Living with Risk Daily Briefing – April 30

Published on April 30, 2020 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

Edited by
Sergio M. Marxuach


Five things you should know today

1) Who’s at risk from COVID-19? A closer look at occupations in Puerto Rico

Analysis by Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PhD, Research Director, and Raúl Santiago-Bartolomei, Research Associate

As discussions of “reopening” the Puerto Rican economy advance, we feel it’s important to consider which workers face greater risks of becoming infected with the coronavirus, given some particular attributes of their occupations. For example, because some occupations require constant person-to-person interactions, like dentists and flight attendants, and others only on occasion—think of sculptors and archivists—the risk of infection varies significantly depending on the kind of job you have and how you work.

To identify the risk profile of occupations in Puerto Rico, we combined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the O*Net Program, which publishes detailed databases that include a series of occupation-specific descriptors. From the O*Net data (published in August of 2019), we incorporated three job attributes, each ranked from low (1) to high (5):

  • Whether a job requires a high or low degree of contact with others;
  • Physical proximity to others; and
  • Exposure to diseases or infections

You can read more about our methodology on our website.

Our analysis yields a “Risk Score” for each occupation, which ranges from 5.41 (relatively low risk) to 14.67 (high risk). Below is a snapshot of a table organized by major occupational groups (management, sales healthcare practitioners, etc.) that provides several key figures for specific occupations—a PDF file with the full table can be accessed here.

Snapshot of CNE’s COVID-19 Occupational Risk Table / Imagen de la tabla de CNE de riesgo ocupacional por COVID-19

As the “Risk Score” column (far right) shows, healthcare-related occupations have higher risk scores, while fine artists, economists, and camera repairers exhibit the lowest ones. With regard to occupational groups, healthcare practitioners have the highest average risk score (13.50), while architecture and engineering occupations have the lowest average risk score (8.4).

In conducting this analysis, our goal is not to determine which firms or businesses should open first as shelter in place measures are relaxed. However, we hope that these results can inform analyses being conducted by medical and public health experts. More importantly, risk scores can move upwards or downwards depending on the safety measures taken by business owners, managers, and workers. Thus, these figures should be taken as benchmarks for planning and preparation purposes.

Finally, the table does not include all occupations in Puerto Rico, given certain data constraints. Nevertheless, we will be publishing risk profiles for the full list of the occupations included in the O*Net databases in future data releases. We will also be preparing a series of data visualizations so that the data is more accessible and easier to digest for the general public.

2) U.S. Treasury and Hacienda fail to reach an agreement to disburse aid

The Treasury Department of the United States and Hacienda (the Puerto Rico Treasury Department) are still hashing out the details of the plan to distribute aid to individuals in Puerto Rico under the CARES Act. Specifically, they are finalizing the terms and conditions of a plan submitted by Hacienda to distribute economic relief payments of up to $1,200 per person and $500 per dependent child to eligible families in Puerto Rico.

According to recent press reports, the major point of contention seems to be which agency should be in charge of making the payments to Social Security beneficiaries and veterans who reside in Puerto Rico. According to Hacienda it should be Treasury, since these individuals have little or no interaction with Hacienda. On the other hand, Treasury argues it should be Hacienda’s responsibility to disburse these funds because the recipients live on the island.

The real underlying issue here appears to be that neither agency wants to be responsible for recovering any excess or duplicate payments. So we respectfully make the following recommendations:

  • The Treasury Department should transfer to Hacienda the data it has on Social Security beneficiaries and veterans who live on the island;
  • Hacienda then will be in charge of confirming eligibility for the payments, just at it will be for every other potential beneficiary in the island; and
  • Hacienda should distribute the funds accordingly.

We are sure there are many other solutions. What is unacceptable is that Puerto Ricans have not received their relief payments due to bureaucratic logjams.

3) International Rescue Committee: Up to 1 billion cases and 3.2 million deaths from COVID-19 in 34 fragile countries

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has just published an analysis of the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 34 conflict-affected and fragile countries. According to the IRC Report, which is based on data and modeling from Imperial College in London and the World Health Organization:

  • Based on potential response scenarios, the International Rescue Committee estimates between 500 million and 1 billion infections, leading to between 1.7 to 3.2 million deaths, in 34 conflict-affected and fragile countries.
  • There remains a small window of time to mount a robust response to COVID-19 while it is still in early stages in fragile countries; urgent funding to frontline responses is needed.
  • Extreme social distancing is unsustainable in most humanitarian contexts, local approaches are needed.

The IRC also warns “it is clear that the impact of COVID-19 in these settings will be different than in the developed countries first hit by the pandemic – and a “one-size-fits-all” model based on measures in countries hit first by COVID-19 is unrealistic and potentially counterproductive.” In addition to the moral imperative stressed by the IRC, it is also in the interest of the developed countries to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from burning through the Global South only to have it reappear in advanced economies during the next fall and winter.

4) The risk of the double hit: Flu and COVID-19 at the same time

Many public health officials in the United States are worried they may see the flu and coronavirus hit at the same time this fall. As the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, told The Washington Post “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through. We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”

Furthermore, as Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic: “Scientists don’t yet know if the coronavirus will fade away during the summer before making a resurgence in colder temperatures. Some other respiratory illnesses do this: During the 2009 swine-flu outbreak, cases surged in the spring, subsided over the summer, then returned with a vengeance in the autumn. But the new coronavirus strain’s behavior is still too mysterious to predict for certain. Experts expect the virus to circulate among humans for some time, but its particular ebbs and flows aren’t yet known.”

The risk is that a double epidemic would stretch hospital capacity even more than it did this spring. And while flu patients usually don’t need to be intubated, they could compete with COVID-19 patients for limited beds in intensive care units. That is why it is important to:

  1. monitor how the virus spreads during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere (winter in the Southern Hemisphere), and
  2. be prepared for a second major outbreak in the fall.

5) Why a small business owner decided to open in Georgia

Ms. Jenna Cao is the owner of a nail salon in Alpharetta, Georgia. As she writes in this op-ed for the New York Times, she did not want to reopen her business until later in the summer. Indeed, she describes herself as “still scared” of the coronavirus. Yet she felt he had no choice but to open up her business because “when the government is mostly just helping big business, the rest of us have to begin to find a new normal, as best as we can.”

Having received very little help from the SBA, she faced bankruptcy. So she “decided to open with limited, reservation-only hours, approving appointments only with clientele that my staff personally know and trust. Because the threat of Covid-19 is still real, I won’t be open to the general public for the foreseeable future. You can’t trust just anybody.

In addition, she will be implementing the following measures to limit infection at her nail salon:

  • “Shifts will be staggered so that staff can be hypervigilant about cleaning all work stations before and after each reservation.
  • Before approving appointments, even with the clients we’ve known for years, we’re going to screen them on the phone — asking about their health and recent travel.
  • Everybody who is approved has to come with their own face mask and submit to a temperature reading if they want to enter the store.
  • And wash their hands for 20 seconds when they arrive and before they depart.
  • Customers are also going to have to sign an agreement to contact me should anyone in their family experience fever, sore throat, tightness in their chest, or other Covid-19 symptoms in the two weeks after their appointment.
  • There will be barriers between all work stations.
  • Of course, all staff will be wearing gloves and masks, in addition to face shields.
  • A maximum of six people (for example, three customers and three nail technicians) will be allowed in the salon at a time.”

Welcome to the new normal.

Quote of the Day

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

—Oliver Goldsmith


For #ThrowbackThursday we’re sharing a short clip of our 2013 Annual Conference, which focused on the need for social concertation in addressing Puerto Rico’s systemic problems. Can this moment of crisis help us achieve it?

You can see more clips from our 2013 conference and other events on our new CNE TV page.

The video is in Spanish.

We hope you continue to enjoy and share our Daily Briefing. We will soon be sharing information on an upcoming CNE Online Event.

Stay tuned!

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