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Today’s read: 7 minutes.
Trump mulls a big pivot, a question about quarantine and chaos at the state level.
President Trump reacts to Dr. Deborah Birx telling him she had a low-grade fever over the weekend.
Bill stalls again.
Yesterday, I told you about the massive, $1.8 trillion dollar stimulus package being fought over in Congress. It stalled again, this time failing in a 49-46 vote with 60 votes necessary to advance the bill. Democrats were blasted for “taking the bill hostage” by the Wall Street Journal editorial board while The New York Times editorial board blamed Republican Mitch McConnell and said the bill “would provide a lot of help for corporate executives and shareholders, and not nearly enough for American workers.” I suggest reading both takes for a look at how the left and right are framing things.
What D.C. is talking about.
President Trump’s plan. Over the last 24 hours, the president seems to be testing the waters of a plan to “open America back up for business” sometime in the next couple of weeks. Next Tuesday (March 31st) will mark 15 days since the president called for a 15-day social distancing period across the United States. During a press briefing, the president suggested social distancing restrictions could be lifted “very, very soon” adding “I’m not looking at months, I can tell you that right now.” Reporter Kaitlan Collins pressed Trump on whether any of the doctors on his team told him that’s the right path forward. “If it were up to the doctors, they may say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world,” Trump said. “We can't turn that [the economy] off and think it's gonna be wonderful. There will be tremendous repercussions... probably more death from that than anything we're talking about with respect to the virus." As Congress continues to wrestle with a Phase 3 stimulus package, Trump seems to have his eyes set on lifting social distancing guidance and trying to bring the economy back in the coming weeks, far earlier than health experts or global leaders predicted.
What the right is saying.
Let’s get this thing moving. Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are rallying behind the president — and, in fact, could be responsible for his change of tune. “The cure must not be worse than the virus” is a point that continues to resonate inside the White House. Some estimates are saying we could see 30% unemployment — worse than the Great Depression. “7 million people died in the Great Depression. Adjusting for population growth, that’s roughly 15 million dead Americans today,” Jesse Kelly said on Twitter. “Destroying the economy is the most pro-death position you can possibly take.” Even successful, strong, well-positioned and profitable businesses can’t survive 30 days of lockdown with no work or no revenue. “Media are in denial, acting as if the wholesale destruction of the economy is no big deal because they can work from home in their jammies,” Sean Davis said. “Reality is that it’s going to get worse this week.” On Fox News, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he agreed with Trump, and suggested it was an opportunity for seniors to sacrifice in order to keep the country intact for their grandchildren. Some Republican politicians weren’t so thrilled. “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said. “There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”
What the left is saying.
God help us all. President Trump seems to be re-positioning himself after a brief moment of seriousness and reverting back to his worst qualities. He’s openly defying the doctors and medical experts around him, bending over backward to please the Fox News crowd and making decisions based on the ebbs and flows of the stock market. Former Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke responded directly to Lt. Gov. Patrick: “This kind of numbnuttery will kill people in Texas,” O’Rourke said. “Young as well as old. We need a state-wide shelter in place order to stop the spread of coronavirus and save hundreds of thousands of lives.” Some were panicked at the absence of Dr. Anthony Fauci from yesterday’s briefing. Trump said he had just been with him but the renowned infectious disease expert has become a reliable non-partisan voice of reason during the pandemic. “The true danger of America’s hyperindividualist tendency has been clear to people with chronic illness for a long time,” Sarah Jones wrote in New York Magazine. “To have any sort of ailment in this country is to know that your well-being depends on the whims of your peers. You pin your hopes on their voting preferences, their charity, in that aforementioned capacity for shame. You are usually disappointed.”
I share Trump’s concern about the economy. As I’ve repeatedly written in this newsletter, a full month of America on lockdown will do damage to our economy like we have never seen before. Anecdotally, I can tell you that it’s already impacting the people closest to me. I’ve got friends and family who work as waiters, own ice cream shops, install windows, drive Uber, run marketing companies— their businesses are on the brink already. Many have already lost their jobs. We’re just a week in and some states are only now shuttering like New York City has. What we are doing isn’t tenable, and it’s not the “psychotic right” talking about killing off the elderly to survive the virus (though I did find Lt. Gov. Patrick’s comments totally deranged). Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is becoming beloved in this panic, has repeatedly said we need to start thinking about how to re-start the economy. And I think there could be room to allow governors more discretion on how their states move forward as the virus spreads.
So what do we do? I don’t know. When this 15-day period ends, I imagine there has to be some kind of middle ground between where we are now and what we do for the coming weeks. But I certainly wouldn’t take a path that doesn’t have the approval of pandemic specialists. As Lindsey Graham pointed out, and as economic experts have repeatedly noted, simply opening bars and restaurants or undoing the social distancing order is not going to “bring the economy back.” The $2 trillion dollar stimulus package may help workers, but it won’t rescue the markets. We need to accept part of the reality that we are likely headed to a recession, if not something worse, and I don’t think any moves we make now are going to stop that economic gravity. I am sitting inside the eye of the storm in New York City, a state where we have as many cases as pretty much every other state combined. Bringing people back out into crowded areas, workplaces or restaurants is not going to help us.
I also don’t think the economy is going to go back to normal until the pandemic ends — and the health experts say the best way to end it is to extend social distancing practices until the curve abates. Right now the rate of the virus’s spread is still rising extremely fast, and I don’t think it’ll be much slower in a week. Things are bad enough nationally with the pandemic concentrated in New York. What happens if it hits Houston the way it has hit here? Or Los Angeles? Or New Orleans? Or Chicago? All of that becomes possible if we let people go on like everything is normal. Then we’re looking at a situation where the economy gets crushed and hundreds of thousands of people die. I don’t envy Trump’s situation and it’s easy to be an armchair president — but I still think the wisest move both for the economy and the health of America is to follow the discretion of the doctors and medical experts. Until they tell us it’s safe to re-start this thing, I don’t see how we could. Just look where NYC is on the chart below:
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Reader questions are at the heart of what Tangle is about. If you want to ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.
Q: I want to know about the time it sounds like we need to self-quarantine. 14 days? That's the tail of end the period where people can carry undetected — or more? Because not everyone quarantines at the same time. What math did the NBA use to settle on a 30-day suspension of the basketball season, rather than indefinite postponement or cancellation?
- Grant, New York, NY
Tangle: The answer to this question really lies in what your risk threshold is like. 14 days is the recommended self-quarantine time coming from medical experts across the globe, and I think that’s for two reasons: 1) It’s rare that people develop symptoms or carry the virus for longer than 14 days and 2) It’s unreasonable to expect most normal people, especially Americans, to self-quarantine for any longer than two weeks.
One study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that the median incubation period for SARS-CoV-2, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, was estimated to be 5.1 days. 97.5% of those who developed symptoms did so within 11.5 days. Conservatively, the study concluded, that means 101 out of every 10,000 actual COVID-19 cases will develop symptoms after 14 days of monitoring or quarantine. In other words: we can expect it to be rare but not at all unprecedented for 14 days to be too short of a quarantine time.
My advice? Listen to the experts, not me. They say our understanding of COVID-19’s incubation period is still limited. The upper limit of the incubation period is probably 24 days, and may explain the NBA’s decision for such a long suspension of games.
Of course, all this knowledge can inform your decision about how to treat your own quarantine. For instance, I’m also in New York City right now. It’s been 17 days since I last interacted with anyone other than my fiancé, who I live with. I’m yet to develop any symptoms of the virus, but I also know that I could be a carrier without symptoms, as a growing number of people apparently are. I also know that I went grocery shopping five days ago. I touched the handle of a cart, even though I was wearing gloves. I picked out avocados and oranges. I’ve ordered delivery food twice in the last 17 days. Were any of those potential exposures? That’s the anxiety and risk and calculation we all have to make. If they could have been, that means my 14-day clock should probably re-start.
In reality, if you come down with COVID-19 symptoms, I think the best thing to do is play it safe. Give yourself three weeks, not two. I’d never suggest anything less than the 14-day quarantine once you beat the virus that doctors are asking for, but I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t add another week if you can. It’s clear the virus still has a lot of question marks, and I think the safer we all are the faster we’ll get through this. As for the NBA, given this week’s news about the Olympics and the current state of global sports, I’d be pretty surprised if they’re back even remotely close to the 30-day postponement they laid out.
If you’re wondering what the Biden opposition is going to look like, we got a preview yesterday. Here is Breitbart News highlighting Biden’s struggle to get through a speech on the coronavirus pandemic:
A story that matters.
The coronavirus has “wreaked havoc on statehouses across the United States, derailing policy agendas, forcing legislators to set aside plans for spending on education, road construction and opioid addiction, and draining state coffers with startling speed,” The New York Times reports. Legislators in several states told the Times that the fiscal damage is already acute and “vast numbers” of businesses have been forced to close just 8 days into the White House’s 15-day social distancing period. Just as states need to be pumping money into hospitals, health care and unemployment programs, they are going to see sharp drops in tax collections and budgets that were once looking optimistic will be flipped on their heads. In the meantime, the legislators are paralyzed to act against the virus. 22 state legislatures have been forced to close or postpone sessions during what is typically the busiest time of the year. Plans for tax relief were shelved in Idaho, a bill to launch a statewide database for doctors to track opioid purchases was derailed in Missouri, and a fight to create a public health option in Connecticut has disintegrated. Click.
- 1 in 1,000. The number of people in the New York City metropolitan area who are now believed to be infected by the coronavirus.
- 14. The number of days it took to get from 89 to 2,826 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States.
- 9. The number of days it took to get from 2,826 to 42,663 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States.
- 9 in 10. The number of Americans who now say they fear the coronavirus, a total collapse in the partisan divide from last week.
- 30%. The percentage of people in South Korea who tested positive for coronavirus and reported a loss of their sense of smell.
- 72%. The percentage of Americans who say governors have handled the coronavirus outbreak the best.
- 50%. The percentage of Americans who say Donald Trump has handled the coronavirus outbreak the best.
- 42%. The percentage of Americans who say Congress has handled the coronavirus outbreak the best.
- 51%. The percentage of people who said they are increasing their consumption of news during the coronavirus outbreak.
- 53.8%. The average open rates of Tangle newsletters in the month of February.
- 54.2%. The average open rates of Tangle newsletters so far in March.
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Have a nice day.
If you’re looking for some reassurance about coronavirus, look no further than Michael Levitt. The Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist was one of the first people to analyze COVID-19 cases worldwide in January. He predicted then that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before other experts did. On February 1st, Levitt predicted that China’s outbreak would peak in the next week. Three weeks later, he predicted that China would end up with 80,000 cases and around 3,250 deaths. As of March 16th, China’s numbers were 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths (there is widespread speculation their numbers are not reported accurately). Still, Levitt says he is seeing signs of “slowed growth” in countries across the globe and believes “there's some factor at work that is not just noise in the numbers.” Levitt is a strong proponent of social distancing, which he says is the only way to come out okay, but he still insists that the “real situation is not as nearly as terrible as they make it out to be.” If you’re looking for an optimistic take from an expert, you can read him here.