COVID-19 Update: Looking Worse But Pence Is On It, So It Is Certain To Be Worse

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Economy & Jobs & Deficit, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

At a news conference yesterday, the president announced that the president was doing a wonderful job handling the coronavirus, a statement that filled me with confidence, as it came from the president himself. The vice president and HHS head also announced that the president was doing a great job, and the president, at that point, officially put the vice president in charge of coordinating the outbreak response.

Who better to lead this mission than Mike Pence? Someone who did not exacerbate the severity of a deadly HIV outbreak in his state with his slowness as governor in approving a needle-exchange program? (No, that question was meant to be rhetorical. I am sure he gets it now, and besides, as vice president, he has nothing else on his plate.) What’s best is that even if he gets overwhelmed, Jared Kushner is there, a man who can be counted upon to provide a solution to any issue, no matter how complicated.

“I want you to understand something that shocked me when I saw it,” the president said at Wednesday’s news conference. “… I think most people are amazed to hear it. The flu in our country kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. That was shocking to me.“ This is just a sign of how the president is working carefully to understand the issue! Once his great brain is applied to it, we need fear nothing. Also, we do not need to worry about the cuts to health programs his budget was asking for; we can always hire more doctors! Once we hire them, it will turn out that they have been working on the virus for months and developing expertise in combating it. Passionately, in their spare time, the same way the response was being coordinated.

These, in short, are exactly the sort of people you want to be in charge during a real crisis. Sure, during more relaxed moments, the administration displays all the competence of a dog on its hind legs attempting to make an omelet but, in moments where the stakes are high, it is sure to rise to the occasion. All it needs is more pressure.

In the last 48 hours, COVID-19 has ceased to be what many were calling “a China thing.” Yes, of the 82,588 cases now counted, 78,500 are in China. But in the last two days, the number of new cases outside of China has exceeded those inside China’s borders. In fact, overnight South Korea alone reported more new cases than did all of China.

But South Korea is not alone. The number of cases continues to grow in Italy, where the total has topped 500 and earlier hopes that cases had been contained within “red zones” have proven to be unfounded. And Iran has admitted to another hundred cases—while piling up more deaths than anywhere outside of China. That underreported mass of virus in Iran is also dragging along infections across the whole Middle East: Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq are all seeing a run of new cases that are coming in so fast that if there were a COVID-19 Geiger counter, it would be buzzing like a hive of bees.

The California coronavirus patient had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ suggestions. The federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria.

The pathogen has now invaded 47 countries, with California and Germany recording the first cases with no obvious source of transmission.

U.S. stocks had a depressed opening, losing about 2 percent (400 points), in an echo of general losses in European and Asian markets.

President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the American effort to combat the virus, while maps tracking new cases continued to light up in countries around the globe.

During the news conference, the Trump administration continued to send mixed messages about the virus, with public health officials warning of potentially “major disruptions,” while President Trump blamed Democrats and cable news channels for overstating the threat.

In the Middle East, concerns were building about the extent and severity of the outbreak in Iran.

Tehran was characteristically parsimonious with information, and what it did broadcast seemed sketchy and unreliable. The government said on Thursday that 245 people had been infected and that 26 had died. But given a mortality rate that experts have put at around 2 percent, the death toll would suggest that at least 1,100 people had contracted the virus.

This from WHO:

Comedy Central weighs in:

UPDATE — 10:23 a.m.: Dow down 700 points

Is coronavirus recession a possible thing?

The U.S. imports over US$500 billion of products each year from China, everything from smartphones and televisions to clothing and machine parts. Sick people in China can’t work, which means they can’t make products. Closing off parts of the country from other areas also curtails production.

The reduced availability of Chinese products could slow some segments of the U.S. economy, with the computer and electronics industries being the most vulnerable. For example, many smartphones sold in the U.S. are assembled in China. Although U.S. retailers have some inventory, shortages will likely appear if the pandemic persists.

Americans are already beginning to see some impacts: for example, in shortages of dozens of drugs and other medical products and longer wait times for a variety of products such as bicycles and board games.

It’s too early to say how severe it will get, but the dependency of U.S. supply chains on China is a major concern. It shows how something like the coronavirus could become a huge problem in the modern economy.

On the flip side, U.S. companies sell well over $100 billion of products to China annually, with the most important being technology like computer chips and agricultural products such as soybeans.

These sectors have already taken a hit from the tariffs imposed by China during the U.S.-China trade war of the last two years. The recent thaw in the conflict – and a limited deal with China – had created optimism for U.S. factories and farms that increased sales were around the corner.

That corner may be harder to reach as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its significant impact on the Chinese economy. More U.S. companies are now worrying about their sales to China as a result.

UPDATE: 1:15pm – after dipping to -950 points on the day, the Dow has bounced back. Still down 300 points.

UPDATE: Lots of yoyoing, but as of closing, Dow lands down almost 1200 points. That’s the worst ever Dow point drop on record.

And this just broke…