The Canadian Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and the state’s hospital association are at odds over how best to create space for critically ill coronavirus patients at already strained medical facilities that soon could be overwhelmed by the expected surge of new cases from holiday gatherings.A surge following Halloween and Thanksgiving produced record hospitalizations and now the most seriously ill of those patients are dying in unprecedented numbers. California health authorities reported Thursday 583 new deaths and a record two-day total of 1,042.The state has deployed 88 refrigerated trailers, up from 60 a few weeks ago, for use as makeshift morgues, mostly in hard-hit Southern California.Hospitalizations are nearing 22,000 and state models project the number could reach 30,000 by Feb 1. Already, many hospitals in Los Angeles and other hard-hit areas are struggling to keep up and warned they may need to ration care as intensive care beds dwindle.Earlier this week, state health officials caught hospitals off guard and left them scrambling with new orders limiting nonessential surgeries and requiring hospitals that have scarce ICU space to accept patients from those that have run out, an order that may require transferring patients hundreds of miles.The California Hospital Association said the orders don’t go far enough to address a crisis that “cannot be overstated.” It wants changes including reducing paperwork that it says is sapping hours daily from nurses who would otherwise be treating patients.Carmela Coyle, the association’s president and chief executive, said the group has been negotiating with state officials but they aren’t acting fast enough.“We really need to move quickly to co-ordinate and see if we can eliminate the burden on the health care delivery system — focus on nothing other than saving lives for the next few weeks,” she said.State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan responded Thursday that the administration is “committed to continuing to closely co-ordinate and partner with hospitals and local leaders.” She said state officials “appreciate any suggestions from those on the ground fighting this pandemic every day.”Meantime, seeking to keep people closer to home, the Newsom administration issued a more strident travel advisory that says out-of-state residents are “strongly discouraged” from entering California, and Californians should avoid nonessential travel more than 120 miles (193 kilometres) from home.The state’s advisory in November encouraged people to stay home or within their region without giving a specific number of miles. It outlined quarantine guidelines for out-of-state travellers but did not explicitly discourage travel.Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, an affiliated assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University and a former director in the San Francisco Department of Public Health, questioned the effectiveness of a distance requirement, noting it will be difficult to enforce and people may tune out yet another piece of state guidance. He said California, broadly, hasn’t provided adequate data to back up restrictions.“They simply don’t want to give anybody any opportunity to interact,” he said.People travelling more than 120 miles are more likely to be accessing commercial services like hotels, said a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, noting the distance is designed to be fair for rural and urban residents.Coyle said the orders affecting hospitals that were issued Tuesday don’t provide the help that hospitals desperately need.Most hospitals affected by the nonessential surgeries order already cancelled the sort of procedures barred by the state, like non-urgent spinal or carpal tunnel release surgeries, she said. It applies only to hospitals in 14 of 58 counties, all in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, two regions that have the most pronounced ICU bed shortage.Coyle said it’s also unclear how often the transfer order will be used. While it could mean sending patients hundreds of miles to Northern California by ambulance, life flight helicopters or other aircraft, it’s more likely to ease transfers between nearby counties, she said.During an earlier surge, patients in Imperial County along the border with Mexico were sent to hospitals as far as the San Francisco Bay Area. But the current outbreak is so widespread that only 11 mostly rural counties north of Sacramento and San Francisco are above the state’s threshold of having at least 15% capacity for coronavirus patients in ICU beds. Those below that level are under stricter restrictions for businesses.UC Davis Health, which has the major trauma centre in the Sacramento area, said it hasn’t received any transfer requests. A spokesman there and for the Sutter Health system both referred questions to the hospital association, while Kaiser Permanente did not immediately comment.“If we can get patients in the right setting to begin with, it will minimize the need to have to transfer patients after the fact, and that’s just quite frankly better for patient care,” Coyle said.That means California should start co-ordinating patient care at the state level where officials can see the big picture on best-equipped hospitals at any given moment, instead of allowing local dispatchers to follow the usual practice of sending ambulances to the nearest facility, she said.“Yes, transferring patients is important but we have a number of big issues that need to be worked through,” she said. That includes temporarily suspending regulations that she said can tie up nurses on paperwork for hours and make it difficult to use a team approach to providing intensive care when hospitals lack sufficient critical-care-trained nurses.California Nurses Association government relations director Stephanie Roberson said team nursing is a cost-cutting move that would undermine patient care after hospitals failed to properly prepare for the surge.“It’s a slap in the face to safe patient care to actually call charting and documentation ‘red tape,’” she said.Pan said the state’s moves “will save lives” as officials look to get hospitals staff and resources.State health officials did not respond to questions on how they expect the heath orders to be applied or how many patients or hospitals might be affected.___Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this story.Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Biden's rescue plan will give U.S. economy significant boost: Reuters poll – TheChronicleHerald.ca
By Indradip Ghosh and Richa Rebello
BENGALURU (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed fiscal package will boost the coronavirus-hit economy significantly, according to a majority of economists in a Reuters poll, and they expect it to return to its pre-COVID-19 size within a year.
Biden has outlined a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal to jump-start the world’s largest economy, which has been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic having lost over 400,000 lives, fueling optimism and sending Wall Street stocks to record highs on Thursday.
Hopes for an upswing in U.S. economic growth, helped by the huge stimulus plan, was reflected in the Jan. 19-22 Reuters poll of more 100 economists.
In response to an additional question, over 90%, or 42 of 46 economists, said the planned fiscal stimulus would boost the economy significantly.
“There are crosswinds to begin 2021 as fiscal stimulus helps to offset the virus and targeted lockdowns. The vaccine rollout will neutralize the latter over the course of the year,” said Michelle Meyer, U.S. economist at Bank of America Securities.
“And upside risks to our…growth forecast are building if the Democrat-controlled government can pass additional stimulus. The high level of virus cases is extremely disheartening but the more that the virus weighs on growth, the more likely that stimulus will be passed.”
For a Reuters poll graphic on the U.S. economic outlook:
The U.S. economy, which recovered at an annualized pace of 33.4% in the third quarter last year from a record slump of 31.4% in the second, grew 4.4% in the final three months of the year, the poll suggested.
Growth was expected to slow to 2.3% in the current quarter – marking the weakest prediction for the period since a poll in February 2020 – amid renewed restrictions.
But it was then expected to accelerate to 4.3%, 5.1%, 4.0% in the subsequent three quarters, a solid upgrade from 3.8%, 3.9% and 3.4% predicted for those periods last month.
On an annual basis, the economy – after likely contracting 3.5% last year – was expected to grow 4.0% this year and 3.3% in 2022, an upgrade from last month.
For a graphic on Reuters Poll – U.S. economy and Fed monetary policy – January 2021:
Nearly 90%, or 49 of 56 economists, who expressed a view said that the U.S. economy would reach its pre-COVID-19 levels within a year, including 16 who expected it to do so within six months.
“Even without the stimulus package, we had already thought the economy would get back to pre-COVID levels by the middle of this year,” said Jacob Oubina, senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets.
“With the new stimulus package there will be more direct money in people’s pockets, easily boosting the economy, provided a vaccine rollout progresses in a constructive manner.”
But unemployment was not predicted to fall below its pre-pandemic levels of around 3.5% until 2024 at least.
When asked what was more likely for inflation this year, only one said it would ease. The other 40 economists were almost evenly split between “a significant pickup” and price pressures remaining “about the same as last year.”
Still, the core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index – the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge – was forecast to average below the target of 2% on an annual basis until 2024 at least, prompting the central bank to keep interest rates unchanged near zero over the forecast horizon.
“I don’t think it will be an increase in underlying (inflation) trend, it is sort of a rebound in prices that have been depressed during the pandemic,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.
(For other stories from the Reuters global long-term economic outlook polls package:)
(Reporting by Indradip Ghosh and Richa Rebello; Additional reporting by Manjul Paul; Polling by Mumal Rathore; Editing by Rahul Karunakar and Hugh Lawson)
The U.S. economy likely grew 4.1% at the end of 2020, but GDP seen masking weakness in some sectors – MarketWatch
The U.S. economy may have grown about 4% in the final three months of 2020, a great showing even in the best of times.
These are not the best of times.
The economy still has lots of ground to make up, for one thing, after the deepest recession on record. And growth slackened off toward the end of 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic roared back and caseloads reached a record high, pointing to a loss of momentum in the economy early in the near year.
The U.S. fourth-quarter report on gross domestic product, due on Thursday, will still offer a useful diagnosis of the economy. It will tell us which parts have mostly recovered and which are still ailing.
economists polled by the Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal predict a 4.1% increase in fourth-quarter GDP on an annualized basis. While that would mark a steep drop from the 33.4% increase in the third quarter, it still shows the economy forging ahead even as the coronavirus pandemic spiked again.
The details are unlikely to look quite as good.
The biggest component of the U.S. economy, consumer spending, almost certainly softened to mediocre 3% growth or less. Most government aid for the economy had faded away by the start of the quarter and businesses facing new government restrictions laid off more workers at the end of the year.
Business investment in structures such as oil rigs or office buildings was also weak.
Other drags on the economy included lower state and local spending and a bigger international trade deficit.
The economy got some sizzle from a surprising boom in the housing market. Low mortgages rates and people seeking more space outside the cities have lifted sales of previously existing homes to a 14-year high.
Businesses also started to rebuild their inventories — goods for future sale, that is — after letting them draw down early in the pandemic. That’s a good sign for 2021 since it suggests companies are expecting stronger sales.
Indeed, a pair of surveys of business executives in January suggest companies are banking on a better 2021, mostly because of rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
How soon the vaccinations levels are high enough to really help the economy, however, is still an open question.
“We only expect vaccination rates to be high enough to accelerate the economic recovery from mid-2021 onward,” said Cailin Birch, global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit.
The promise of more federal financial aid from the Biden White House is also adding to the optimism, but the stimulus could take awhile to reach households and businesses. It’s also unclear how much aid Congress will approve.
What could also help the economy after a rocky start in the new year is rising consumer confidence. Americans historically spend more when they are confident and push the economy to greater heights.
A pair of surveys this coming week, consumer confidence and consumer sentiment, will give another glimpse into whether the hopes inspired by the vaccines are outweighing the angst caused by the record number of coronavirus cases.
Biden Seeks to Juice Economy as Congress Spars Over Stimulus – BNN
(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden is discovering the limits of his power to boost the world’s largest economy on his own, as congressional opposition to his sweeping stimulus plan hardened soon after he was inaugurated.
While publicly urging Congress to swiftly pass his $1.9 trillion proposal — warning of rising unemployment, hunger and homelessness if lawmakers don’t act — Biden issued more than a dozen executive actions in his first three days in office, some aimed at propping up the economy and containing the coronavirus to allow its reopening.
While moderate Republicans including Susan Collins of Maine see little need for a big new spending bill after last month’s dose, Biden’s making the case that the crisis is deepening, not fading, and urgent action is needed. But top Biden aides acknowledge that unilateral action can only accomplish so much.
“If we don’t act now, we will be in a much worse place, and we will find ourselves needing to do much more to dig out of a much deeper hole,” Biden’s top economic adviser, Brian Deese, said of the stimulus plan at a press briefing on Friday.
Record Covid-19 death tolls and renewed lockdowns have battered the economy this winter. A government report for December on Friday is expected to show the worst back-to-back monthly declines in personal spending since the dark days of last spring. And while U.S. stocks hit record highs the past week, some of that optimism has been based on assumptions of new stimulus getting passed.
Biden’s executive actions can at least signal his intentions, but he’ll need cooperation from Congress to validate financial markets’ confidence and make a real difference for the economy and the 11 million unemployed Americans. The legislature’s sign-off is required for the scale of spending needed to notably boost growth.
Biden signed two orders on Friday that expand food stamp benefits for low-income families, direct the Treasury Department to ensure Americans eligible for stimulus checks received them and reinstate protections and collective bargaining rights for federal workers. Next week, he’s expected to sign additional actions urging federal agencies to buy goods and services from U.S. companies, directing regulatory action to fight climate change and strengthening Medicaid.
“It is perfectly reasonable and necessary to start with a strong statement of intent from the administration, and it sounds like that is how they will use the executive orders — as ammunition in the battles to come,” said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning thinktank.
“But when we talk about the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package or the big investments in infrastructure, climate change or the ‘care economy,’ those are things that will need the finance and power of the U.S. Congress to succeed,” she said.
Biden’s plan has so far sparked little enthusiasm from congressional Republicans. They have complained his first legislative proposal is too expensive, not targeted enough or is too much of a laundry list of liberal goals, including a minimum wage increase.
Not a single Republican has indicated support for Biden’s stimulus plan as presented, with Senators Mitt Romney, Chuck Grassley and Collins questioning the urgency since the government is still enacting a $900 billion stimulus from December.
“It’s hard for me to see, when we just passed $900 billion of assistance, why we would have a package that big,” Collins said this week about Biden’s proposal. “I’m not seeing it right now, but again, I’m happy to listen.”
Parts of the plan could get traction, however. Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana called the total package a “non-starter, but it’s something that we will scrutinize and hopefully, find some common ground on.”
He said he might support a proposal to add funding for coronavirus vaccinations, as an example, and said he and Vice President Kamala Harris had spoken about finding a compromise.
The Biden team has said it would prefer to pass the relief package with Republican votes. Deese is scheduled to speak with a bipartisan group of senators on Sunday at 3 p.m. Biden is making his own calls to lawmakers, though the White House has declined to specify with whom he’s speaking.
During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary-designate Janet Yellen defended Biden’s proposal against Republicans who raised concerns about the deficit — an issue that practically evaporated in Washington while Donald Trump was president.
She said Congress needs to “act big” to revive the economy.
“Right now, short term, I feel that we can afford what it takes to get the economy back on its feet, to get us through the pandemic,” Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee, highlighting that interest rates are historically low and that debt-servicing payments as a share of the economy are lower today than before the 2008 financial crisis.
She said doing too little to sustain the economy now could lead to “scarring.”
Presidents Barack Obama and Trump both made liberal use of executive orders and other actions to make policy, particularly when the opposing party controlled a chamber of Congress.
“Executive orders are the trend. It began almost 30 years ago, and they are becoming more and more the practice because Congress has been unable and unwilling to address these challenges through statute,” said former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Daschle said Biden has no choice but to use the executive-authority tools: “He has an ambitious agenda.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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