democrats Block Stimulus Package” into “Partisan Divide Blocks Stimulus Package.” A lot of conservatives want to believe that congressional Democrats lost this fight. I’m not so sure.

But what made the usual wrangling, leverage battles, and games of chicken over this bill particularly galling is . . . there’s another relief bill coming right after this. Congress is going to be passing bills to help Americans from the CoronaRecession for months, maybe into next year. Any policy goal that wasn’t directly tied to the coronavirus could easily wait until next month, or summer, or autumn, or next year.

Oh, and separately, today is Pelosi’s 80th birthday.

Our First Attempted Coronavirus-Related Terrorist Attack

We have our first case of coronavirus-related terrorism. “A domestic terrorism suspect in Belton, Missouri who allegedly planned to carbomb a hospital struggling with the coronavirus pandemic died while the FBI was trying to arrest him Tuesday, the agency confirmed. It is currently unclear whether FBI agents shot him or how he died.” (Is “carbomb” now a verb?)

This country has a lot of garden-variety homegrown extremists, radicals, and lunatics. We’ve already had cases of nutjobs deliberately coughing on strangers and claiming they’ve given their victims the virus. (According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people who do this can be charged with making a terrorist threat because the coronavirus is considered a ‘biological agent.’)

We have a contagious viral outbreak that is genuinely scary and stressful to even the calmest, most rational, even-keeled people out there. Now put people in a situation where they have to keep their distance from everyone except their immediate family to avoid spreading the coronavirus — a formula for “going stir crazy” behavior. Now add state and local officials shutting businesses down and enforcing quarantines, curfews, and other restrictions right out of the most paranoid fantasies of the radical militia groups.

Bad situation, right? And this isn’t even contemplating the possibility of hostile states attempting to exacerbate our tensions or attempt their own attacks at our time of greatest tension.

You see how bad things are? I haven’t even gotten to the actual coronavirus yet.

Lots of Bad News, and an Important Note about CPAP Machines

New York City’s ICUs are expected to fill up by Friday. Governor Cuomo says the state’s hospitals are on the verge of running out of ventilators. Medical personnel in their 40s are succumbing to coronavirus. Virus testing lines are stretching down the block. Refrigerated trailers are being brought in to handle the number of corpses. What seemed unthinkable is now here; the city looks like something out of a zombie plague movie or video game.

New Orleans could well turn into the next epicenter after New York. One reason is the fact that the city went through with Mardi Gras — lots of people crowded together; other reasons are that “heart disease, respiratory conditions, physical disability, diabetes, and obesity — all risk factors for death from COVID-19 — are more prevalent in Louisiana than in other parts of the country. In New Orleans, many people live in close quarters, making social distancing almost impossible.”

ResMed, one of the manufacturers of CPAP devices, reached out about Tuesday’s Morning Jolt, which mentioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s declaration that “machines typically used for treatment of sleep apnea (either in the home or facility setting) may be used to support patients with respiratory insufficiency provided appropriate monitoring (as available) and patient condition.”

The short version is that while those machines could work, those machines have to be modified — and for now, ResMed is converting to making the kinds of machines better suited for treating COVID-19.

Carlos M. Nunez, M.D., chief medical officer at ResMed:

FDA guidance the weekend of March 21, 2020 suggests to manufacturers of respiratory equipment, that modifications to devices capable of providing modes of ventilatory support that may be clinically applicable for COVID-19 patients, can be considered if it would not create undue risk for patients – the FDA guidance does not suggest that CPAPs can be used as is today to treat the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19. The FDA still requires the modifications to be made in a manner that is consistent with existing safety, quality and manufacturing standards.

ResMed is currently exploring options for achieving this. However, converting in-market CPAPs to support more advanced modes of ventilation requires careful assessment to ensure risk is acceptable, and must meet labeling requirements set forth by FDA. While we are exploring our options, we are also converting the manufacturing resources typically used for PAP devices to support manufacturing bilevel and non-invasive ventilation devices that are more suited to the care of COVID-19 patients, and today are ramping up production of invasive-capable and non-invasive ventilators to double normal levels, while working closely with the U.S. government and other government agencies to assess their needs.

Just as you shouldn’t start eating fish tank cleaner because of a particular drug, you probably shouldn’t use a CPAP machine to treat a coronavirus patient, unless you’re a doctor and you know what you’re doing.

ADDENDUM: In the middle of all this bad news, I had a nice chat with Teri Christoph of the Smart Girls Podcast, which you can listen to here. It’s part of their series, “The Isolation Interviews.” . . .

. . . I’m sure everyone is looking for little bites of normalcy. I found a bit for a few hours yesterday, cooking shrimp and gnocchi. If you’re feeling stressed, try doing something that involves a different part of your brain and body than you usually use. Concentrating on something else will force all of the depressing and worrying thoughts out of your head, at least for a while.


A Hard Look at the Remaining Hospital Capacity across America

Patients suffering from COVID-19 coronavirus in an intensive care unit at the Oglio Po Hospital in Cremona, Italy, March 19, 2020. (Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters)

On the menu today: States are racing against the clock to increase capacity, but they might not be fast enough; what steps states are taking in preparation; and some unfortunate news from the direction of the New York Jets.

Some States Are Dangerously Close to Capacity

You are hearing a great deal about rapid increases in the number of coronavirus cases in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and for good reason. The most cases are there, and the Big Apple appears to be entering one of the city’s most difficult hours. The U.S. Army has already deployed three military hospitals to Washington State and New York.

But there are a lot of corners of the United States where the coronavirus outbreak is starting to hit smaller cities, with fewer hospitals, beds, intensive-care units, and ventilators.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a television interview with the city’s CBS affiliate Tuesday afternoon that the city’s hospitals are at capacity. But I notice this interview is not the lead story on the affiliate’s website, nor is that news anywhere in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as of this writing.

Elsewhere in Georgia, we can find more specifics about a hospital in the state’s eighth-largest city that no longer has room in their ICU units:

Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, said during a televised briefing Tuesday that the hospital’s three ICUs are filled and the hospital improvised a fourth 10-bed unit for non-COVID-19 patients. He said that unit is full too, and that on Monday, doctors had to discharge ICU patients to make room for five patients with worsening conditions.

“We continue to see an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in our care,” Kitchen said. “We’re quickly approaching the point of maximum capacity. We need a relief valve.”

Perhaps the most ominous public statement is from the state of Alabama:

Alabama Department of Public Health officer Dr. Scott Harris, at a press conference Monday, again urged Alabamians to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and abide by social-distancing restrictions the state has ordered.

A number of hospitals in the state are already “nearing capacity,” as the number of cases in Alabama continues to rise.

The governor of Louisiana declared in a letter to President Trump that he fears the state’s hospital capacity will hit its limit on April 4.

A few days ago, the Dallas-area hospital association wrote a letter to Governor Greg Abbott warning that “if nothing changes, more than 200,000 Texans will be hospitalized by the middle of May — far outpacing some 50,000 beds available.

It is not just the southern states that are finding themselves approaching their limits. In southeastern Michigan, one chain of eight hospitals declared they are approaching capacity:

Beaumont Health is caring for 635 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, putting pressure on the eight-hospital system as it nears capacity for staffing, protective equipment and ventilators, the Royal Oak-based health system said Tuesday.

The health system has been transferring patients between hospitals to find space and is beginning to convert some operating rooms into intensive care units, Beaumont Health Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Wilson said.

Beaumont Health system officials said they currently have enough ventilators to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients, “but that could change as more people become infected,” according to the health system.

That group of hospitals cumulatively has more than 3,000 beds.

This is all focusing on parts of the country that have hospitals. I ran across this jaw-dropping statistic: “In Idaho, Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico, more than 19,000 citizens over the age of 65 live in counties without hospital beds.” In fact, “1.8 million people 65 years and older (4% of all U.S. seniors) live in a county without a hospital. Eighty-six percent of counties with no hospital beds have greater than average senior population, and most of those counties are rural.” Then again, if a county is sparsely populated enough to not have a hospital, it probably doesn’t get a lot of travelers and there might be lesser chance of anyone in the county contracting coronavirus.

The state that has the highest percentage of seniors living in a county without a hospital is . . . Virginia, at 24 percent. Obviously, patients can go across a county line to get care at a hospital. (Presuming, of course, the neighboring county hasn’t attempted to “close its borders.”) But this means some hospitals have to handle the patients of the surrounding counties, not just their own.

In the Hot Spots . . .

Meanwhile, closer to the New York area, the situation is as dire as many feared. Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., is “nearing its capacity and supply stock,” according to Dr. Suraj Saggar, the hospital’s chief of infectious disease.

On Suffolk County on Long Island, N.Y.:

The news comes as local hospitals, including Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, rush to comply with Governor Cuomo’s mandate to increase hospital capacity by more than 100 percent across the state. But there is still a shortage of staff and equipment. [County Executive Steve] Bellone said the 25 new ventilators coming soon to Stony Brook University Hospital are going to be “woefully inadequate” when COVID-19 cases peak.

He could not say how many virus cases Suffolk County is projected to have over the coming weeks, but called the hospitals’ directive “a herculean task” and said the county is doing everything it can to support them.

Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, wrote in the Washington Post yesterday: “Hospitals are nearing capacity. We are running out of ventilators. Ambulance sirens don’t stop. Everyone we see today was infected a week ago, or more. The numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket overnight, as they have every night the past few days.”

The Connecticut Public Health Department “has confirmed 415 positive cases and 10 deaths in Connecticut. As testing is becoming more prevalent the numbers are increasing at a rapid pace and hospitals, especially in Fairfield County, are nearing capacity.”

As for California, hospitals are expanding capacity as fast as they can, but the virus is likely to keep pace and could well overtake them.

At most local hospitals, there isn’t much room for new patients. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that 50,000 additional hospital beds would be needed statewide to cope with the outbreak. In L.A. County, 90 percent of ICU beds are already occupied, even with facilities in recent days doubling the number of available beds for patients.

Last Friday, some people who had contended the country was overreacting insisted, “hospitals are fine.” I’m afraid that is not the case. Once again, wanting something to be true does not make it true, and that kind of thinking is probably what is most dangerous in an evolving crisis.

There are some corners of the country that still have significant unused capacity, according to recent statements from government officials.

If you need access to a hospital, right now you would probably like to be in Ohio:

Ohio’s more than 200 hospitals are at 60 percent capacity, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. Acton says they’ll still have to expand intensive care unit capability by 50 percent, and will likely have to turn to hotels and college dorms for space. There are more than 560 confirmed cases in Ohio. More than 25 percent of those people have been hospitalized and 62 of them in intensive care. Acton is expecting cases to surge in the coming days.

Capacity levels are similar in Illinois: “As of March 23, 57 percent of the state’s ICU beds, 28 percent of the state’s ventilators, and 51 percent of the state’s non-ICU beds were being used.

Continuing the signs of significant preparation in the upper Midwest, the state of Minnesota already expanded its capacity:

Since Wednesday, March 18, the number of empty hospital beds available across Minnesota has gone from 1,941 on Wednesday, March 18, to 2,413 on Sunday, March 22, representing a 24 percent increase.

The number of adult intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which will be most critical at the height of the pandemic, has gone up 20 percent, from 197 on Wednesday, to 238 on Sunday.

And the number of beds that could be made available during a medical surge — when the pandemic strains hospital resources — went from 1,011 beds to 1,355, up 34% in just five days.

But the biggest surprise of all is the supply of ventilators, which would help the most critically ill breathe.

In what is the first real snapshot of the availability of ventilators statewide, these new numbers show there were 800 ventilators available in Minnesota hospitals as of Wednesday, and that number had grown to 1,190 by Sunday, representing a 49 percent increase.

Officials in Maine are worried about a coming surge, but at least for now, they are well below capacity.

As of Tuesday, there were 118 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maine, with 15 patients hospitalized, up from 32 cases and three hospitalizations a week ago.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said on Tuesday that 77 intensive care unit beds and 248 ventilators are currently available in Maine. Shah said the state was hoping to acquire an additional 300 ventilators in order to meet anticipated future needs.

Reading all this, a lot of people are probably feeling helpless.

We cannot control conditions at our nearest hospitals. What we can do is stay at home if we are able to, practice social distancing as much as we can if we are not, order something nice to be delivered to the doctors, nurses, EMTs pharmacists, and other critical responders that we know, order take-out and delivery to help keep our local restaurants and eateries operating, and wait.

As a feature in the New York Times put it a few days ago, “if it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt. The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated.”

The closer we can get to that two-week minimal-movement-and-interaction state, the closer we get to the end of the coronavirus threat.

ADDENDA: Look, world, I feel like I’ve dealt with a lot of bad news lately. Was it really too much to ask to see Robby Anderson remain with the New York Jets? A man can only bear so much!

Health Care

The War on Coronavirus Advances on Five Different Fronts

A medical officer checks devices at an emergency hospital, handling coronavirus disease in Jakarta, Indonesia March 23, 2020. (Antara Foto, Hafidz Mubarak/Reuters via Indonesia Out)

Today on the menu: the different forms the world is utilizing to battle the coronavirus, from massively stepping up respirator production to creating treatments for those with the virus.

The Five Fronts

There’s no getting around it: The news is grim, and it’s going to be grim for a while. You can choose whatever metaphor you like; I prefer to describe this as the coronavirus bombing Pearl Harbor and leaving our medical Pacific Fleet in ruins. We never sought this fight and most of us were oblivious to the threat as it gathered. Now, after suffering our first shocking losses, we know we have no choice but to fight this lethal enemy. We don’t know how long this fight is going to last. We know we are certain to suffer casualties. But we have no choice but to fight this virus with everything we’ve got; unchecked coronavirus would not destroy America, but it would inflict unbearable losses and alter it irrevocably.

Perhaps it is worth remembering Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940:

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

A plan for final victory is already taking shape. The United States of America, and the rest of the world, are attacking this threat on five key fronts.

Discovering and developing the vaccine.

Coronavirus is probably going to be a factor in our lives until late 2021. This doesn’t mean the current conditions will continue for another 18 months, just that we need to be prepared for the discovery, manufacturing, and distribution of a vaccine to take that long.

Yes, it is possible we could get lucky and the vaccine will be widely available before then. You probably saw the news of the first experimental vaccine trials that began last month. The good news is that at least 44 different projects to develop a vaccine are in development around the world. There are probably more great medical minds, with more resources and equipment and funding, attacking the coronavirus than have ever been thrown at any health problem ever before in human history.

(The Chinese government claims it will have a vaccine by April for emergency situations. But we all know China lies.)

Stanley Plotkin invented the rubella vaccine in 1964. He told Science magazine, “There may be advantages to having more than one anticoronavirus vaccine because if — and it’s a big if — one needs millions of doses, asking a single manufacturer to produce enough for the world is unlikely. One is going to need multiple manufacturers and if there are multiple effective vaccines so much the better. I am not arguing for the selection of a single coronavirus vaccine unless there are difficulties with others.”

Expanding hospital capacity.

You’ve been hearing about “flattening the curve,” in an attempt to keep the number of cases below the threshold of the medical system’s ability to treat everyone. There’s a horizontal line on the chart used to visualize this that represents “medical system capacity.” But that line doesn’t have to remain flat. The right moves can increase the capacity of our medical system.

Seattle already has two hospital tents on soccer fields.

In New York, they’re starting:

Four 250-bed federal emergency hospitals will be built in the Javits Center over the next 7 to 10 days.

The hospitals are being built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Construction material for the hospitals had already started to arrive as Cuomo spoke. Each of the hospitals will be 40,000 square feet and be staffed by 320 federal staff members.

Cuomo also said 30,000 retired healthcare workers are answering the call and have enlisted to help in New York’s coronavirus response.

All across the country, local and state leaders are looking at closed hospital facilities and either reopening them or preparing to reopen them.

Philadelphia is contemplating reopening Hahnemann University Hospital. In California, Long Beach Community Hospital is reopening. In New York, DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda may reopen. The New Jersey Department of Health is working to re-open Inspira Medical Center Woodbury in Gloucester County. This country has 155 closed rural hospitals.

Each one of those adds a couple hundred more beds — and capacity to handle non-coronavirus health care that cannot be delayed.

Making more masks.

Mask production is expanding: “3M has ramped up production of N95 respirators and doubled its global output to nearly 100 million per month; in the United States we are producing 35 million respirators per month.” Fiat Chrysler will start manufacturing face masks in the coming weeks and expects to be able to create 1 million per month. (One unnerving detail: “The automaker confirmed to TechCrunch that production capacity is being installed this week at one of its factories in China.”)

Those homemade ones might help somewhat, but they are not really a suitable substitute for health-care workers and others likely to be exposed to the coronavirus.

Making more ventilators.

America’s auto-making factories to the rescue!

Ford said it will work with 3M to produce a new kind of Powered Air-Purifying Respirator for healthcare workers. A PAPR has a clear mask that fits over the face. Air is drawn in through a tube connected to a pump that filters the air. The PAPR will be made using parts from both Ford and 3M, the automaker said, including fans used in the Ford F-150’s optional ventilated seats.

Ford said it is exploring the possibility of producing the device at one of its Michigan factories. 3M will also make the respirators at its own factory, Ford said.

The automaker also said it will work with the United Auto Workers Union to assemble clear plastic face shields that protect people from possibly infectious bodily fluids. The Ford-designed masks are being tested at Detroit-area hospitals. They could be used by healthcare workers, but also others, such as store clerks, who must regularly deal with the public.

Ford is also using 3D printers at its Advanced Manufacturing Center to create disposable air-filtering respirator masks. Once approved, Ford said, the company could initially 1,000 masks per month but hopes to increase production as quickly as possible.

Finally, something that might make that GM bailout worthwhile:

General Motors said last Friday that it was going to work with Ventec Life Systems to help increase its production of ventilators for hospital patients. On Monday, the two companies announced that Ventec “is now planning exponentially higher ventilator production as fast as possible” as a result of the partnership.

Also notice this detail from a March 22 announcement from Food and Drug Administration, which suggests that one possible solution is on the bedside tables of millions of Americans.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), auto-CPAP, and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) machines typically used for treatment of sleep apnea (either in the home or facility setting) may be used to support patients with respiratory insufficiency provided appropriate monitoring (as available) and patient condition.

It’s hard to get a sense of how many CPAP machines are out there, but one manufacturer, ResMed, said in 2018 it had millions of patients. One company estimates 5 million Americans use CPAP machines.

Making more treatments for those who have coronavirus.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but do not eat fish tank cleaner to prevent coronavirus.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating two drugs that are approved to treat other diseases (chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine) and another, more experimental drug (remdesivir). Around the world, 40 studies for coronavirus drugs have begun but are not yet recruiting for clinical trials and 49 are recruiting.

With progress on these five fronts, we can gradually lift the social distancing, shelter-in-place, lockdowns, and those loosely enforced curfews. In time, as the country adjusts, state and local governments will reevaluate whether all of these restrictions makes sense for every area. For example, right now, California is in lockdown, meaning everyone is expected to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, obtain health care or go to an “essential job.” But as of this writing, 16 counties have no reported cases (mostly rural ones).

ADDENDUM: Thank you to Michael Brendan Dougherty for the kind words on the most recent edition of The Editors, and thanks to Kevin Holtsberry for his high praise as well.


The Comprehensive Timeline of China’s COVID-19 Lies

Paramilitary officers wearing face masks to contain the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus walk along a street in Beijing, China, March 18, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

On today’s menu: a day-by-day, month-by-month breakdown of China’s coronavirus coverup and the irreparable damage it has caused around the globe.

The Timeline of a Viral Ticking Time Bomb

The story of the coronavirus pandemic is still being written. But at this early date, we can see all kinds of moments where different decisions could have lessened the severity of the outbreak we are currently enduring. You have probably heard variations of: “Chinese authorities denied that the virus could be transferred from human to human until it was too late.” What you have probably not heard is how emphatically, loudly, and repeatedly the Chinese government insisted human transmission was impossible, long after doctors in Wuhan had concluded human transmission was ongoing — and how the World Health Organization assented to that conclusion, despite the suspicions of other outside health experts.

Clearly, the U.S. government’s response to this threat was not nearly robust enough, and not enacted anywhere near quickly enough. Most European governments weren’t prepared either. Few governments around the world were or are prepared for the scale of the danger. We can only wonder whether accurate and timely information from China would have altered the way the U.S. government, the American people, and the world prepared for the oncoming danger of infection.

Some point in late 2019: The coronavirus jumps from some animal species to a human being. The best guess at this point is that it happened at a Chinese “wet market.”

December 6: According to a study in The Lancet, the symptom onset date of the first patient identified was “Dec 1, 2019 . . . 5 days after illness onset, his wife, a 53-year-old woman who had no known history of exposure to the market, also presented with pneumonia and was hospitalized in the isolation ward.” In other words, as early as the second week of December, Wuhan doctors were finding cases that indicated the virus was spreading from one human to another.

December 21: Wuhan doctors begin to notice a “cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause.

December 25: Chinese medical staff in two hospitals in Wuhan are suspected of contracting viral pneumonia and are quarantined. This is additional strong evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Sometime in “Late December”: Wuhan hospitals notice “an exponential increase” in the number of cases that cannot be linked back to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

December 30: Dr. Li Wenliang sent a message to a group of other doctors warning them about a possible outbreak of an illness that resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), urging them to take protective measures against infection.

December 31: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declares, “The investigation so far has not found any obvious human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infection.” This is the opposite of the belief of the doctors working on patients in Wuhan, and two doctors were already suspected of contracting the virus.

Three weeks after doctors first started noticing the cases, China contacts the World Health Organization.

Tao Lina, a public-health expert and former official with Shanghai’s center for disease control and prevention, tells the South China Morning Post, “I think we are [now] quite capable of killing it in the beginning phase, given China’s disease control system, emergency handling capacity and clinical medicine support.”

January 1: The Wuhan Public Security Bureau issued summons to Dr. Li Wenliang, accusing him of “spreading rumors.” Two days later, at a police station, Dr. Li signed a statement acknowledging his “misdemeanor” and promising not to commit further “unlawful acts.” Seven other people are arrested on similar charges and their fate is unknown.

Also that day, “after several batches of genome sequence results had been returned to hospitals and submitted to health authorities, an employee of one genomics company received a phone call from an official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, ordering the company to stop testing samples from Wuhan related to the new disease and destroy all existing samples.”

According to a New York Times study of cellphone data from China, 175,000 people leave Wuhan that day. According to global travel data research firm OAG, 21 countries have direct flights to Wuhan. In the first quarter of 2019 for comparison, 13,267 air passengers traveled from Wuhan, China, to destinations in the United States, or about 4,422 per month. The U.S. government would not bar foreign nationals who had traveled to China from entering the country for another month.

January 2: One study of patients in Wuhan can only connect 27 of 41 infected patients to exposure to the Huanan seafood market — indicating human-to-human transmission away from the market. A report written later that month concludes, “evidence so far indicates human transmission for 2019-nCoV. We are concerned that 2019-nCoV could have acquired the ability for efficient human transmission.”

Also on this day, the Wuhan Institute of Virology completed mapped the genome of the virus. The Chinese government would not announce that breakthrough for another week.

January 3: The Chinese government continued efforts to suppress all information about the virus: “China’s National Health Commission, the nation’s top health authority, ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease, and ordered labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions, or to destroy them.”

Roughly one month after the first cases in Wuhan, the United States government is notified. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gets initial reports about a new coronavirus from Chinese colleagues, according to Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar. Azar, who helped manage the response at HHS to earlier SARS and anthrax outbreaks, told his chief of staff to make sure the National Security Council was informed.

Also on this day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released another statement, repeating, “As of now, preliminary investigations have shown no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infections.

January 4: While Chinese authorities continued to insist that the virus could not spread from one person to another, doctors outside that country weren’t so convinced. The head of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, Ho Pak-leung, warned that “the city should implement the strictest possible monitoring system for a mystery new viral pneumonia that has infected dozens of people on the mainland, as it is highly possible that the illness is spreading from human to human.”

January 5: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission put out a statement with updated numbers of cases but repeated, “preliminary investigations have shown no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infections.

January 6: The New York Times publishes its first report about the virus, declaring that “59 people in the central city of Wuhan have been sickened by a pneumonia-like illness.” That first report included these comments:

Wang Linfa, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said he was frustrated that scientists in China were not allowed to speak to him about the outbreak. Dr. Wang said, however, that he thought the virus was likely not spreading from humans to humans because health workers had not contracted the disease. “We should not go into panic mode,” he said.

Don’t get too mad at Wang Linfa; he was making that assessment based upon the inaccurate information Chinese government was telling the world.

Also that day, the CDC  “issued a level 1 travel watch — the lowest of its three levels — for China’s outbreak. It said the cause and the transmission mode aren’t yet known, and it advised travelers to Wuhan to avoid living or dead animals, animal markets, and contact with sick people.”

Also that day, the CDC offered to send a team to China to assist with the investigation. The Chinese government declined, but a WHO team that included two Americans would visit February 16.

January 8: Chinese medical authorities claim to have identified the virus. Those authorities claim and Western media continue to repeat, “there is no evidence that the new virus is readily spread by humans, which would make it particularly dangerous, and it has not been tied to any deaths.”

The official statement from the World Health Organization declares, “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks . . . WHO does not recommend any specific measures for travelers. WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available.”

January 10: After unknowingly treating a patient with the Wuhan coronavirus, Dr. Li Wenliang started coughing and developed a fever. He was hospitalized on January 12. In the following days, Li’s condition deteriorated so badly that he was admitted to the intensive care unit and given oxygen support.

The New York Times quotes the Wuhan City Health Commission’s declaration that “there is no evidence the virus can spread among humans.” Chinese doctors continued to find transmission among family members, contradicting the official statements from the city health commission.

January 11: The Wuhan City Health Commission issues an update declaring, “All 739 close contacts, including 419 medical staff, have undergone medical observation and no related cases have been found . . . No new cases have been detected since January 3, 2020. At present, no medical staff infections have been found, and no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.” They issue a Q&A sheet later that day reemphasizing that “most of the unexplained viral pneumonia cases in Wuhan this time have a history of exposure to the South China seafood market. No clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.”

Also on this day, political leaders in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, began their regional meeting. The coronavirus was not mentioned over four days of meetings.

January 13: Authorities in Thailand detected the virus in a 61-year-old Chinese woman who was visiting from Wuhan, the first case outside of China. “Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, said the woman had not visited the Wuhan seafood market, and had come down with a fever on Jan. 5. However, the doctor said, the woman had visited a different, smaller market in Wuhan, in which live and freshly slaughtered animals were also sold.”

January 14: Wuhan city health authorities release another statement declaring, “Among the close contacts, no related cases were found.” Wuhan doctors have known this was false since early December, from the first victim and his wife, who did not visit the market.

The World Health Organization echoes China’s assessment: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.

This is five or six weeks after the first evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.

January 15: Japan reported its first case of coronavirus. Japan’s Health Ministry said the patient had not visited any seafood markets in China, adding that “it is possible that the patient had close contact with an unknown patient with lung inflammation while in China.”

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission begins to change its statements, now declaring, “Existing survey results show that clear human-to-human evidence has not been found, and the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out, but the risk of continued human-to-human transmission is low.” Recall Wuhan hospitals concluded human-to-human transmission was occurring three weeks earlier. A statement the next day backtracks on the possibility of human transmission, saying only, “Among the close contacts, no related cases were found.

January 17: The CDC and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection announce that travelers from Wuhan to the United States will undergo entry screening for symptoms associated with 2019-nCoV at three U.S. airports that receive most of the travelers from Wuhan, China: San Francisco, New York (JFK), and Los Angeles airports.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission’s daily update declares, “A total of 763 close contacts have been tracked, 665 medical observations have been lifted, and 98 people are still receiving medical observations. Among the close contacts, no related cases were found.”

January 18: HHS Secretary Azar has his first discussion about the virus with President Trump. Unnamed “senior administration officials” told the Washington Post that “the president interjected to ask about vaping and when flavored vaping products would be back on the market.

Despite the fact that Wuhan doctors know the virus is contagious, city authorities allow 40,000 families to gather and share home-cooked food in a Lunar New Year banquet.

January 19: The Chinese National Health Commission declares the virus “still preventable and controllable.” The World Health Organization updates its statement, declaring, “Not enough is known to draw definitive conclusions about how it is transmitted, the clinical features of the disease, the extent to which it has spread, or its source, which remains unknown.”

January 20: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declares for the last time in its daily bulletin, “no related cases were found among the close contacts.

That day, the head of China’s national health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in China’s Guangdong province had been caused by human-to-human transmission and medical staff had been infected.

Also on this date, the Wuhan Evening News newspaper, the largest newspaper in the city, mentions the virus on the front page for the first time since January 5.

January 21: The CDC announced the first U.S. case of a the coronavirus in a Snohomish County, Wash., resident who returning from China six days earlier.

By this point, millions of people have left Wuhan, carrying the virus all around China and into other countries.

January 22: WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus continued to praise China’s handling of the outbreak. “I was very impressed by the detail and depth of China’s presentation. I also appreciate the cooperation of China’s Minister of Health, who I have spoken with directly during the last few days and weeks. His leadership and the intervention of President Xi and Premier Li have been invaluable, and all the measures they have taken to respond to the outbreak.”

In the preceding days, a WHO delegation conducted a field visit to Wuhan. They concluded, “deployment of the new test kit nationally suggests that human-to-human transmission is taking place in Wuhan.” The delegation reports, “their counterparts agreed close attention should be paid to hand and respiratory hygiene, food safety and avoiding mass gatherings where possible.”

At a meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee, panel members express “divergent views on whether this event constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ or not. At that time, the advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC.”

President Trump, in an interview with CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, declared, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.

January 23: Chinese authorities announce their first steps for a quarantine of Wuhan. By this point, millions have already visited the city and left it during the Lunar New Year celebrations. Singapore and Vietnam report their first cases, and by now an unknown but significant number of Chinese citizens have traveled abroad as asymptomatic, oblivious carriers.

January 24: Vietnam reports person-to-person transmission, and Japan, South Korea, and the U.S report their second cases. The second case is in Chicago. Within two days, new cases are reported in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Arizona. The virus is in now in several locations in the United States, and the odds of preventing an outbreak are dwindling to zero.

On February 1, Dr. Li Wenliang tested positive for coronavirus. He died from it six days later.

One final note: On February 4, Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella urged residents to hug Chinese people to encourage them in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, a member of Associazione Unione Giovani Italo Cinesi, a Chinese society in Italy aimed at promoting friendship between people in the two countries, called for respect for novel coronavirus patients during a street demonstration. “I’m not a virus. I’m a human. Eradicate the prejudice.”

ADDENDUM: We’ll get back to regular politics soon enough. In the meantime, note that Bernie Sanders held a virtual campaign event Sunday night “from Vermont, railing against the ongoing Senate coronavirus rescue bill. He skipped a key procedural vote on that bill.”

Politics & Policy

A Time for Honesty

Nurse Teresa Malijon waits for patients at a drive-through testing site for COVID-19 coronavirus in a parking lot at the University of Washington’s Northwest Outpatient Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., March 17, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

On the menu today: why leaders in the United States — and around the world — need to be honest with the public during this crisis, especially when it’s uncomfortable; serious questions about senators’ stock sales before the coronavirus hit; the importance of speed when it comes to economic aid; and the end of the era of political leaders as a form of entertainment.

Now Is the Time for Honesty — Even If It Is Uncomfortable

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of elected officials and public-health officials being honest with the public about what they see, what they think, what they know, and what they don’t know. It is okay for a leader to admit he or his team doesn’t know something. It is much preferable to hear uncertainty than to hear something inaccurate. An answer of “I don’t know,” is honest, and forces people to be prepared for worse scenarios than the present.

Inaccurate statements do far more damage, because that suggests that the leaders don’t really know what’s going on, or they do know what’s going on, and are afraid to tell the public because it’s so bad. Forewarned is forearmed.

The report prepared by Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson compared the threat of the current coronavirus to the 1918 influenza outbreak — the one that infected one-third of the world’s population, killed 675,000 Americans, and killed 50 million people worldwide. (That’s about two-thirds of the worldwide death toll of World War II.)

If that is indeed what we are dealing with, then all of these measures that seem extreme make sense; this coronavirus is a once-in-a-century threat to public health. The situation in Italy makes that comparison seem plausible. Spain quietly crept up to become the country with the fourth-most deaths in the world. We don’t know how reliable the numbers from the government of Iran are, but even the official numbers paint an ugly picture. (A little-noticed story: Donald Trump reportedly held back a counterattack against Iran because of their current crisis with the coronavirus.) France’s death toll is starting to rise more dramatically.

You also have to wonder what we’re not seeing. Russia only suffered its first death this week, and has only 199 officially reported cases. India has only 194 cases, at least officially reported, although testing has been sparse so far. Pakistan has 454 cases. Vietnam has 85 cases. Mongolia has six cases. All of those countries share borders with China. Even if those countries’ health authorities were doing a terrible job of testing, you would think we would be hearing about overwhelmed hospitals and such. One theory is that the coronavirus doesn’t spread as much in heat and humidity — and that’s generally true for viruses — but Russia and Mongolia aren’t that warm at this time of year.

Speaking of Public Trust . . .

We don’t often see Tucker Carlson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreeing on something. But they both are livid about an NPR report that U.S. senator Richard Burr offered stark warnings to a small group of well-connected constituents while taking a different tone in comments to the general public, and a subsequent report from ProPublica that Burr sold off a significant portion of his stock on February 17, including shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Extended Stay America — two hotel companies that are getting hammered by the current economic crash. As Carlson points out, there might be a legitimate explanation for this, but if there is, Burr shouldn’t delay in laying out the exculpatory information.

The statement from Burr’s spokesman doesn’t really help him much at all: “Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak.”

Er, yes, that’s precisely the point. The suspicion is that because of confidential briefings, the senator knew that an economic earthquake was coming to world markets and cashed in based upon inside information.

Another GOP senator, the newly appointed Kelly Loeffler, faced similar accusations. She responded early this morning: “Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.” That’s good to hear. But did those third-party advisors hear about the coronavirus threat to the economy through any source connected to Loeffler?

Speed Is of the Essence When It Comes to Helping This Economy

I’m not an economist, but I have eyes. Yesterday, John Delaney — the congressman that no one paid attention to in the Democratic presidential primary — wrote that 40 percent of the American economy is shut down. Whether or not that percentage is exact, this morning you woke up in a United States that has more than half the nation’s schools closed, most restaurants limited to take-out and delivery, almost no one in hotels, almost no one on airplanes, most museums and tourist sites closed, resorts and cruises closed, nonessential travel strongly discouraged, all concerts, conferences, sporting events canceled, and public spaces such as beaches closing — and all of the businesses that support all of that are getting hit hard.

I find myself lining up with Robert VerBruggen and Michael Brendan Dougherty: In a crisis such as this, when contemplating an economic relief or stimulus to mitigate the effects of all this, the most important thing is to get the money out the door quickly. The old joke about dropping money from a helicopter would be fine, if only the gathering of crowds below didn’t mitigate social distancing.

You’re going to hear a lot of comments that Congress is “dithering” over the economic aid, and I don’t think that’s a fair accusation. Those who don’t want to see taxpayer dollars wasted, or more government money going into the pockets of the already wealthy, are raising valid concerns. We would never operate like this in a normal circumstance. This sort of government would make no sense in a normal circumstance. But we’re in the opposite of a normal circumstance. Shutting down 40 percent or whatever percent of your economy until further notice in an effort to save lives is just about the most abnormal circumstance imaginable.

Just get money out the door, lots of it, to lots of different people. As MBD notes, if we really fear that too many taxpayer dollars will go to wealthy people who don’t need it, we can raise taxes later. A lot of wealthy people have enough good sense to donate it to someone who needs it more. I know there’s this perception of greedy rich people, but if you look around, you see wealthy people and well-funded organizations throwing money and supplies at coronavirus-related charities left and right:

  • The top executives at Nike are donating to Oregon Food Bank ($1 million), the Oregon Community Recovery Fund ($2 million), and the Oregon Health & Science University ($7 million) to “improve statewide care coordination in Oregon, increase patient access and ramp up operational readiness for expanded diagnostic testing for COVID-19.”
  • Actor Eric Stonestreet announced Wednesday that he is donating 200,000 meals to Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City. The regional food bank is part of Feeding America.
  • The Minnesota Twins announced a $30,000 donation to The Sheridan Story, a nonprofit organization which works to provide food access for children, providing meals for 7,500 Minnesota kids.
  • The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, who run the Four Winds Casino, “have donated 7,450 pounds of food to residents in Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana after deciding to close its four casino locations.”
  • Facebook will match up “to $20 million in donations to support global relief efforts for Covid-19: $10 million apiece to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund started by the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization, and to the CDC Foundation, which will begin a fundraiser in the next few weeks focused on the United States.”
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, “$50 million to be dispersed to 12 pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms which are actively looking to find an effective vaccine against the coronavirus. But that donation comes with a crucial caveat: the successful company or companies must make the vaccine affordable and accessible to even the world’s poorest regions.”

Yesterday I wrote in The Corner that federal highway regulators are allowing truckers to drive more than the number of hours the regulations permit if their load includes medical equipment, hand sanitizer, or food. Obviously, no one wants truck drivers to be drowsy at any time. But because of the importance of getting these supplies where they need to go as quickly as possible, the federal government has decided, at least for a while, that we can trust truck drivers to use good judgment. The rule is eleven hours in a 14-hour period, which must be followed by a ten-hour period off-duty. If it takes eleven-and-a-half or twelve hours to get the load of ventilators to the hospital, get it there, instead of stopping and delivering it a half a day later.

Could some drivers use bad judgment, drive for too long, and end up having an accident? Yes. But for now, regulators have decided that the need to get the supplies quickly outweighs that risk. This is the way we need to look at stimulus and recovery funding right now. Sure, some people will use the money they get “badly,” and some money will end up going to those who are already financially secure enough to weather the storm.

We’re all more dependent upon each other than ever. It is not easy to trust each the judgment of our fellow citizens. But if the government tries to manage every last detail of economic aid, it will come far too late to do much good.

ADDENDUM: Over in TheArticle, I point out that the era of government and elected officials as entertainment is ending — and that it was a terrible idea from the beginning,

The presidency is not primarily a job about being entertaining on television. Since the rise of television, the most pivotal moments of the American presidency have occurred far from the television cameras: John F Kennedy and his cabinet, trying to avoid Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lyndon Johnson making the fateful choices about the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon’s decisions surrounding Watergate. Jimmy Carter’s choice to try the Desert One operation to rescue the hostages in Iran. Ronald Reagan’s summits with Gorbachev that set the end of the Cold War in motion. George HW Bush and Desert Storm. George W Bush after 9/11, and the decisions of the Obama cabinet as they grappled with the Great Recession and made far-reaching decisions about the bailout. All of those involved high-stakes decisions made behind closed doors, in consultation with the government’s best experts, for better or for worse.

Charisma on television is the icing on the cake — but it is not the cake. The cake is good judgment and an ability to understand the duties of the office and the complicated, ever-changing world we live in.


Internet and Social Media in the Age of Coronavirus

The logo of Google Inc. is seen outside their headquarters building in Mountain View, California August 18, 2004. Google Inc. slashed the size of its closely watched initial public offering nearly in half to less than $2 billion on Wednesday, splashing cold water on what has been touted as the hottest Internet IPO in years. Google shares could make their market debut on the Nasdaq stock market as soon as Thursday, ending the wait for the year’s most anticipated IPO. This logo has been updated and is no longer in use. (REUTERS/Clay McLachlan)

On the menu today: trying to keep a cool head on one’s shoulders when there’s a serious public-health crisis and a social-media environment that rewards hyperbole and drama, figuring out why so many members of the U.S. media are quick to defend the good name of the Chinese government, an update on CPAC, and a funny video about teaching your kids at home that feels just a little too real right now.

Practicing Safe Social-Media Distancing

Everything that we’re currently enduring would be worse without the Internet. Without it, we wouldn’t be getting nearly as much information nearly as quickly. Our ability to look up what doctors are saying would be nil. Our ability to know what the coronavirus is doing in other countries would be limited to foreign correspondents. Our knowledge about the crisis we’re facing would be limited to what we could find out from the television, the radio, newspapers, and magazines.

The requirements of self-quarantine and social distancing mean we’re all interacting with each other electronically — e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media networks. But at least we’re still interacting. If the coronavirus had popped up in the early 1990s, we would be all stuck talking on landlines to each other — and medical and pharmaceutical technology wouldn’t be what it is today.

With all of that said . . . this is going to be bad. Robert VerBruggen looks at the most pressing problems, as hospitals in some parts of the country are starting to approach capacity already. This isn’t merely the coronavirus patients; hospitals were already treating lots of sick people.

The world has no shortage of real news right now. Two members of Congress tested positive for the coronavirus. The New York Stock Exchange is temporarily closing the trading floor and moving to electronic trading for the time being. The census counting is temporarily being suspended for two weeks. Congress is trying to put together a massive stimulus bill quickly, knowing that millions upon millions of Americans just found themselves out of work, and many service industry jobs will not reappear anytime soon.

In a sudden abundance of actual news, we don’t need any of the over-hyped social-media clickbait news. Perhaps that’s why the obsessive coverage of whether this should be called simply the “coronavirus” or “Chinese coronavirus” or “Wuhan virus” or “COVID-19” is so irksome right now. It’s a classic Trump-era debate about whether a particular term is a signal of xenophobia and whether we need to practice visible tolerance by rebuking anyone who uses the verboten phrases — even though plenty of media organizations called it “the Wuhan coronavirus” plenty of times up until very recently. This is an extremely comfortable and familiar position for some of our most prominent media voices: “We have suddenly decided this common term is racially offensive and socially unacceptable; quick, let’s all punish anyone who doesn’t go along.”

There is a more sinister theory about the largest institutions of the national media suddenly making a full-court press against Americans associating this virus with China. When you see former U.S. officials declaring, “Today, a San Franciscan would be safer in Beijing,” or headlines like, “Coronavirus has vindicated China, exposed the West,” (the Stanford Daily) and “As virus spreads, other countries can learn from China,” (AP) and “The Coronavirus is making China’s model look better and better” (Bloomberg News) . . . you start wondering, why are so many people who are not paid spokesmen for Beijing sticking out their necks to praise the Chinese government? Out of all the institutions across the globe fighting this virus, why are these people singling out the one institution that did more to hide it and cover up the truth than any other as the one most worthy of praise?

I mean, that’s Bernie Sanders’s job.

Several voices have contended that The Atlantic has been particularly soft on China in its coronavirus coverage — with some speculation that this reflects the worldview of owner Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow and heir of Steve Jobs, who owns significant shares of Apple and Disney — two major international corporations that would prefer to stay on the good side of the Chinese government. We should note this article in The Atlantic from Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, posted today:

The evidence of China’s deliberate cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is a matter of public record. In suppressing information about the virus, doing little to contain it, and allowing it to spread unchecked in the critical early days and weeks, the regime imperiled not only its own country and its own citizens but also the more than 100 nations now facing their own potentially devastating outbreaks. More perniciously, the Chinese government censored and detained those brave doctors and whistleblowers who attempted to sound the alarm and warn their fellow citizens when they understood the gravity of what was to come.

Some American commentators and Democratic politicians are aghast at Donald Trump and Republicans for referring to the pandemic as the Wuhan virus and repeatedly pointing to China as the source of the pandemic. In naming the disease COVID-19, the World Health Organization specifically avoided mentioning Wuhan. Yet in de-emphasizing where the epidemic began (something China has been aggressively pushing for), we run the risk of obscuring Beijing’s role in letting the disease spread beyond its borders.

Maybe that’s a make-up call by The Atlantic.

I have no objection to the cheerful social-media clickbait, at a time when we’re all feeling cooped up, anxious, and unnerved by the headlines. If someone left the staff a massive tip to help a restaurant to get through the hard times, let me hear it. (And if you can afford to leave a massive tip for your take-out order . . . maybe you ought to do that!)

But there’s a lot of stuff on social media I’m just not going to read for the foreseeable future. I have no tolerance for anonymous Twitter accounts with names like “NastyRutabagaHead1969” telling us how easy this is to fix, if only someone would listen to him.

I don’t want to hear about the amazing healing properties of essential oils right now. Marianne Williamson, you were a hoot last year, but I’m not interested in how this is the time for “integrative politics to heal what’s happening, just like integrative healing for the body.

So no, I don’t need to hear your theory that coronavirus escaped from Area 51 or that it’s the Bilderberger and Stonecutter plot to thin out global overpopulation. I don’t like Vanessa Hudgens making insensitive comments about people dying, but I don’t really expect Hollywood starlets to be particularly empathetic or insightful commentators about an ongoing global pandemic, particularly when speaking off the cuff on social media.

We also probably could go without campaigns asking for money. Dear campaigns, I know you really need to reach your funding goal before the quarterly FEC deadline, but just about everybody else in the country is dealing with bigger problems right now.

At this time, everyone’s trying to sort out whether they’re responding to this potential threat to themselves and their loved ones the right way. Our society has no shortage of people who want to tell you, “No, you’re underreacting, you should be doing this,” and plenty who want to say, “No, you’re overreacting, the right way to respond is to do that.” Social media has hyper-energized our instincts for virtue-signaling and shaming.

Then What Level of Reaction Is Enough?

Yes, I saw the argument from StatNews.com — raise your hand if you had ever read that site before this — contending that governments around the world are making decisions without reliable data. Of course the world’s government don’t have “enough” reliable data. Medical authorities can’t measure the asymptomatic, we didn’t have anywhere near enough tests when this virus arrived on our shores, and we don’t know how much we can trust the numbers coming out of China. Government authorities have to make the best decisions they can with the information they have available.

I don’t think you need perfect data to realize that this is a big deal, right? We’re all seeing what is happening in Italy, right? They said 475 Italians died on Tuesday night.

Not many of us noticed the mayor of Florence promoting a “hug a Chinese person” campaign as symbolic gesture against anti-Chinese bias in early February. (Interestingly, Florence’s region, Tuscany, is in bad shape but nowhere near as bad as Lombardy, although it’s possible they may catch up.)

An Update on the Post-CPAC Coronavirus ‘Screening’

Meanwhile, our Jack Crowe has an important update on the claims about testing after the CPAC conference this year. Those initial claims that thousands of people were screened aren’t true:

[ACU spokesman Ian] Walters said that ACU chairman Dan Schneider was informed by Maryland health official Ruth Thompson last Sunday, March 8, that state workers had conducted 2,000 screenings around the hotel in the wake of CPAC. Schneider relayed that information to Schlapp, who shared it on Twitter and television — but that claim turned out to be false.

In fact, Maryland health workers did not conduct any tests, and Thompson, who serves as deputy director of Maryland’s Infections Disease Epidemiology & Outbreak Response Bureau, misrepresented the so-called screenings and who conducted them, according to Walters. Thompson did not respond to a request for comment and a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health would not comment beyond reiterating that no state workers performed screenings at the hotel.

Once Schlapp’s claims were challenged by the hotel, Walters reached out to Thompson on Tuesday and she corrected the record, informing him that Gaylord Hotel employees — not state health workers — conducted 2,000 so-called “stand ups” exclusively on other hotel employees in the days following the conference. All hotel employees were summoned to a staff-wide meeting and visual “stand up” evaluations were conducted on each individual as they entered the meeting to determine whether they had noticeable symptoms.

There’s a difference between a “screening” — visually checking for symptoms — and an actual test to see if the virus is inside the body. You have to wonder if some people were comfortable with the general public not knowing the difference between the two.

ADDENDA: The Holderness family is a family in Florida that makes short video song parodies and sketches. The most recent one, about attempting to homeschool during the school shutdown and the inevitable slide in expectations, really hits home.


Signs of Hope

Passengers get into a bus at a surface transport station following the metro shutdown – a decision introduced by local authorities to confront the coronavirus (COVID-19), in Kiev, Ukraine March 18, 2020. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

On the menu today: preparing for a global war against a faceless, nonhuman enemy; what Bernie Sanders is putting at risk by staying the Democratic primary; a tough question for the president from Kevin Williamson; and some if-you-dare relationship advice from Kat Timpf.

‘We Have an Enemy in Coronavirus That Is Faceless’

I liked this short video that actor Matthew McConaughey posted last night. It’s nothing profound. Just an observation that all of us are inadvertently and unexpectedly more united at this moment that we have been in generations. No matter our politics, no matter our race, no matter our faith, no matter what we believe or where we come from — we are all now in the same situation, threatened by a virus that is trying to kill us and the ones we love. It has a better shot of killing some of us than others, but it doesn’t really care one way or another. Because it has no conscious intentions, it doesn’t intend to spare anyone.

This sort of forced unity is often a theme in alien invasion movies — the idea that we as human beings are often factional and bickering and inherently divided into tribes, up until the moment when a greater threat arrives, and then suddenly those previous differences seem immaterial. Whether you prefer War of the Worlds or Independence Day or Edge of Tomorrow, we are all threatened, worldwide, by something that is not human, is targeting people with potentially lethal force, and is not interested in negotiation. Ugly green spheres with little red prickles have landed . . . and it’s us against them. And the coronavirus may not be everywhere in the country and on earth, but it is now in all 50 states.

“We are all in this together” is often a tired and not-all-that-accurate cliché. But in this case, we are. Your decisions could well end up having enormous consequences for everyone around you. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told us, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” But in this case, the reverse is true. We have this great responsibility to take steps to protect each other, because we have the power to take steps to protect each other. You don’t need superpowers or advanced training or off-the-charts IQ or anything else to help in this fight. All you need is good judgment and to persistently apply it — and to be patient.

Because we can’t see the virus, we can’t be certain who has it without testing. (Even if you’re tested and the test comes back negative, you could still catch it later on.) Carriers can be asymptomatic. It’s not always easy for laymen to distinguish what they fear could be coronavirus symptoms from the flu, or the common cold, or spring allergies. We are not quite sure if, once you’ve beaten the virus, you can be re-infected. The current answer from medical experts is “once you’ve had coronavirus, you probably can’t get it a second time.”

This is going to suck. But in the long history of Americans needing to sacrifice for their fellow countrymen, this is pretty small potatoes. This isn’t being asked to storm the beaches at Normandy, or survive the winter at Valley Forge, or fight on during the Argonne offensive. (I was about to write, ‘this isn’t like being asked to survive the Great Depression,’ but I guess we should see just how bad the economy gets.) We’re going to have to put up with some considerable disruptions to our lives and some serious economic pain. But when we get to the other side of this — as McConaughey puts it, when that red light turns green — we’re all going to be able to look at each other and know that all of us, working together, saved lives. Every day, social media give us at least one daily reminder about how stupid and selfish human beings can be. This crisis is going to give us a lasting reminder of how good people can be when it counts.

And there are signs of hope. Vaccine testing is underway already. Dozens of medical research firms around the world are working on a vaccine, and several claim they’re already making progress. New research indicates the fatality rates may be lower than we initially feared, perhaps only 2.7 percent for people over age 64.

If re-infection is impossible or even rare, every day gets us a little closer to herd immunity.

And thank God — no, really, let us pause and thank God — that so far, the coronavirus seems to be a minimal threat to children.

Stubborn Bernie Sanders Undermines His Own Cause

What if the Bernie Sanders campaign doesn’t launch a socialist revolution . . . but instead effectively quashes the cause of socialism in the United States for the foreseeable future?

For starters, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t end his campaign this week, the average Democrat is going to hate him. The primary is over. Joe Biden is 286 delegates ahead of Sanders, and he’s 844 delegates away from clinching it. We knew Florida was going to be a good state for Biden, but the former vice president won 62 percent to 23 percent. Biden crushed Sanders in Illinois, 59 percent to 36 percent. And in Arizona, Biden won 44 percent to 32 percent. (A lot of votes for “other” in Arizona.)

Sanders is probably going to get curb-stomped in almost every primary from here on out, presuming that it is safe to hold primaries. As we saw in Ohio yesterday and in many other states, a lot of government officials aren’t sure it’s a good idea to have lots of people congregating and standing on line in every community in America. State officials don’t want to cancel the presidential primary entirely, but if every candidate except one drops out, they can justify that decision. Sanders alone can drive the decision for almost half the states. (As mentioned yesterday, quite a few states hold their non-presidential primaries after the Democratic national convention.) By staying in, Sanders is making these states go ahead with gatherings that put lots of people, particularly senior citizens, at greater risk. And he’s the one who’s always saying other people have to make sacrifices for the greater good! Why should so many other people live with a greater risk because he’s stubborn and doesn’t want to admit defeat?

Bernie Sanders chose to spend a portion of what is probably the past primary debate insisting that China deserves credit for “making progress in ending extreme poverty over the last 50 years.” It is always a bad time to be an apologist for the Chinese government, but this is a particularly appalling moment to insist, on national television, that the rulers in Beijing never get enough credit for the good they’ve done — which was, in large part, driven by economic pressures forcing them to shift away from socialist centralized planning and towards free-market capitalism.

If Biden loses in November, it probably won’t be primarily (no pun intended) because of Sanders. But Sanders’s refusal to withdrawal back in 2016 left bad blood among Democrats more loyal to Hillary Clinton. If the Vermont senator does the same thing two cycles in a row, most Democrats will see him as a sore loser and a troublemaker, someone who always put his own personal ambitions and vanity over the bigger picture. If this comes to pass, it will be a long time before someone says, “we need to nominate someone like Bernie Sanders.”

Some will argue that socialism is not in retreat but ascendant, at a time when the U.S. government is discussing a trillion-dollar bailout and economic stimulus. But the forces of government and business working together is standard in American life when a serious life-or-death crisis such as this one hits. Our old friend Jonah has written many times about the way progressives misuse the concept of “the moral equivalent of war” for whatever cause they deem important at any given time — the New Deal, the War on Poverty, the Great Society, the space race, the response to the Great Recession, climate change. A global pandemic that is highly contagious and particularly dangerous to the elderly and immunocompromised, and that could potentially overwhelm our hospitals and intensive-care units is indeed a threat that qualifies as the moral equivalent of war.

Even the Libertarians are thinking this is the current generation’s version of World War II.

ADDENDUM: Kevin Williamson with a fair question to the president: “Did we hire you to sit around and kvetch on Twitter about the mistakes of your predecessor, or did we hire you to fix them?

Our Kat Timpf offers a formula to ensure maximum household chaos while you’re quarantined.

Politics & Policy

States Should Be Careful with Restrictions on Their Citizens

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy takes part in a summit in New York City, October 17, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day . . . for once, it’s okay to be drinking alone.

A confusing primary election day begins in three states, but not Ohio; some thoughts on just how we should manage the primaries for the rest of spring; wondering whether some of the restrictions announced by cities and states are starting to approach an overreaction; and Three Martini Lunch listener and former HHS official Tevi Troy was an oracle all along, and sadly we didn’t listen to him.

Ohio Is Not Voting Today. Arizona, Florida, and Illinois Are.

Who decides whether Ohio holds its primary election as scheduled? The answer ultimately rested with the Ohio Supreme Court, which issued its decision early this morning. If you went to bed thinking that the state would be holding its primary today, it’s okay to be confused:

There is no Ohio primary Tuesday.

Early Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a legal challenge to the state delaying the primary. A candidate in Wood County filed the action alleging the delay of the primary violated election laws.

Only four justices participated in the ruling, which was issued without an opinion.

The ruling capped a chaotic 12 hours in which it appeared the election was off, back on, and then off again.

I’ve seen some people I respect characterize DeWine’s decision as “totalitarian,” and the Facebook comments I’ve seen are highly critical of the governor. Is postponing a primary election a totalitarian move?

Or is this a concession to the fact that we simply can’t do “social distancing” at the same time that people are congregating in one place such as polling places — many of them elderly! — and interacting with a lot of strangers? A lot of poll workers are getting up there in years, and that’s precisely the demographic that health officials want to keep self-quarantined or away from large groups of strangers.

Note that DeWine filed suit to postpone and reschedule the primary election; he did not and could not cancel the election by himself. The checks and balances of constitutional government are still being honored. This is not paving the way for President Trump to cancel the November elections, as many ill-informed individuals are contending. The president doesn’t have the power to reschedule a federal election. Congress would have to change federal law setting the date for the election “on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” The Constitution sets the president’s term at four years. Theoretically, Congress could move Election Day back a few weeks (or ahead!) but it cannot change the term of a U.S. president. One way or another, on January 20, someone’s getting sworn in.

Maybe it’s easy for those of us outside the state to recommend a delay because we have nothing at stake. The Democratic presidential primary is effectively over. There are a pair of potentially competitive Democratic primaries for Congress.

But is holding the primary on March 17 so sacrosanct that it makes the risk to elderly poll workers and voters worth it?

Quite a few states have separate dates for their presidential primary and other state office primaries. For example, New York state has its presidential primary April 28. It has its state primary June 23. Would it make that much of a difference to postpone it two months?

But this won’t work for every state. Wyoming is scheduled to hold its Democratic caucus April 4. Their primary is August 18. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July 13. (How long until it becomes time to contemplate rescheduling that, or the August 14 Republican National Convention?)

Dan McLaughlin argues that it’s time for Bernie Sanders to end his campaign. I doubt Sanders will do that. In 2016, Hillary Clinton reached the needed number of delegates to win the nomination on June 6; Sanders didn’t concede or congratulate her on her victory until June 16, and he didn’t endorse her until July 12. The Democratic National Convention began July 25.

It’s One Thing to Ask More of Citizens. It’s Another to Threaten to Punish Them.

I am on board with a lot of the state and local government efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; as mentioned yesterday, just about every state has broad and far-reaching powers and authorities to enforce quarantines.

But it does feel like some governors and mayors have entered a game of “can you top this?” when it comes to restrictions upon their citizens.

The reports of a “curfew” in New Jersey are not quite accurate; Governor Phil “Murphy stopped short of actually ordering a curfew in the state, but he told residents they should not leave their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless it is an emergency or essential travel.” I think it is good and wise for the government to strongly recommend actions to protect against the coronavirus, including restrictions on moving around. Once you start enforcing those restrictions with police powers, we enter different and potentially dangerous territory.

It’s not clear why state and local authorities would want people off the streets in the evening. The coronavirus is as contagious in daylight as it is at night. If people were using the darkness as cover for looting or other crimes, that would be a different story.

Hoboken mayor Ravi S. Bhalla is attempting a curfew, but he’s at least for now indicating that enforcement will consist of the police telling you to go home.

Ferrante said his officers “will be very diplomatic” with the curfew.

“It is not about arrests at all,” he said. “It is not to stop the individual walking their dog, or going to or coming from work. It is done to try to prevent those who are careless and not taking this seriously.”

But out in San Francisco, they are discussing enforcement of their “shelter in place” order:

The orders for county and city sheriffs and police chiefs to “ensure compliance,” and local authorities said they would not “rush to enforce” the directives as residents adjusted to understand what activities are no longer allowed. Violation of the orders is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or jail time.

Who’s going to be the first American arrested for violating a “shelter in place” order?

Meanwhile, Champlain, Ill., insists it is not planning to ban the sale of firearms or seize property. When a locality enacts an emergency declaration that allows such far-reaching powers, it probably ought to emphasize what it is not going to do when it announces their invocation. And maybe city officials and voters ought to reevaluate those emergency powers once this particular crisis passes.

Tevi Troy in 2016: ‘One Specific Area that Could Stand Improvement Is the Development of Coronavirus Countermeasures.’

A Public Service Announcement: Tevi Troy is a farshtunken oracle and everyone should read everything he writes. This on page 25 of Troy’s book, Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office, written in 2016:

Government can harm, as well as help, technological development. At the same time that the government is working to develop new technologies, the president needs to keep careful watch to ensure that other arms of the government are not getting in the way of technological progress. The president should have an office under his own purview tasked with removing bureaucratic barriers and identifying liability concerns that threaten effective preparation, and designed to leverage our federal system to pull the best ideas from every part of the nation to ensure our government is equipped and equipping every part of society to anticipate and respond to potential health issues. This office could be in the White House, or in the Office of Management and Budget, but should be within the domain of the executive office of the president. It does our nation little good to have BARDA work with industry to create a new cure, only to have the FDA unnecessarily delay its approval. Too often, different arms of the government work at cross-purposes with one another, creating what could be termed the “pushmi-pullyu” effect, after the Dr. Doolittle creature with two heads going off in different directions.

Once government bureaucracies are at war with each other, it’s very hard to stop them from feuding. In circumstances where thousands of lives could be on the line, the president cannot just shrug his shoulders and grumble about bureaucratic infighting. Presidential leadership is required to make sure that internal policy disagreements do not get in the way of life-saving technological advancements.

One specific area that could stand improvement is the development of coronavirus countermeasures. Both MERS and SARS were worrisome pathogens, and the world lacked the countermeasures to combat them. Fortunately, science has advanced to the point where effective vaccine platforms will typically allow us to develop vaccines for new strains of an existing disease. With respect to flu, for example, we have the ability to develop new vaccines to inoculate against rapidly evolving new strains. With coronaviruses, we do not yet have those platforms. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started down this path, but we also need HHS’s BARDA to spur private-sector development of a MERS countermeasure. The next president should put this effort on his or her to-do list.

Developing countermeasures is important, but so is taking care of them. A recent Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report was headlined, “DHS Has Not Effectively Managed Pandemic Personal Protective Equipment and Antiviral Medical Countermeasures.” Somewhat disturbingly, the report found that even though Congress had appropriated finds for DHS to “plan, train, and prepare for a potential pandemic,” the department was not ready to respond appropriately if a pandemic took place. According to the report, DHS had not sufficiently assessed its needs or managed the countermeasures in its own stockpile. The report included eleven specific recommendations that DHS needed to follow. DHS agreed with all eleven recommendations, which indicated there was internal knowledge of the agency’s failings on this front.

The proposed solution to slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy almost always turns out to be more slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Charlie Cooke for his kind words at the end of the latest episode of The Editors. I’m tempted to make “I always think how sensible he is and how well he sees the world,” the new ringtone on my phone.


The Quarantining of America

An empty French Quarter restaurant is pictured in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 15, 2020. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

On the menu today: trying to keep up with all of the rapid changes in quarantined America, the Democrats hold a debate that feels particularly pointless, and wondering if this crisis represents a symbolic end to globalization.

Welcome to Quarantined America

By now, you probably saw the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s ominous declaration that events with 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.

Schools are closed in many parts of the country; in my neck of the woods, school buildings are closed “until further notice” — meaning no going in to get any forgotten books out of your locker. The aim was to reopen after Easter, but . . . that’s obviously a goal, not a certainty. New York City schools will be closed until at least a week later, April 20. Ohio governor Mike DeWine said it was possible that children may not go back to school before autumn.

A lot of teachers are doing extraordinary work right now, trying to set up distance learning and online lessons on the fly. There are a million little questions to be sorted out — do grades count when kids are trying to learn from home? How do you ensure no one is cheating by Googling the answers?

How many kids will be trying to learn in homes where one or both parents are experiencing coronavirus-related economic stress?

What about all those teenagers who were supposed to take the SAT this spring? The spring athletic season is either gone or going to be extremely truncated, the spring musicals and plays won’t happen, there probably won’t be a spring dance or prom . . . how many friendships have to be shifted to entirely online? How many teenagers were thinking of asking someone out before the sudden interruption to our lives? Carpe diem, I suppose.

Some of us might feel a little satisfaction from an interruption to the current regime of standardized testing. But how well will our children be learning in this new system? When we do get the kids back in schools, will they have backslid a bit on their knowledge and skills? Will colleges look at kids’ transcripts, see a dip in grades in 2020, and say, “Ah, yeah, coronavirus, everyone’s performance was off back then”?

In California, Gavin Newsom wants everyone 65 and older, as well as everyone with chronic health conditions, to stay isolated at home. (In normal times, we’re worried about seniors who are isolated and never interact with anyone!)

Quite a few state and city governments are shutting down restaurants and bars. If you’re wondering how or why they have the power to do that, “Every state, the District of Columbia and most territories have laws authorizing quarantine and isolation, usually through the state’s health authority.

How many people were gainfully employed and hardworking, and had a successful business, who now have it effectively shut down by a government decree? When we were discussing a bailout last week, one of the arguments was that if you have a safely operating good or service, and the government suddenly announces no one is allowed to buy it for a certain period of time, aren’t you entitled to compensation from the government? Last week I wrote, “how many companies have a contingency plan in place for ‘what happens if all of Italy shuts down’?” Now we’re asking our nation’s businesses to have a contingency plan in place for America shutting down. Companies may put aside cash reserves for an economic downturn, but almost no business plans for scenarios like this.

Starbucks and Taco Bell announced they’re only doing take-out and delivery.

Putting large swaths of American life on hold is going to be an economic beat-down the likes of which we’ve never seen. The only good news is that once we get through it, we’re going to have a pent-up demand for goods and services that will make up a chunk of the damage. But the owner of a restaurant or coffee shop or shoe store has to get to that point with either no income or minimal income. (I suppose we could see a giant explosion of take-out food orders . . . but that still leaves the bars without their drinkers.)

We’re living through an extraordinary time — a nightmare for some, merely surreal for others. Our kids will be telling their kids about the coronavirus outbreak of spring 2020. (And hopefully no recurrence in the autumn.)

Over on NR’s home page, I make an attempt to sort through it all, and where this is all leading us. I had been thinking about a point made on a video discussing David Lynch’s films, and why he often showcased bloody and violent darkness with cozy, idyllic portraits of small-town American life:

Why does Lynch mix the macabre and the mundane in his art? It’s not to highlight the macabre — it’s to highlight both in order to give us an appreciation for the beauty of the mundane. It’s to find the balance point in any situation, and for Lynch, this makes the macabre beautiful, too. What is the white picket fence on its own? We need to see the creepy crawlies under the surface, and this will give us the contrast we need to appreciate the white picket fence . . .

I think this is the key to Lynch’s love of the 1950s. World War II had just ended, people had just been through hell, so there was a real appreciation for the safe and wholesome, with a pop culture modern audiences would consider to be boring; the darker and more horrific a situation you put someone into, the more beautiful “boring” becomes in contrast.

This kind of frightening, widespread disruption of our lives is probably going to make “ordinary time” — yes, that choice of phrase is deliberate — on the other side seem much sweeter.

But we’ve got a long and difficult road ahead. Come on, vaccine researchers. Come on, herd immunity.

Oh, Hey, There Was a Debate Last Night

The two remaining Democratic presidential candidates held a debate last night. I watch all the presidential primary debates, out of professional obligation, and often feel like I’ve lost several hours of my life that could have been better spent. Many nights over the past year, a crowd full of no-hopers and also-rans exchanged prewritten one-liners and bumper-sticker slogans in 75-second increments for a theater audience that had been conditioned to applaud any sequence of words delivered with sufficient emphasis. “And THAT is why WE will build a MICRO-AGGRESSION-FREE AMERICA in NOVEMBER!”

Last night was different, and arguably much better, in the sense that without the audience, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders didn’t bother trying with the applause lines. The problem was it felt like two old men discussing vacation plans while the house is burning down around them. Neither one has a dramatically different vision for how to deal with this crisis beyond “do more and get the military involved” and “tell Trump to shut up.” A significant portion of the debate focused on Bernie Sanders’s contention that Biden once supported cuts to Social Security. (Many year ago, Biden expressed a vague openness to the idea as part of entitlement reform.) The notion that a President Biden would cut Social Security — with a Democratic House! — seemed about as realistic a threat as an invasion by the Klingon Empire. And once again, it’s not like we are lacking much more pressing threats to America’s seniors in the here and now.

Jay Nordlinger: “Whenever Biden is asked about Bernie’s revolution, he says something like this: ‘We got immediate problems to work out. We’ve got to be practical. You can’t get Bernie’s program passed.’ He never disagrees with it fundamentally. He never says, ‘America is a good country. We already had our revolution. We have the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Let’s keep all that, shall we? And make improvements where we should.’”

It’s a good point. For all of his “Malarkey!”-shouting combativeness, Biden is at heart a dealmaker who wants to build a messy consensus. This means he’s rarely willing to completely smack down a fellow Democrat’s idea.

Dan McLaughlin: “The biggest news that comes out of this debate is that Biden absolutely ruled out a male running mate, which will come as a disappointment to Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg. My own assumption is that Biden, who has spent the bulk of his life in the Senate, will choose a senator, and perhaps this elevates several of those as contenders: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Tammy Duckworth. Biden certainly went out of his way tonight to embrace Warren and her “plans” even on issues such as bankruptcy, on which she was acidly critical of Biden’s own record. Biden also pledged to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court.”

The boss: Biden “won the beginning of the debate over the coronavirus and scored points on Bernie’s foolish call for a political revolution and on his reprehensible praise for Communist dictators. Biden is the presumptive nominee largely because he is the acceptable alternative to Bernie, and most Democrats will probably look at tonight and think he will be able to present himself as an acceptable alternative to Trump, too, in the fall.”

Some states are postponing their primaries, to avoid having voters congregating in line at polling places. Within a few minutes of the debate’s conclusion, the CNN anchors had switched focus to the latest news about the coronavirus. The 2020 presidential campaign is more or less on hold, as well.

ADDENDUM: Our old friend Daniel Hannan asks if the coronavirus outbreak represents the end of globalization. I think when we’re on the other side of this, there is going to be a volcanic reaction of rage against the Chinese government for all the ways they botched the early response and tried to hide the severity of the outbreak — and that will mean a lot of countries wanting to cut their economic ties to China.

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