News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

The official global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has hit 100,000 this week with the United States still leading in infections and deaths. Within the US, New York state, and in particular New York City remains the epicenter and on Friday morning headlines announced the grim news of mass burials of unclaimed bodies. A public cemetery called “potter’s field” on Hart Island, which is the largest taxpayer funded cemetery in the world, drone footage shows about 2 dozen bodies a day being laid into the ground. Burials on Hart Island are usually done by inmates from Rikers Island but the city has now contracted with outside workers to bury the dead. The cemetery usually sees about 25 burials a week of those whose families cannot afford funerals or whose bodies remain unidentified. New York City morgues have shortened the time bodies can remain in storage to 14 days to cope with the mounting death toll from Covid-19.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University has been tracking the virus globally and as of Friday, the US had 473,093 confirmed infections and 17,836 deaths.  But the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in an interview on CNN that “aggressive social distancing” practices are working and that, “I think we’re coming to the peak. … We can see the other side of the curve.” Robert Redfield, echoing the eagerness of President Donald Trump to reopen the economy by next month said, “We’ve got to build within the community the sense of confidence that it’s the time to get back, it’s a time to go back to work, it’s time to open up some of the businesses.” But Redfield and Trump’s desires stand in contrast with the nation’s most trusted scientific expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said that before reopening the economy, “We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction. Because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and you wind up back in the same situation.” He added, “Now is no time to back off,” from social distancing measures.

During Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force press briefing a reporter asked Trump if the economy could reopen without mass virus or antibody testing but the President retorted such measures were unnecessary  and falsely claiming that the US has conducted enough tests.  In fact there have been only 2 million tests in a nation of 350 million and the US falls far behind other nations in per capita testing. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo contradicted the President saying on Friday, “That’s the only way to get people back to work. You have to have millions and millions of tests, frankly, better and faster than we’ve done to date.” The New York Times obtained documents from various federal government agencies showing that if shelter-in-place orders are lifted after just 30 days there would be, “a dramatic infection spike this summer and death tolls that would rival doing nothing.” The documents are dated April 9th and are projections made by the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

The governors of various states have had different approaches to the coronavirus. Ohio is being touted as a model for taking aggressive action early on and seeing fewer cases than similarly sized states. But in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering reopening schools in May saying, “I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids.” In fact there have been deaths of young people from the virus and the governor appeared to ignore the health risks to teachers and administrators. In Kansas, the Republican-controlled legislature overturned Gov. Laura Kelly’s order banning religious gatherings over public health concerns. Gov. Kelly is now suing those lawmakers.

After the latest numbers of unemployment benefits filings were released showing millions of jobs lost, economists are estimating that the US unemployment rate is likely to hit 20% over the course of this year and then settle down to a smaller figure of about 6% in 2021 – that is still higher than the low 3.5% rate earlier this year. Meanwhile the stock market is booming as Americans are hurting. The New York Times explained that, “Investors are betting that powerful interventions from Washington will protect the long-term profitability of major companies.” Specifically, “The large companies that make up major stock indexes tend to have reliable access to capital, particularly after the Fed’s latest actions to prop up corporate lending. They may be more likely than small, independent-owned businesses to weather the economic storm and come out on the other side with greater market share and profits.” Not everyone on Wall Street agrees that propping up big businesses is the right solution. A venture capitalist named Chamath Palihapitiya said this in an interview on CNBC: “When a company fails, it does not fire their employees, it goes through a packaged bankruptcy. If anything what happens is the people who have the pensions inside the companies, the employees of these companies, end up owning more of the company. The people that get wiped out are the speculators that own the unsecured tranches of debt or the folks that own the equity. And by the way, those are the rules of the game. That’s right. These are the people that purport to be the most sophisticated investors in the world. They deserve to get wiped out.”

Meanwhile, two lawmakers from the two major parties this week called on the federal government to pay directly into Americans’ paychecks to keep the economy going. Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington introduced a bill called the Paycheck Guarantee Actthat would preserve workers’ pay up to $100,000 a year. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri on Thursday published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for a similar plan albeit less generous than Jayapal’s. Hawley wrote, “Beginning immediately, the federal government should cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national median wage, until this emergency is over.”

In international news, the Covid-19 pandemic still rages with the UK’s death toll rising in a 24-hour period by nearly a 1,000, bringing the total number of deaths from the virus to almost 9,000. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had to be hospitalized has finally left the Intensive Care Unit after 3 days and is supposedly in “good spirits.” In Spain, as infections and deaths have slowed the government is considering easing up on quarantine. But the Spanish health minister has warned, “Spain continues in a state of lockdown…We are not yet in a de-escalation phase.” In South Korea where the pandemic had been successfully managed, troubling news has emerged of at least 91 people who had been infected and survived having now been re-infected. Scientists are studying the situation and as yet have no answers.

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