Living with Risk Daily Briefing – May 13

Published on May 13, 2020 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

Edited by
Sergio M. Marxuach


Five things you should know today

1) Democrats unveil new coronavirus relief bill

The Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has presented a new $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Some of the highlights are:

  • $500 billion for state fiscal relief.
  • $375 billion for local fiscal relief.
  • $175 billion “to reimburse for health care related expenses or lost revenue attributable to the coronavirus, as well as to support testing and contact tracing to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.”
  • $100 billion “to provide emergency assistance to help low- income renters at risk of homelessness avoid eviction due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
  • $75 billion “to states, territories, and tribes to address the ongoing needs of homeowners struggling to afford their housing due directly or indirectly to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing direct assistance with mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, utilities, and other housing related costs.”
  • $20 billion for territorial fiscal relief.
  • $20 billion for Tribal fiscal relief.
  • FMAP increase – “Increases Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) payments to state Medicaid programs by a total of 14 percentage points starting July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.”

We will provide more details in the coming days. Keep in mind that while it is unlikely the bill will be approved in its current form, it does send a clear message of the magnitude and scope of spending the Democrats have in mind for the next coronavirus relief bill. A summary of the legislation, which the Democrats are calling the HEROES Act, can be found here.

2) Top doctors warn about the risks of lifting restrictions prematurely

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, testified at a special hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee yesterday.

The Washington Post reports that Dr. Fauci thinks Americans would experience “’suffering and death that could be avoided,’ as well as additional economic damage, if states ignore federal guidelines, including delaying reopening of most businesses until they see dramatic declines in cases. He also said the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus is probably higher than the 80,000 reported to date.”

According to The Hill, Dr. Fauci also warned of “really serious” consequences if states reopen too early during the coronavirus pandemic. His concern “is that if some areas, city, states or what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks”.

In a slightly more hopeful note, Dr. Redfield stated that “We are not out of the woods yet, but we are more prepared.” In sum, though, the top U.S. health experts counseled patience and caution as states lift shelter-in-place restrictions.

3) New clusters emerge in countries once praised for successfully stopping the coronavirus

The New York Times reports that Singapore, “once a model for its speed and efficiency in tracing the contacts of infected people, has seen its cases balloon to more than 24,000 as the virus spread in dormitories for foreign workers.”

While “officials in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began and which celebrated its recent emergence from more than two months in lockdown, said it would test all 11 million residents after six new cases were confirmed this week.”

For his part, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the W.H.O., warned that only a “slow, steady lifting of lockdowns could ease economic pains while keeping infections at bay”.

This is just another reminder that the world is facing an insidious enemy in the form of this virus and we should be very cautious before declaring victory.

4) The not so friendly skies…

James Fallows, National Correspondent at The Atlantic and a pilot himself, warns that “air travel is going to be very bad, for a very long time” as airlines cut flights and increase prices while implementing new health safety measures.

According to Fallows: “Of all the industries devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown—restaurants and bars, hotels and convention centers, movie theaters and shopping malls—the airlines’ situation is in a sense the worst. Most of the other businesses are suffering because they have been told to close. The airlines are suffering in part because they have been told to stay open. As a condition of the recent bailout packages, and in order to retain long-term rights to their routes, airlines need to keep flying ghost routes: planes with almost no passengers but a full flight crew and cabin staff.”

As to the future, no one really knows, but as Jon Ostrower, the editor of The Air Currentput it, “there are only two things that airlines can do to make people come back…One is a vaccine, so people feel safe going to the airport or sitting with 150 strangers in a plane. The other is people having the wherewithal to travel. Do you have a job? Do you have enough money that you can think of taking your family on a vacation? These are things that control the airlines’ future, and that they cannot do anything about.”

5) Three children die in New York of rare syndrome that could be tied to COVID-19

Governor Andrew Cuomo disclosed that three children had died in New York of a strange syndrome that appears to be tied to COVID-19. The Governor stated that, the “syndrome shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, which is associated with fever, skin rashes, swelling of the glands, and in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart. Scientists are still trying to determine whether the syndrome is linked with the new coronavirus because not all children with it have tested positive for the virus.” 

According to Reuters, New York “state health officials had partnered with the New York Genome Center and the Rockefeller University to look at whether there is a genetic basis for the syndrome and have been asked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop national criteria for identifying and treating cases.”

If the link is confirmed, it will add yet another layer of complications and worries as states move to lift lockdown restrictions and shelter in place orders. It would also be yet another warning about how little we really know about this treacherous disease.

Quote of the Day

He who knows only his side of the case, knows little of that.

—John Stuart Mill

Note from the editor

I recently read a beautiful op-ed piece by Roger Cohen in the New York Times. The title, “No Return to the Old Dispensation”, is a reference to Journey of the Magi, a poem by T. S. Eliot. In the poem, Eliot retells the familiar story of the three wise kings, beloved by many Puerto Ricans. As the kings return to their respective homes, they are troubled by what they have seen. In Cohen’s words, the birth they have witnessed “is also the death of their pagan worlds. There is no going back to the ‘old dispensation’. There is return only in the physical sense. To live as they once lived has become impossible.”

He has “been thinking of this short poem because perhaps the deepest question posed by the pandemic is whether there can be any return to the ‘old dispensation’.” Can we really go back to the way things were before the pandemic, as if nothing had happened? Cohen’s answer is tentative. He knows that “to bet against the human tendency to relapse into old bad habits is foolish.” And quotes the British writer Zia Haider Rahman, who believes that “people will no doubt return to the ‘old dispensation’, more or less…for the simple reason that no alternative is within easy reach.” “What,” he asks, “can possibly slow the monster of modernity?”

Yet this proves unsatisfactory. The monster of modernity, after all, “has produced fast-growing inequality, diminishing class mobility, growing precariousness in the workplace and broad social fracture. The coronavirus, attacking those most vulnerable above all, has had a field day in this America.” A return to that “old dispensation” is morally unacceptable, as well as disrespectful of the sacrifice of thousands.

But as Cohen himself admits, utopias are dangerous too. History shows us they tend to eventually eat their own. We are left then trying to wrest something new from this pandemic rupture, not a return to the old dispensation but neither a utopian reinvention. To successfully do that, we must learn from this experience and distill some form of wisdom from it. But this is not a task for the faint-hearted, as Aeschylus warned us, “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us…”

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