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US slowly opening for business as economic crunch deepens

US slowly opening for business as economic crunch deepens
Most Florida beaches reopened last weekend for limited hours, for biking, swimming, running and surfing. Image by Alex Gresbek from Pixabay

The US has a population of close to 330 million people and should be testing at least 3 million a week if they want to open safely, yet the Covid Tracking Project shows they are not managing the required number.

See the Covid Tracking Project here

While several US states are set to ease their “stay at home” orders, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) got into a spot of bother on Tuesday, when he warned that America should brace for a hard winter. CDC Director Robert Redfield told media he was concerned that come ‘flu season – starting around September – instead of just fighting ‘flu or coronavirus, the fight will be against both.

This did not sit well with President Donald Trump who on Wednesday morning tweeted that Redfield had been misquoted: “CDC Director was totally misquoted by Fake News @CNN on Covid 19. He will be putting out a statement.” Trump seemed to try to get the director to walk back his comments. Which saw Redfield telling media late yesterday: “I didn’t say that this was gonna be worse, I said it was going to be more complicated or more difficult… does not mean it is going to be worse ”. So, six of one and half a dozen of the other?

Meanwhile, some states and municipalities are saying they need help to financially survive the pandemic and are looking at laying off staff and putting urgent projects on hold if they cannot get some financial assistance – to the tune of possibly four trillion dollars. Fighting the pandemic has ramped up some costs for states and also meant traditional income streams like traffic violations, tolls, sales and fuel taxes have disappeared. 

With over 47,000 deaths and slightly more than 852,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases (at at Wednesday 22 April), you would be hard pressed to find a health expert who would agree that the US has the necessary testing capacity to be able to ease movement restrictions. Despite this the White House on Friday 17 April said America was in a position to reopen its economy and had the testing capacity to do so safely. Vice President Mike Pence said: “We have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of a phase one reopening if state governors should choose to do that.”

The US has 330 million people and should be testing at least 3 million people a week if they want to open safely, yet the Covid Tracking Project shows they are not managing the required number.

Pence on Wednesday repeated his position, telling the Wall Street Journal:

“We truly do believe as we move forward with responsibly beginning to reopen the economy, in state after state around the country, that by early June we could be in a place where this coronavirus epidemic is largely in the past and we can move our nation forward.”

Listen to the Wall Street Journal podcast to hear Pence plead his cause.

Pence and all the president’s men believe the US can have a regular summer with all the economic benefits that would bring. America in the summer is the land of the holiday: school and universities are out. Families spend leisure time together, there are cookouts (which South Africans know and enjoy as outdoor braais) concerts in parks and everyone spends. 

Most Florida beaches reopened last weekend for limited hours, for biking, swimming, running and surfing, while police try to make sure everyone practices physical distancing. Florida over the weekend had three days of fewer than 800 new cases, prompting the governor to announce that the state had flattened the curve, but on Tuesday cases jumped again and they recorded 943 new cases.

The nation also saw a wave of protests last week, with conservative Americans taking to the streets with flags and posters to demand their “freedom”, chafing at stay-at-home orders and movement restrictions, and emboldened by President Donald Trump’s eagerness to open the country.

Trump had originally been keen on opening the country by Easter weekend, 12 April. Around 24 March Trump also floated the idea that it might not be too bad to let some people die to save most: 

“The whole concept of death is terrible… But there is a difference between one percent and four or five.”

This was followed by Texas’ Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick supportively stating: “Those of us who are over 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick came in for some harsh criticism but has dug himself in, saying earlier this week: “There are more important things than living and that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.”

Almost two weeks post-Easter and it is no secret that Trump wants America open for business as usual – like, yesterday. This has got some support around the country from people who mostly seem to want to work and defied stay-at-home and social distancing orders to protest last week, carrying posters saying: “Stop killing businesses” and “I want to work…”. 

In the week before the pandemic exploded, 285,000 Americans had submitted unemployment claims, now close to six weeks later that number is at almost 25 million and has been increasing by around three million a week. Americans are starving as food banks start to struggle to feed the people needing assistance as the numbers have swelled drastically.

Some of the newly unemployed were working for businesses that will not survive the pandemic closures. But most protesters just want to be able to go the nail salon and the barber and congregate as freely as they did pre-pandemic, without masks, gloves or physical distancing because “Freedom Trumps the Coronavirus” and “Live Free or Die”. Because “This is America, people!” shouted one woman, while a man held a poster that said: “We do not consent to Tyranny”.

Governors of some six states – out of 50 – are going ahead with partially opening up their states by softening some of the stay-at-home regulations and allowing more than 10 people to be in the same space at once.

President Trump, now that the big reveal is fast approaching, seems to be equivocating on the timing of the reopening.

Georgia wants gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlours to reopen tomorrow (Friday 24 April). But Trump, while wanting the economy open, seems unable to decide how open, and on Wednesday night said that he disagreed with Georgia opening small businesses: “I love those people that use all of those things, the spas, the beauty parlours, barber shops… But they can wait a little bit longer… because safety has to predominate.”

Georgia also plans to have movie theatres and dine-in restaurants open by Monday 27 April.

California Governor Gavin Newsom would not give any dates on Wedesday but said he was looking at a limited summertime reopening of businesses like restaurants but, “We won’t just open things …We’ll have to open things slowly and modify how we conduct business.”

Colorado will not extend its stay-at-home order at the end of this week, but will enter into what Governor Jared Polis called a safer-at-home period, starting Monday, 27 April. This means physical distancing will still be required and vulnerable people are to stay home. Masks are to be worn in public and there must be no gatherings of more than 10 people. Guidelines, yet to be announced, will allow tattoo parlours and other small business to operate.

Wisconsin is showing no sign of lifting its stay-at-home which is planned to stay in place till 27 May, despite Republican lawmakers filing a lawsuit against Governor Tony Evers, challenging the order. The original order was meant to end tomorrow, Friday 24, but on Thursday 16 April the order was extended to 27 May and schools closed for the rest of the academic year. 

The promised stimulus pay cheques of $1,200 per adult, for Americans earning under a certain annual income threshold, has started going out but a clear economic recovery plan is yet to be formulated. DM

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