Living with Risk Daily Briefing – April 27

Published on April 27, 2020 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

Edited by
Sergio M. Marxuach


Five things you should know today

1) The complexities of living with risk

Analysis by Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PhD, Research Director

In these times of pandemic, it is necessary to analyze how people can adapt and manage the risks they face and how their socio-economic position determines their exposure. For example, the person who lives the quarantine next to her aggressor and has nowhere else to go does not experience this pandemic in the same way as the rich and privileged person who can move out to his beach house.

In this column for El Nuevo Día, I elaborate on the idea of “Living with Risk”, an approach that could help us make sense of the avalanche of misfortunes that have plagued us during the past few years.

Read Deepak’s column

2) The more we learn about the virus…

…the more we understand how little we know. Patients with COVID-19 have shown up at hospitals presenting a bewildering variation of conditions. The Washington Post reported recently about several relatively young patients, between 30 and 50 years old, who tested positive for COVID-19 and showed up at the hospitals with what neurologists call “large vessel occlusions”, essentially large blood clots in the brain that caused strokes in patients with no known history or predisposition to that malady.

The Post talked to Dr. Thomas Oxley, an interventionist neurologist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. According to Oxley, when he “began the procedure to remove the clot, he observed something he had never seen before. On the monitors, the brain typically shows up as a tangle of black squiggles — ‘like a can of spaghetti,’ he said — that provides a map of blood vessels. A clot shows up as a blank spot. As he used a needle-like device to pull out the clot, he saw new clots forming in real-time around it. ‘This is crazy,’ he remembers telling his boss.” This just goes to show we are facing a clever enemy and we still have a lot to learn in order to defeat it.

3) South Korea shows a way to the “new normal”

South Korea is showing the world how the “new normal” may look after the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a story written by Mary Hui for Quartz, South Korea shows social distancing is here to stay, even as the pandemic ebbs away. South Korea, we should remember, “has done remarkably well in controlling the disease and flattening the curve through a combination of widespread testing, aggressive contact tracing, travel restrictions, and quarantine and social distancing measures.”

As part of its movement towards the “new normal”, the government has issued a new set of guidelines that “lays out instructions for how people can resume some degree of economic and social activity while minimizing the risk of a second wave of infections. The guidelines cover almost every aspect of daily life one can think of: meals out at restaurants, business meetings, visits to the library, shopping trips, theater outings, even visits to nightlife spots.” The guidelines are not legally binding, so it will be interesting to analyze and study how the South Korean public reacts, whether people comply with the guidelines, and if they are effective in preventing a second outbreak of the virus.

4) The federal government and private companies are working on tracing applications

In the absence of resources to conduct old-fashioned contact tracing—essentially interviewing people who have been infected with a disease to identify with whom they have been in contact—the federal government and private businesses are turning to electronic surveillance via smartphone applications. According to the Daily Beast, the federal government apparently has hired the data mining company Palantir “created by investor Peter Thiel, [that] is best known for its work with global intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies. Now, the company has a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help the federal government create a new data platform called HHS Protect Now.” It is not clear yet what type of data will Palantir be collecting, nor what it and the government plan to do with it.

Not to be left behind, the private sector is also developing its own tracing applications to keep track of workers and who they have interacted with. According to the Financial Times, “companies including PwC, the global consultancy, are racing to build surveillance tools that will monitor the spread of coronavirus inside offices and workplaces.” While there are multiple firms developing these kinds of applications that would work on an opt-in, voluntary basis, PwC said: “companies could make its tool mandatory”.

“‘You really need a majority of people to do this,’ said Rob Mesirow, who leads PwC’s connected solutions practice. ‘US businesses are going to have to [tell employees]: If you’re going to come back to the work environment, you need this app on your phone.’” We expect this to be a highly contentious issue, to put it mildly, as it raises thorny ethical, political, and legal issues in the workplace.

5) Mitch McConnell to states: Declare bankruptcy

Congressional Democrats and Republicans appear to be pulling further apart on the issue of appropriating money to help states that have lost billions in revenue while increasing spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Hill, “Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the chairman and vice chairman of the National Governors Association, are asking for an additional $500 billion ‘in direct federal aid that allows for replacement of lost revenue.’” Senator McConnell is not yet on board, saying “We need to push the pause button here and remember that the only ultimate way out of this dilemma is for the economy to slowly begin to open back up”. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer are optimistic that a deal will eventually be hashed out.

While there is a lot of political posturing at this moment, it is clear to us that many states, both blue and red, desperately need federal help. Most state constitutions force them to balance their budgets, which could lead to massive tax hikes, significant budget cuts, or both at a time when the economy is essentially in a depression. In addition, bankruptcy is not as efficient a remedy as Senator McConnell seems to believe. As we know very well in Puerto Rico, deciding which debts get paid, in what order, and in which amount could be a long, drawn-out, contentious, and expensive process.

Quote of the Day

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

—John Milton

This is the end of today’s briefing.
Stay safe and well informed!