Living with Risk Daily Briefing – May 19

Published on May 19, 2020 / Leer en español

Center for a New Economy

Edited by
Sergio M. Marxuach


Five things you should know today

1) An interactive tool to better understand workplace risks: The Puerto Rico Occupations Risk Dashboard

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

As sectors of our local economy continue coming back to life, businesses must seek ways to restart operations while taking novel measures to protect workers and clients from the coronavirus. In order to inform workers and business owners as they draft reopening plans—and public health policymakers as they identify next steps and benchmark dates— we recently produced a risk profile of occupations in Puerto Rico and published a detailed table that provides “risk scores” for hundreds of occupations in the island.

To make this data more accessible and easier to digest for the general public, we have also developed the Puerto Rico Occupations Risk Dashboard (PRORD). The PRORD is an interactive tool that allows users to gather further insights on occupations, their risk indicators, and job attributes, and provides key details for specific occupations. The data can also be filtered interactively and downloaded so that users can perform other analyses.

PROR Dashboard

As owners and managers get ready to file the government-mandated certifications and plans that lay out how they will control exposure to COVID-19, they should consider that the risk of infection can vary significantly depending on the job and how the work is performed. Our goal with this analysis is not to determine which businesses should resume operations or lay out specific courses of action regarding workplace safety, but to provide additional information so that laborers and owners can make better decisions in these trying times.

2) Early results from vaccine safety trial show some promise

Moderna, a biotech company based in Massachusetts, reported results from a small safety trial for a coronavirus vaccine. According to the Washington Post, the “company reported that in eight patients who had been followed for a month and a half, the vaccine at low and medium doses triggered blood levels of virus-fighting antibodies that were similar or greater than those found in patients who recovered. That would suggest, but doesn’t prove, that it triggers some level of immunity.” The company now plans to launch a larger trial in July designed to test the vaccine’s efficacy in providing immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

While these are early results from a small trial and further testing is needed, they nonetheless offer a glimmer of hope in the middle of the current pandemic.

3) As governments lift restrictions, when do we know it is safe?

Almost all states are lifting, partially or totally, shelter-in-place restrictions and lockdowns. The great fear of epidemiologists is that the U.S. has not built the public health surveillance capacity to detect a new outbreak at an early stage. This is complicated by the nature of this virus. Often people don’t show any symptoms until five days after infection, sometimes more and the worst symptoms could take up to three weeks to appear.

This means the transmission data always lags behind what is actually happening out there. “The data are always two or three weeks old,” Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania told David Leonhardt of the New York Times. “And we have a hard time understanding that things are different from what we’re looking at.” Furthermore, “Crystal Watson of Johns Hopkins University told The Associated Press that we wouldn’t really know how reopening had affected the virus’s spread for five to six weeks.”

As Puerto Rico, just like most jurisdictions in the mainland, carefully opens up its economy, we just don’t know if a new surge in infections will occur during the summer. Our knowledge of the virus is limited and a lot depends on whether people keep following social distancing rules, practicing good hygiene, and using masks. Also we don’t know how the warmer weather may affect transmission rates. But we will have a good idea about a month from now. Until then, we urge you to be cautious as you venture out, especially if you have a chronic health condition that puts you at a higher risk of infection.

4) Areas of the U.S. with high levels of chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to coronavirus

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread throughout the United States, some areas could be more vulnerable to outbreaks than others due to the high prevalence of chronic health conditions. According to a New York Times analysis, the coronavirus, “could exact a heavy new toll in areas of the United States that have not yet seen major outbreaks but have high rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions.”

Specifically, “large parts of the South and Appalachia are especially vulnerable, according to a health-risk index created for The New York Times by PolicyMap, a company that analyzes local health data. The index for the first time identifies counties with high rates of the underlying conditions that increase residents’ risk of becoming severely ill if they are infected with the coronavirus.”

While it appears that data for Puerto Rico is unavailable, we do know the island’s population has high rates of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, among other chronic conditions that complicate the treatment for COVID-19.

5) President Trump and Congress face criticism for economic response to the crisis

With 36 million people unemployed and the unemployment rate at a 75-year high, both the Trump administration and the Congress are facing criticism for the economic response to the crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Hill, economists, business groups, lawmakers, and labor advocates contend the multitrillion-dollar response has been insufficient, misguided, or both.

Some labor leaders have criticized a lack of direct support to employers, instead of loans through the Small Business Administration, to keep workers on the payroll through the lockdown. For Damon Silvers, policy director of the AFL-CIO, “the fundamental mistake…was not paying companies directly to keep workers on board — a paycheck guarantee pushed by lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill and adopted with some success by a number of European countries where unemployment remains a fraction of what it is in the United States.”

On the other side of the economic spectrum, “Fed Chairman Jerome Powell warned last week that unless lawmakers adopt additional emergency measures, the downturn will deepen — and could last for years to come.”

Republicans, for their part, want a “pause” even though many of them believe a new bill will eventually be necessary. As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has stated, he is “not prepared today to put a precise date on when that will be.” Meanwhile, Democrats want to spend more now. But they are also divided, between those supporting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Heroes Act and members of the Progressive Caucus, who believe the bill doesn’t go far enough.

Congress has already authorized almost $2.8 trillion in new spending and the Federal Reserve has provided trillions more in liquidity. Yet the magnitude and scope of the current downturn are unprecedented in modern times. In the final analysis, and putting partisan politics aside, the reality is that Congress will need to provide significant additional fiscal stimulus to the U.S. economy, soon.

Quote of the Day

It is one thing to show a man he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth.

—John Locke

Note from the editor

Reuters reports that the Trump administration is considering offering subsidies and/or tax incentives for U.S. companies to move supply chains from China. The details are still being worked out but history would counsel the U.S. tread lightly here. These are the types of economic policies that sound good in political rallies and campaign events but that once implemented have all too predictable deleterious effects. Tariff wars, the imposition of quotas and other barriers to trade, competitive devaluations. Such beggar-thy-neighbor policies inevitably provoke retaliation and cause escalation. Anyone familiar with the economic history of the inter-war period, roughly between the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939, will know this is a zero-sum proposition.

That is not to say that the United States and China do not have a lot of complex issues to work out, a full agenda that is complicated by the political dynamics of a rising power challenging the status quo. But closing borders, limiting trade, and eliminating investment opportunities is not a recipe for economic growth. On the contrary, such policies will likely reduce global growth, increase migratory pressures, and unleash forces of domestic political and social unrest that could prove difficult to control. Engagement through diplomacy and negotiations can be tedious, slow, and bad for television ratings, but they are likely to produce good results if all the parties work in good faith. This is important to keep in mind when we already know the alternative story will not end well.

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