April 15, 2020
When Do We Get to Re-Open America?
By Buck Sexton
Grocery shopping in Manhattan now has a whole new set of rituals and customs…
As one of the millions of New Yorkers in self-quarantine, the only place I really come into contact with more than two or three people at a time is when I’m food shopping. But like so much of life in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are strange adjustments we are all forced to make.
Outside my neighborhood food store, there are hash marks painted on the streets, and signs up that proclaim the need for continued social distancing once inside. They have a limit of about a dozen or so customers that they will let into the store, and it’s a “one in, one out” policy while the rest of us wait outside.
After what can be a hefty wait on the street, I come across more additions to the food-shopping routine inside. All staff have gloves and surgical masks on. Some appear to be homemade, while others are clearly fashion statements of some kind. Over the audio system, the store manager tells people to shop “for a maximum of 15 minutes” and to stick to essential items. I look at my list of foodstuffs and wonder if I’d be able to honor the time limit. What separates essential from non-essential food? Short of stocking up on caviar and champagne, it seems we all get to make our own determinations.
Everyone shuffles past one another rapidly in the dry goods aisles the same way that strangers pick up the pace when they sense a vagrant or drunk too close on the street. Leaning back when another customer crosses your path by the butcher’s case (You must be at least six feet away!) is a habit we’ve all formed. It seems the public thinks a few inches could just be the difference between maintaining a safe distance and perhaps catching the dreaded COVID-19 from a passerby. It’s an absurd thought, but we are all full of absurd thoughts these days.
How much of this is the equivalent of epidemiology theater? Does this make us safer, or just feel better? Are those sneeze guards that they’ve set up near the cashiers really going to protect anyone from aerosolized droplet of the virus that has shutdown New York City, most of America, and about half the world? Nobody has good answers to these questions.
It’s hard to think much of the public health efforts when I’m told to sign the credit card reader with the same pen, and touch the same green button, that dozens or perhaps hundreds of other people have touched before me the same day. One would think American Express and Visa could go without the illegible signatures on those petri-dish-like payment pads under the current circumstances – but one would be wrong.
Here’s what we do know… We are early in this fight against the coronavirus, and it has been a brutal start. So far in NYC, we are largely learning through failure and heavy losses. While doctors and nurses try to save lives, and medical researchers work on treatments and cures, the country staggers through this grinding nightmare of disease and looming depression.
The second part of that equation – the threat to the economy – is receiving a renewed focus. The dynamic among political leadership and the media tends to be that they all agree the economic lockdown cannot continue… But nobody wants to be the one to pull the trigger on re-opening. Whether it’s a governor or the president himself, anyone who encourages the American people to go back to work is opening themselves up to accusations of having “blood on their hands.” No matter how unfair or cynical the charge may be, it carries resonance, especially in an election year.
As this debate on re-opening plays out, there is a wild card. It’s too early to tell if it will make any difference at all, but it could also be a game changer. And it hinges on serology tests…
The technology already exists for this, and widespread adoption is coming soon. Serology testing in the case of COVID-19 looks for antibodies in the blood that would indicate previous infection, and with it the presumption of immunity.
Theories abound on how many people have actually been infected with COVID-19 in the epicenter of New York and across the country. If the numbers are much higher than the current official count, that would mean a lower overall mortality rate for the disease, as well as the chance for those with antibodies to go back to work without fear of infecting themselves or others. For obvious reasons, this would be a big deal.
During this crisis, I’ve made it a habit to reach out to the smartest doctors I know and ask them a series of “what do you know? what do you think?” questions. This has been invaluable for my understanding of what’s really going on. And a solid majority of the MDs I’m in contact with who are dealing with COVID-19 patients believe that the number of current or previously infected people is much higher than the official estimates.
One doctor I spoke to this week, an obstetrician in the New York area, told me a stunning statistic. In her hospital, around 25% of women who came in to deliver babies for the last two weeks were positive for COVID-19, and totally asymptomatic. This tracks with the data recently put out by another large NYC hospital that 15% of pregnant women they’ve seen are COVID-19 positive, and almost all of them had no symptoms.
If the spread of this disease has been much broader than we yet realize, it would really help to get us back in business as a country. Achieving even limited herd immunity would be the best thing short of an actual treatment or a vaccine. How close or far we are from that marker remains to be seen… But we know that we are running out of time on the economic lockdown.
We have to get America back to work, or whatever we are left with in a few month’s time won’t feel much like America at all.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
However America begins its re-emergence, officials and business leaders predict the return to normal life will be anything but normal.
Photos show bodies piled up and stored in vacant rooms at Detroit hospital
“All I know is we ran out of beds to keep our patients on so we couldn’t spare any for the bodies,” said one ER worker, who witnessed the bodies in the room.
‘This Is Going to Kill Small-Town America’
With unemployment ballooning and the threat of worse financial pain to come, neighborly good will is worth only so much over the long term…
IMF: ‘The Great Lockdown’ to be worst recession since Great Depression
Calling the current crisis the “Great Lockdown,” the IMF emphasized that policymakers need to tailor the health response and economic policies to first contain the virus and then set the stage for a recovery phase.
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Executive Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
April 15, 2020