Headlines: April 9, 2020
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The Labor Department released its weekly figures for unemployment showing that 6.6 million more people filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, to nearly 17 million people. The effective unemployment rate is estimated to be 13%, the highest rate since the Great Depression. That’s the Great Depression of the 1930s, not the Great Recession of 2008. While the unemployment trend had initially hit certain businesses hard, such as the service and hospitality industry, the job losses are now coming from all parts of the economy. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement, “Today’s report continues to reflect the purposeful sacrifice being made by America’s workers and their families to slow the spread of the coronavirus.” But the main compensation that President Donald Trump appears to be making to counter the economic shock is to pump money into the top tiers of the system. The Federal Reserve on Thursday offered more than $2 trillion in business loans which sparked a stock market surge of 400 points.
Reuters reports that one Wall Street investment company called Arcadia considered luring investors with promises of 20 to 175% returns on taxpayer funded programs meant to aid struggling Americans. According to Reuters, “Arcadia’s pitch offers a glimpse into how some private investors are looking to quickly take advantage of the unprecedented government intervention after the novel coronavirus brought economic activity to a screeching halt.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is eager to roll out the next phase of taxpayer funded aid to big business, this time the airline industry. Aware of the optics Mnuchin hastened to say, “our objective to make sure, as I’ve said, this is not a bailout, but that airlines have the liquidity to keep their workers in place.” Eager to restart the economy Mnuchin also said that businesses could reopen by this May as the number of cases of Covid-19 infections in the US jumped to 430,000 – the largest national total of any country on the planet. Attorney General William Barr joined in the chorus against continuing quarantine measures saying in an interview that social distancing measures were too “draconian” and should be eased up next month.
In line with the Trump administration’s eagerness to restart the economy, the federal government on Wednesday released a set of guidelines for workers in what are called “critical infrastructure jobs” to return to work if they have already been exposed to someone who is suspected of or confirmed to have had the coronavirus. The guidelines do not require workers to take an antibody test to check if they have developed immunity to the virus. They simply require that workers wear face masks, check their temperature and maintain social distancing from other workers. But infectious disease experts say that easing restrictions just at the time that Covid-19 cases may be peaking is the wrong thing to do. The Washington Post interviewed experts who concluded, “We should not end social distancing and reopen the economy until we know the infection rate is nearly zero,” and that mitigation efforts need to continue, “even when the trend is moving in the right direction.” Additionally, the Post explained, “Only when it appears that very few people are getting sick should the restrictions begin to be lifted, they say. And then would come a period of high alert, with officials prepared to reimpose the shutdowns should new infections reach a trigger point.”
New York state continues to remain the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in the US and although the rate of hospitalizations has slowed, the number of deaths continues to rise. Nearly 800 people died in a 24-hour period on Wednesday. So serious is the crisis there, that aside from the US as a whole, the state of New York has more cases of the virus than any other nation on the planet. Two separate studies that were just published have found that the majority of cases of infection in New York were caused by travelers from Europe, not Asia. President Trump has proudly touted the travel ban from China that he enacted in the early days of the pandemic but this new research shows that New York would have been better off had he banned travel from Europe much earlier. Meanwhile experts are studying how the nation’s most populous state, California, may have benefitted from aggressive quarantine actions early on. The state also took such a proactive approach to acquiring new ventilators and refurbishing old ones that it has now sent them to other states that are hard hit. And, in Los Angeles County all residents are now able to apply to get tested with no restrictions. But in the Southern California County of Riverside, one Covid-19 hotspot remained in a grim situation. The Magnolia Rehabilitation & Nursing Center has now been evacuated after 34 out of approximately 80 patients tested positive for the coronavirus. Five staffers also tested positive and patients were evacuated after staff failed to show up for 2 days.
In other news, the state of Georgia has once more decided to postpone its primary election. The election was originally slated for March 24th, then moved to May 19th and is now scheduled for June 9th – unlike the state of Wisconsin which earlier this week conducted its primary race in defiance of the life-threatening pandemic we face. In Minnesota, a landlord has been charged with violating a state anti-eviction order after he evicted his tenant. And, in Woodriver, Illinois, a video of two black men’s experience of being racially profiled by a police officer for wearing protective masks at a Walmart has gone viral.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee this week questioned the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the distribution of protective equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile to states that needed it. The committee found that HHS distributed only a third of a percent of the equipment that the Trump administration said was needed. That is 11.7 million masks instead of 3.5 billion. It also found that states were sent vastly different amounts of masks per capita. Some sparsely populated states received many more protective masks than highly-populated states. HHS says it will retain the last 10% of the stockpile for federal workers. President Trump has faced anger from lawmakers over the poor management of the National Strategic Stockpile as well as over his refusal to invoke the full force of the Defense Production Act to make up for the shortfalls.
In international news, the number of coronavirus cases has now risen to 1.5 million worldwide with a death toll of 90,000. Oxfam released a report showing that the spread of the virus could push half a billion more people into dire poverty. The report, “Dignity, Not Destitution,” outlines a detailed “Economic Rescue Plan For All” to stave off such a catastrophic outcome saying, “Developing countries must act to protect their people, and demand action from rich nations to support them. Rich country governments must massively upscale their help – led by the G20.” But so far, in responding to the coronavirus, rich nations appear to be shoving aside poor nations in the global scramble for life-saving equipment. According to the New York Times, “Developing nations in Latin America and Africa cannot find enough materials and equipment to test for coronavirus, partly because the United States and Europe are outspending them.”
Latin American nations are struggling in particular. Ecuador has made headlines for having Latin America’s highest rate of infections and deaths per capita. Like New York, the virus is thought to have arrived in Ecuador from European nations such as Italy and Spain. Ecuador’s business center, Guayaquil, has been particularly hard hit and there are reports of bodies being left out on the sidewalks as burial services are overwhelmed.
And finally Associated Press published a report on an overlooked aspect of the pandemic – how women in poor nations around the world are struggling to access birth control while remaining quarantined. According to the media outlet, “Lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus’ spread have put millions of women in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere out of reach of birth control and other sexual and reproductive health needs. Confined to their homes with their husbands and others, they face unwanted pregnancies and little idea of when they can reach the outside world again.”