On the menu today, we’re taking stock of where we are as a country in this fight: Almost every part of the country is in some early stage of reopening; the discernable indicators in our fight against the virus are better, but not great; a surprising amount of economic optimism . . . and meanwhile, the president seeks to make Big Tech liable for what’s posted on their platforms; and Minneapolis burns.
America’s Gradual but Grand Reopening
American society is reopening, bit by bit, at different paces in different places. Even the District of Columbia is ending its stay-at-home order that has been in effect for two months; the Maryland suburb of Montgomery County now feels the need to acknowledge that they may be able to start phase one next week. Almost all of the New York City suburbs are now in their first phase of reopening, although not the city itself.
Across the country in Wyoming, the state is allowing gatherings of up to 250 people in outdoor settings and 25 people in indoor settings, although six of the state’s largest rodeos are now canceled.
For the past few months, Americans debated, increasingly contentiously, about whether the economy and society could reopen and how fast. As noted yesterday, Americans’ behavior changed faster than the debate did.
Over in USA Today, Mitch Albom chooses to frame the debate in the least useful and most demagogic way, a battle of caring and suffering good people who understand the threat on one side, up against ignorant, selfish, and entitled whiners on the other:
Let’s face it. It’s easy to whine about not getting your hair cut when you haven’t lost a child to the coronavirus. It’s easy to insist on getting back to your favorite bar when you haven’t watched your father die alone in a hospital bed on a cellphone held up by a nurse. And since 100,000 deaths represents only three ten-thousandths of the country, the odds are overwhelming that most people won’t have experienced a COVID-19 loss of their own.
When nearly 41 million people have signed up for unemployment since the outbreak began, and you’re still characterizing the desire to reopen the economy and society as “whining about not getting your hair cut” or going to the bar, you’ve demonstrated that you’re not interested in a good-faith discussion or accurately illuminating the problems we face.
A few days ago on the NRPlus Facebook page, I elaborated that my general outlook was pro-lockdown-for-several-weeks, while being anti-one-size-fits-all. It doesn’t make sense for Hamilton County in New York — which has five cases — to have the same lockdown rules as New York City, which has 204,000. And it seems almost every government official and public-health expert has been deliberately blind to the fact that the public’s acceptance of the rules is going to be different in Week One than now as we wrap up Week Ten. Lockdowns were never going to be a long-term answer, and state and local lawmakers needed to be beating the drums to get people ready for post-lockdown, manageable risk, “life with the virus.” Perhaps a few did, but I think a lot of governors got locked in — no pun intended — to a “lockdowns are good, opening back up is risky and bad” mentality. They are much more afraid of the consequences of opening up too early than opening up too late.
You May Be Tired of Living with the Virus, But the Virus Isn’t Tired of Living with You
How is the country doing in the fight against the coronavirus? Better, but not great. Daily new cases remain in the 20,000 range, which isn’t necessarily bad; more testing means more positive cases. After a holiday weekend dip, we may be returning to a daily death rate of about 1,500. The rate of testing dropped in the past few days; one wonders if this is related to the holiday weekend.
Surely everyone is tired of hearing about models. Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told NPR that the consensus of the models is “we’re probably going to see 70,000 to 100,000 deaths between now and the end of the summer.” At first glance, these may seem like unimaginably pessimistic numbers, but we’ve got from 644 on March 28 to more than 100,000 today, and most parts of the county were self-quarantining and social distancing by late March.
Yes, warm weather should help somewhat, and more Americans spending more time outside should be beneficial. (If the study in China that concluded that only one of 318 outbreaks occurred outdoors is accurate and is supported by other studies elsewhere, we would have an extremely useful clue for protection and mitigation: Spend as much time outdoors as possible until winter.)
But with the reopening, more Americans will be interacting with more Americans, and most of the workforce labors indoors. We’ve seen from grocery stories, meatpacking plants, and warehouses — such as the ones used by Amazon — that as Americans go to work, they will inadvertently spread the virus to each other. There are roughly 90 days in summer; if we average 1,000 deaths per day, that gets us to 90,000.
With all of that said, Robert VerBruggen wrote yesterday about just how concentrated our coronavirus outbreak is: “One-third of U.S. COVID deaths are in counties that hold just 4 percent of the population, and another third are in counties holding 11 percent.” Avik Roy separately noted nursing homes and assisted-living facilities “hold just 0.6 percent of the population but have produced 43 percent of COVID deaths” in the country.
One part of the country that appears particularly concerning right now is Minnesota*:
Between Sunday and Monday, Minnesota saw an unprecedented jump in COVID-19 cases in intensive care, with 41 new patients.
MDH has heard of some hospitals nearing or reaching capacity as of the end of last week and expects some to begin setting up surge capacity. A few have staffing concerns, said Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann, while other parts of the state are less full.
As of May 25, 87 percent of ICU beds in the Twin Cities metro area were in use — a level not unexpected, Ehresmann said, adding that during flu season, it’s not uncommon for 95 percent of ICU beds to be full. Still, she said, the department is watching numbers closely and remains in close contact with hospitals.
As of this morning, Minnesota is using 1,010 of its 1,257 ICU beds, although another 585 could be ready in 24 hours if needed, and another 541 could be ready in three days if needed.
*Minnesota is particularly worrying for reasons entirely separate from the recent on-camera police brutality and rioting in Minneapolis. It’s enough to make one yearn for the days when anti-lockdown protests were considered the scariest threat on the streets.
No one can or should understate just how bad a beating the U.S. economy took in the past three months. Even if things break our way, this is still going to be a long climb back to the heights of pre-coronavirus life. But already we can see some encouraging indicators. Restaurant bookings hit bottom and are starting to creep back up. New unemployment claims are down slightly, and nearly 4 million stopped collecting unemployment claims. Two-thirds of corporate executives think the economy will recover within a year. Bank of America sees consumer spending climbing back closer to the previous “normal” levels. Jamie Dimon, the head of J. P. Morgan Chase says there’s a good chance of a “fairly rapid recovery.” If your business has managed to survive this nearly three-month economic coma, you can probably survive anything.
Meanwhile, in the White House . . .
The president intends to escalate his battle with Twitter today by signing an executive order that would encourage federal regulators to allow tech companies to be held liable for the comments, videos, and other content posted by users on their platforms.
His move is spurred by Twitter choosing to post a “fact check” underneath a president’s tweet about widespread fraud in voting-by-mail. The president probably wouldn’t be in this mess if he hadn’t chosen to attack Joe Scarborough on the grounds of an allegation that the MSNBC host murdered an intern years ago and hadn’t chosen to keep doubling down on the accusation even after the intern’s widower wrote a public letter to Twitter asking the company to take down Trump’s tweets. (I think a company policy of removing Trump’s most egregious tweets would actually help Trump in a way his critics do not intend, and I think the objections to Twitter enacting a likely arbitrary and imbalanced “fact-check” policy are compelling ones.)
You notice the president is quite engaged and enraged about what Twitter is doing to him, and less outspoken and furious about, say, what’s going on in America’s nursing homes.
ADDENDUM: Yesterday, I had the chance to chat with Henry Olsen about campaigning in the era of the coronavirus and the pandemic’s longer-term impact on how conservatives see the world.