Trump broadcast a rare Oval Office speech last night about the coronavirus. The media assumed the purpose of the speech was to give an update on his battle plan to attack the virus and to reassure the public that experts were on the case. But the speech did nothing to allay fears, featuring a tense and fearful president trying to read from a teleprompter while doing his usual sniffing and snorting. And instead of presenting his plan to combat the spread of the virus here at home, Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel to and from Europe (except the UK). Trump said nothing about the lack of virus testing kits nor their possible availability. Trump said nothing about the pockets of outbreak and what his administration plans to do as the virus spreads. Trump said nothing about symptoms, incubation periods or testing policies. The speech was simply an attempt to keep markets calm and pretend like his administration knew what it was doing. Yet his speech implied that the Europe travel ban included trade and goods, which sent the overnight markets into a panic selloff, forcing the White House to issue a correction that the ban was for people only, not goods and shipping. Trump also claimed in his speech that health insurers “have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments,” which was also false. An insurance spokesperson later corrected that copayments for testing would be waived, but not for treatment.
Trump said nothing concrete or detailed about what his administration would do to help people hurt financially by the pandemic. So House Democrats put forth a bill last night after Trump’s speech that included provisions for food security, unemployment benefits, free testing, and paid sick leave. Around the same time, the NBA announced that it was suspending its season after a player tested positive for COVID-19, leaving the professional basketball world in shock. Actors/spouses Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson also announced that they had contracted the coronavirus while on location for a film in Australia, putting famous faces to the outbreak. So far they are okay. But would last night be seen as the turning point where the majority of our citizens finally took the outbreak seriously?
As of this writing, the overnight Dow Jones Industrial Average was down another 1,000 points, a drop of almost five percent, as markets reacted negatively to the Trump speech. And conditions in the United States will almost surely get worse before they get better. Has the market “priced in” the economic hardships to come, or is it merely reacting with emotion?
As cases of the virus continue to double every six days, we can expect all large events and gatherings to be cancelled, including trade shows, concerts, reunions, festivals, board meetings, parades, graduations, etc. All sporting events will at the very least occur with no crowds, if they happen at all. Workers who can work from home will be encouraged, if not required, to do so. Social gatherings will recede and visits to places like restaurants, movie theaters and coffee shops will decline. But life will need to go on. Stores will still need to sell food, heating oil will still need to be delivered, cars will still break down and need fixing, etc. So there’s no need to hoard anything. The draconian social changes–called social distancing–will remain until we have a robust testing capacity, until we have contained major pockets of outbreak, and until the virus is slowed from an exponential growth to a linear growth or decline. It might take three or four weeks to perhaps three or four months–nobody really knows. China has finally begun to successfully reduce the spread of the virus there, and South Korea has a very competent and comprehensive set of controls in place. But they are the exceptions. Italy is struggling to contain the spread, and we are only two weeks behind them in terms of the numbers. Experts on TV today said our medical system is about ten days away from getting overrun by corona cases. So the measures we take today are critical.
Here is a great article in the Atlantic entitled “What Will You Do If You Start Coughing?” by James Hamblin that’s worth reading:
One thing is clear. Things would be going a whole lot better and our response to the outbreak would be much more effective if Trump weren’t the president. Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”