For quite some time now, life seems like an episode in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” Day after day after day we hear the same things. If you watch the news regularly at some point during the day, an expert clinician, a physician or a nurse in an overwhelmed hospital, an established epidemiologist or other recognized health care expert will come on to be asked how to stop the spread of Covid-19. Given that we have passed 4.5 million cases and 155,000 American deaths since 1 March, it is an important question. The response, day after day, is to wear a face covering, social distance, wash one’s hands and don’t hang out in large crowds especially inside. Not hard. Every day there is also someone who recovers after a severe bout of Covid and says “I thought it was a hoax.” Or, “I’m young and I didn’t think it would really be that bad. But it was. The worst feeling in my entire life.” Sadly, we often hear the loved one of a person dead from Covid say something similar.
I can only think that we are a country of morons or losers or both. How hard is it? We know what to do. Why don’t we do it?
Today’s news is that the virus is spreading into every corner of the United States. It is only a matter of time and it is going to be bad. Real bad. In just the last week alone there were 453,659 new cases in the United States and the rate of hospitalizations grows everyday. Over the last six days we averaged 1,233 deaths a day. At that rate we will have approximately 37,000 more Americans dead by the end of August. Remember when people thought that estimates of a 100,000 deaths total from this pandemic was considered to be too high and a lot of hyperbole to scare people? At the current rate we will be at or over 200,000 dead around Labor Day. Time to celebrate the beginning of fall!
Increasing numbers of experts (you know, real ones like scientists and doctors not the ones that say to inject bleach into your lungs) believe that we need to start over from the beginning. Reset the stage. Shutdown uniformly across the United States for 4-6 weeks — an actual shutdown, not a “if you want to” shutdown — to stop the spread and to be able to have a significant drop in cases so that “testing, tracing, isolation” actually has a chance to change the equation.
But no, I’m bored. I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I’ll hang out with all my friends for a little pandemic party. Haven’t seen you for awhile. Here’s a hug for you and a hug for you and a little Covid for you, and hey buddy, here’s a little Covid for you too. And then be surprised when people get sick.
It turns out that we cannot merely wish it away or ignore it. It is not business as usual.
On top of the pandemic, but because of it, our economy is in the proverbial toilet. For the quarter ending 30 June, the U.S. saw the worst decline for a single quarter since at least 1875 — perhaps in the history of the U.S. Way to go guys! We even beat the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Don’t worry, though. The Senate is on top of it. The House passed a bill back in the middle of May to extend unemployment benefits, protect people from being evicted because they can’t pay their rent and other assistance for those that have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Called the Heroes Act (H.R.6800), it passed and was sent to the Senate on 20 May. And sat. And sat. And as of 31 July, all the worker benefits passed by Congress to help the economy during the pandemic expired. But rest assured, someday the Senate will act to help those in need. Maybe. They don’t want people to get too comfortable with this easy lifestyle.
One of the main concerns of those critical of the Heroes Act is that it continues the $600 weekly supplement to existing state unemployment insurance. The argument is that it is too much because people can make more money by staying home rather than by going to work, which is why some businesses are struggling to reopen. Let’s take a closer look.
Yes, the money is in addition to state unemployment, but most states pay roughly 35 to 40% of one’s salary up to a limit that varies by state. However, when you do the math, $600 breaks down to $15/hour for a 40 hour work week. As a national average, babysitters make $20.30 an hour for two kids. Not exactly the stuff of aspiring millionaires.
Such thinking also avoids the difficult issues. Perhaps people staying home and not exposing themselves or their families during a pandemic is a good thing. It helps to stop the spread of the virus. Additionally, the “too generous” argument ignores other issues such as those workers are staying home because they may not have access to child care during the pandemic or because with schools closed, they need to stay home and help give their kids an education. Perhaps they rely on public transportation which has been halted or is experiencing severe service cuts due to the pandemic. Maybe it’s all of those and more. And of course it presumes that their place of business reopened and is willing to hire them back.
With the economy already in the dumpster how is it going to recover if people don’t have any money to spend? Have you seen the food lines around the country? (In the 30’s they were called bread lines but now you can stay in your car and also get a healthier selection of food! Isn’t progress amazing?) In the greatest country on earth? Yep. A bunch of freeloaders according to some.
Perhaps you could just follow Ivanka Trump’s new initiative for out of work Americans to “Find Something New.” In her position as a Senior Adviser to the President she is advocating that roughly 15 million unemployed Americans go back to school, or develop IT skills or use on-line learning or sign on to learn a new skill as an apprentice (no she was not referring to her role on a TV show). Mostly, her initiative is just a web site with links to a lot of other web sites with information that has been out in the public for months or years.
As my favorite saying goes, “Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.”
As I predicted back in April, in this country it’s every person for themselves. There is no political will to institute the steps needed to get the pandemic under control. Without that active effort, the economy cannot recover. All those bars and other super spreader events will eventually close again when a large amount of their patrons and employees are sick or dead. But, hey! It was great while it lasted.
Dire measures are needed. It will hurt, it won’t be fun, it isn’t what we want but unless you want one of your friends or family to get sick and possibly die, suck it up.