INDIANAPOLIS — When I pray, it usually goes something like this: “Dear Lord, give me the strength and courage to overcome the adversity I now face.” Today, I will pray for something very specific: A coronavirus vaccine ... the sooner the better.
While I give Gov. Eric Holcomb and his team much credit for their response and transparency, my take on President Trump is that he’s mailed it in. On one hand, Trump said, “This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There has never been an attack like this.” On the other, he essentially said it was up to individuals and states to cope with the virus and there will be lives lost. “We have to be warriors,” he said. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”
There will be no viable national testing/tracing regimen needed to orchestrate a credible economic reopening. That’s been punted to the states. There was talk of disbanding the White House coronavirus task force, until Trump reversed course a day later saying it would continue “indefinitely.” He was in denial for the critical three months leading into the societal shutdowns of April. He is now poised to compound early mistakes in an effort to save his reelection campaign. Most of his decisions appear based on his own political calculations.
As for Vice President Pence, he told Fox News two weeks ago, "By Memorial Day weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us."
With COVID deaths at 1,100 in Indiana and 72,000 nationally, with state health department officials describing us on a statistical “plateau,” and a new University of Washington statistical model forecasting 6,200 deaths in Indiana by August, and up to 350,000 nationally if states continue reopening, the news on the medical front is alarming.
As for the economy, the incoming data is nothing short of catastrophic:
Economists ranging from those surveyed by the Wall Street Journal to Ball State’s Michael Hicks are predicting April jobless rates in the 16-17% range. “Since the March deadline, we’ve had a full 30.6 million additional workers added to jobless rolls, but only 22.3 million of them were reported between the March and April survey dates,” said Hicks. “Lags in the jobs report mean we are missing some 10 million unemployed workers in the April jobs report.”
According to Zero Hedge, U.S. manufacturing orders just fell by the largest number ever, down 10.3% month to month.
U.S. gasoline consumption just dropped to the lowest level ever recorded. Light vehicle sales in the U.S. just fell to depths unseen since the early 1970s. Edmunds is projecting that auto sales in the United States this month will be down by more than half compared to April 2019.
According to the CNBC/SurveyMonkey, which surveyed 2,200 small business owners across America, while the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program was instituted to give them a lifeline through the coronavirus and economic shutdown, only 13% of the 45% who applied for the PPP were approved.
The “coming meat shortages” are already here. According to the New York Post, Costco is now rationing meat and Kroger is warning customers of very serious supply problems.
U.S. consumer spending was down 7.6% during the first quarter of 2020. Business investment was down 8.6%. In March, U.S. home sales declined by double digit percentages in every region of the country.
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett warned that the U.S. GDP could fall by up to 30% during the second quarter of 2020.
This is a maelstrom, a Cat 5 hurricane with a fleet of Fujita Scale 4 tornadoes on the fringe for good measure.
The Trump administration didn’t do the heavy lifting needed for testing and tracing and is now intent on reopening the economy, which sets us up for bad outcomes of the second and third virus waves, if not the first.
NBC’s First Read observed, “Let’s accept the premise offered by President Trump: It’s worth sacrificing American lives to get the U.S. economy restarted. But then what? What’s the plan for what comes next?
“What do you do about the schools when the parents go back to work? What about child-care centers? How do you make university and colleges safe for students and instructors? What are individual employers doing to make workplaces safe? What about public transportation? How do you give Americans the confidence to attend a work conference, get on an airplane, buy a ticket to a sporting event, go to a place of worship, or take their family to a resort or theme park?”
Thus, I pray for a vaccine. Soon.
Nature.com reports that more than 90 vaccines are being developed by research teams in companies and universities across the world. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has begun testing a new coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, “We are gradually reeling it in, bit by bit and as every day goes by, the likelihood of success goes up.” Bell called chances of success “pretty good.”
Given the federal government’s denial and sclerosis, the limited capacities of states facing steep tax revenue declines, the capricious nature of this evil microbe, and the historic economic havoc it has wreaked, a vaccine looks like the best bet to save some semblance of society as we’ve known it.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.