COVID-19 cases are growing fast in large parts of the US. The same folks who said the virus would just go away now say not to worry because fewer people are dying.
A lower mortality rate helps, but it’s still too high. The sheer number of sick people is straining hospital capacity some places. Viruses don’t care what anyone thinks; they just spread until something stops them.
The economy can’t recover if people fear infection everywhere they go. We need to balance public health and economic necessity.
Fortunately, scientists are learning how to reduce risk with fewer economic side effects.
The funny part: This knowledge isn’t all coming out of laboratories. It’s the result of unplanned, large-scale experiments on people who didn’t even know they were “test subjects.”
But whatever the source, we’d better pay attention. It offers a way out of this mess.
Following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, large protests erupted around the country, featuring exactly the kind of crowds experts had called dangerous even with masks. More virus cases seemed likely.
We know the COVID-19 virus incubates for up to 14 days after exposure. So if the protests caused significant virus spread, it should be evident by now in Minnesota, where the initial protests occurred.
Here’s the data.
Minnesota’s average daily case count, which had been declining, turned slightly upward in mid-June, about three weeks after the protests began. These could be infections acquired at those events.
However, Minnesota’s case growth was still minor compared to Florida and Texas over the same period. Other places with large protests, like New York and Washington, DC, saw flat or declining infections.
That suggests the virus doesn’t spread easily outdoors if people take simple precautions, like wearing masks. Many protestors did and it seemed to help.
But the virus clearly is spreading. If the protests didn’t cause it, what did?
Hazardous Bar Tabs
The governors who let businesses begin reopening in May probably didn’t think of it as “research.” Nor did their citizens want to be guinea pigs. But that’s what happened.
State reopening guidelines tried to address what we know: Crowds are hazardous. Masks and distance are the best solutions. But that’s hard in places like restaurants and bars. You can’t eat or drink through a mask.
So states required those businesses to operate at reduced capacity and maintain separation between parties. This was supposed to get them back in operation while minimizing infection risk.
That was weeks ago. Millions of people have now eaten in sit-down restaurants, and the data doesn’t look good.
, a large credit card issuer as well as an investment bank, analyzed spending data for its millions of customers. It shows the businesses where people used their cards. It also shows whether the card was physically present or the transaction occurred online.
They found a high correlation between “card-present” restaurant spending and higher COVID-19 cases in the same state three weeks later. More telling, the data showed fewer cases in places with higher grocery store spending (and, presumably, more meals at home).
As we always say, correlation isn’t causation. But this suggests a connection, at least.
Governors like Greg Abbott (R-TX) appear to see it. He recently ordered bars closed and kept restaurants at 50% capacity. We will know in a few weeks if it helps.
There’s also evidence air conditioning could be a factor, in part because it encourages people in hot climates to stay indoors where the virus thrives. That seems to fit the timing, too. Cases declined in the southern US during moderate spring weather, but are now rising as summer heats up.
It also raises a question for fall, when many schools and colleges plan to resume in-person, indoor classes. That may not be a good idea.
Winter Is Coming
Let’s review what these accidental experiments revealed.
- Outdoor gatherings, even large ones, don’t necessarily spark virus outbreaks.
- Close, extended indoor gatherings without masks look like a problem.
No one thinks this virus will just “go away.” Life will be different until we get better treatments and/or a vaccine. But if these two points are correct, they offer some partial solutions.
For one, we might be able to resume some outdoor activities (concerts, sporting events) with a few modifications. Parks and beaches could be manageable risks if everyone will cooperate (which is hard, I know). This would help restore economic activity.
More broadly, spending our time outdoors this summer and fall might reduce the spread enough to make indoor life safer when winter arrives. It could have other benefits, too, as I described back in 2018 (see No Shoes, No Shirt, More Money).
On the downside, this is a serious blow to businesses that depend on indoor crowds—not just bars and restaurants but also airlines, casinos, and many retailers. Plus their employees and suppliers.
Some may be able to adapt, but not most. They will probably need additional government support to survive. That will be more feasible if we can stop throwing money in all directions and be more precise about who needs it.
The pandemic is still serious. That shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can to cushion the blow.
My partner John Mauldin predicts an unprecedented crisis that will lead to the biggest wipeout of wealth in history. Most investors are unaware of the pressure building right now. Learn more here.
Canada worried by Biden’s ‘Buy American’ plans, will make issue a priority
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is worried by U.S. President Joe Biden‘s plans for a “Buy American” program to boost domestic industry and it will be a priority for talks with the new administration, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday.
The two neighbors have highly integrated economies as well as one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationshipsand Canada fears its firms could lose out if U.S. procurement rules are tightened.
Biden is expected to sign an executive order later on Monday to increase domestic manufacturing and close loopholes in existing provisions, which structure the $600 billion in goods and services the federal government buys each year.
“I am concerned. We are always concerned by ‘Buy American’ … for sure that is going to be an issue very very high on our agenda in our work with the Biden administration,” Freeland told reporters.
Canadian governments have had to deal with ‘Buy American’ provisions from previous U.S. governments only to discover “the devil is very often in the details,” she added.
“We find we are very often able to explain to our American partners that trade is in the mutual interests of Canadians and of Americans,” she said.
Biden’s first conversation with a foreign leader last Friday was with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who raised the “Buy American” issue and urged the President to “avoid unintended consequences that can hurt both countries,” a Canadian government source said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Reese and Paul Simao)
Opinion: Plant protein beckons as a key component of economic diversity – Calgary Herald
Article content continued
Alberta can add value through processing to many of our crops — fractionating the plants into ingredients such as protein, starch and fibre that will then be exported or further developed locally into commercial products for food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, pet food or livestock feed.
Take peas alone: if we process 35 per cent of the average pea crop grown in Alberta, it will add an additional $1 billion annually to the provincial economy compared to just exporting the crop as a bulk commodity.
But there is growing competition globally in plant-ingredient processing and there is already disparity within the Prairie provinces.
In Western Canada, $1 billion has been invested into protein processing plants in the past few years. However, Alberta has not yet announced a single commercial facility that extracts pea protein, even though our farmers grow nearly half of the field peas in the West. Every tonne is exported.
Alberta is at risk of letting this moment pass us by while others move ahead decisively.
What needs to happen?
First, and most importantly, the provincial government must make the plant-ingredient processing sector one of its top priorities.
Developing a plan is key. Elected officials and bureaucrats at all levels need to demonstrate a depth of knowledge — publicly and in private negotiations — backed with a clear strategy and a true commitment. Premier Jason Kenney and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen have said agriculture will drive economic recovery and have allocated funds for investing in value-added processing. Focusing on a cohesive plant-based strategy and making it a government priority will ensure we seize this realistic chance to diversify.
Japan’s economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, Bank of Japan’s Kuroda says – The Globe and Mail
Japan’s economy will likely recover to levels before the coronavirus pandemic as early as March next year, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said on Monday, offering an upbeat view on its recovery prospect despite headwinds from COVID-19.
Kuroda also said a combination of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies have successfully stabilized Japan’s economy, signalling that the BOJ has offered sufficient stimulus for now to cushion the economic blow from the health crisis.
“Both fiscal and monetary policies have been successful in preventing corporate failures and unemployment,” Kuroda told a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
“We expect, probably by the end of fiscal 2021 or early fiscal 2022, that Japan’s economy would recover and come back to levels before the pandemic started,” he said.
In its latest quarterly projections released last week, the BOJ expects the world’s third-largest economy to expand 3.9% in the fiscal year beginning in April, followed by a 1.8% increase in fiscal 2022.
The key challenge for policy-makers would be to prevent the pandemic from leaving a lasting scar on the economy, and to provide impetus to growth such as by promoting digitalization and a “green” economy, Kuroda said.
“Greening the economy…was important before the pandemic. But now it’s more important. It would make our economy more sustainable. At the same time, it would provide some growth impetus,” he said.
After suffering its biggest postwar slump in April-June last year, Japan’s economy has been recovering moderately from the pandemic thanks to a rebound in exports and output.
But a resurgence in infections has forced the government to declare a new state of emergency in January, threatening to cool consumption and push the economy back into recession.
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