If there were any remaining doubts that the pandemic was real or that it would suddenly disappear into the warm summer air, the recent headlines should have dispelled them.
What was thought to be a 15-week challenge is now going to be more like a 15-month problem.
In fact, 60% of the 4.4 million reported infections have occurred after Memorial Day, while the number of deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus is approaching 150,000.
The initial phase of the government’s fiscal response was predicated on a short-term disruption. What was thought to be a 15-week challenge is now going to be more like a 15-month problem.
And while Congress and the administration came together quickly on a fiscal stimulus package in late March, many of those programs are expiring soon. Negotiations over a new round of stimulus have recently faltered.
The next efforts should have a longer-term focus on funding a concerted effort to prepare for the next pandemic in addition to meeting short-term needs. If the virus is not to vanish suddenly, then it will require the creation and universal distribution of a vaccine that will cause no harm and will provide sustainable immunity from the virus if the economies of the world are to get back to normal.
The inference from a recent article in The New Yorker by Jerome Groopman, the chair of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and chief of experimental medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is that we need to plan for a long and arduous path to recovery from the virus. Groopman, who The New Yorker says has been “a major participant in the development of many AIDS-related therapies,” notes that despite all efforts, an AIDS vaccine has never materialized.
This coronavirus is unlike all others. There are just too many unknowns to wish them away. We don’t know if a safe antidote is available or if it will provide sustainable protection from further infection. So despite the best intentions and the best efforts of a worldwide search for a vaccine, the likelihood of a vaccine materializing and being manufactured and universally distributed within a few months seems implausible.
For policymakers, that implies a sober approach to maintaining the health and well-being of those who cannot work at home. Without their participation, the well-being of all others will suffer and the economy will surely suffer.
Strong consideration should be given to insulating federal health agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from day-to-day political influence. This could come about by creating the same independence for health care as we’ve done for monetary policy by creating and maintaining an independent Federal Reserve.
While we weren’t paying attention, Groopman reminds us that the pandemic response team was eliminated by an administration that has also “cut off federal grant funding to the EcoHealth Alliance, an organization headquartered in New York that studies the global spread of viruses from animals to humans.” And as we’ve noted before, the spread of global disease during the modern epidemiological era has been associated with the interaction between humans and animals.
For business planners and investors, betting on quickly finding a vaccine and a quick recovery comes across as day-trading. You might get lucky, but you might not. As we’ve mentioned before, we anticipate a Nike-swoosh recovery, with the worst perhaps yet to come followed by an arduous path back to sustainable growth and an increase in potential gross domestic product.
Businesses should plan accordingly. The focus should be on maintaining the expertise needed to sustain business acumen. That normal life might not be just around the corner suggests that sacrifice on all parts needs to be considered.
Finally, the next businesses to flourish are likely to be those that can help in the reorganization of living and working conditions. Without a safe and healthy environment, there can be no recovery. In short, no vaccine, no recovery.
Assessing the status of the pandemic
There are signs that the spread of the novel coronavirus through the South and Southwest and into the less populace states might be decelerating. This should not be conflated with victory.
Not included in the case counts: the lingering effects of the virus that have yet to be accounted for.
As the first figure below shows, newly reported cases of COVID-19 infections in the non-metropolitan states are growing at a rate of 52,000 per day, down from last week’s 54,000 per day.
By comparison, newly reported cases of infection in the six states with major metropolitan areas (New York/New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles) appear to have plateaued at 12,000 per day.
To further the point that the pandemic is in full force, the second figure shows that while deaths attributed to the virus have declined to 170 per day in the six major metropolitan states, deaths in all other states are increasing at a rate of 650 per day.
And then there are the lingering effects of the virus that have yet to be accounted among the survivors. These include damage to the lungs and kidneys as well as cognitive issues.
And for parents to consider, Groopman notes in his article that “In children, infection can lead to multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition that can damage the heart and other vital organs. COVID-19 has a startling spectrum of severity—from no symptoms to death—depending on a host of poorly understood factors.”
Despite the early protestations of some governors, this is — and has always been — a national pandemic. And with the resurgence of the virus in Asia, we should not forget that this is an international crisis that needs to be addressed by the world in concert.
COVID-related deaths have shot up to more than a thousand per day.
The first figure below shows the rapid climb of newly reported COVID-19 infections as the summer has progressed, reaching as high as 68,000 new infections per day.
Based on the current exponential rate of increase that includes the deceleration of infection in the Northeast, the second figure shows the number of cumulative infections could pass 4.5 million over the course of the week. This comes as the public in the South and Southwest tries to adapt to social-distancing protocols.
The third figure shows that, as expected, deaths attributed to the virus began to accelerate in the first week of July, approximately two to three weeks after infections in the non-metropolitan states started to increase.
COVID-related deaths have shot up to more than a thousand per day, for a seven-day moving average of more than 900 per day, compared to an average of 500 per day before the July 4th weekend.
Of the six states with major metropolitan areas that were hit hardest in the initial outbreak of the virus (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California), only California and Pennsylvania are reporting increasing number of cases.
There are now 39 states with increasing rates of infection since the Memorial Day weekend, as listed in the table below.
For more information on how the coronavirus is affecting midsize businesses, please visit the RSM Coronavirus Resource Center.