Hiltzik: stopping fatigue and lack of progress in the coronavirus

Another Thursday, another sad unemployment statistic. This time the Department of Labor reports that 2.98 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims in the past week.

This brings total registrations in the past eight weeks to 36.5 million people. The last figure was both slightly encouraging and quite discouraging. This is an improvement over last week, when initial claims were 3.17 million and a steady improvement since the 6.6 million peak in new deposits was announced on April 2.

On the other hand, the figure still exceeded the expectations of some economists, who were only 2.5 million. As happened every week since the end of March, the issue raised a worrying comment about the extent of the damage from COVID-19 – or more precisely, from the national home blockade aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.

#StayHome had its moment. But quarantine fatigue is real.

Julia Marcus, The Atlantic

The issue also provides context for two signals on the American response to the coronavirus pandemic. One is that many people are getting tired of the blockade and not only because it chases millions of people out of work, both temporarily and in the long term. The other is that we have made little progress against the virus, or at least not as much as the richest, most powerful and technically most experienced nation on Earth should have done.

The two indicators are related. A source of discontent over the arrest is the unfulfilled promise that would have given the country time to put in place a program to successfully fight the virus. Without a test and screening program to identify viral hotspots and establish selective quarantines, the general public has learned that it faces many months of work, travel and recreational constraints.

The urge to return to normal is fighting an increasingly tense battle with advice to maintain social isolation.

In testimony to the Senate this week, dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s most credible scientific voice in the crisis, has warned that it says reopening businesses and allowing public meetings too quickly while the pandemic is still crying could “trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control. .. If you think we have it completely under control, we don’t. The consequences could be really serious. “

This triggered a pushback by President Trump, the main national avatar of crisis pseudoscience, who called Fauci’s position “an unacceptable response”.

Here is the counterfactual. If you made clear progress in testing and screening and promoted clearly consistent rules across the board, the current arrest would be much easier for most people to endure. It is always like this when you see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Let’s examine how these two phenomena – the lack of an acceptable antivirus program and the desire to reopen – remain under tension.

As I noted earlier, the Trump administration has only limited power to reopen the economy. Trump may order some industries to reopen their factories. It works best when it can credibly designate them as essential and when their leaders don’t care much about the consequences of their working conditions on the health of their employees, as in the case of meat packaging.

It can also work where local governors and officials are content to persuade local employers to force employees to return to work. The most popular tool seems to withhold unemployment benefits from those who would stay home for fear of their health or the need to take care of sick family members. (Thanks, Iowa, Texas and Ohio.)

The problem is that consumers cannot be forced into the market. How Jordan Weissmann observed in slate, patrons have so far been reluctant to pile up in numerous restaurants, even in the most aggressively reopened states.

This is according to data from the Open Table restaurant reservation service, which notes that as of Wednesday, reservations and walk-ins were still declining from around 85% to 70% since the pre-pandemic era even in the open states. The best record was in Alabama, which never closed completely, where patronage represented only 77.5% of the pre-crisis forecast.

Don’t be fooled by the anti-arrest demonstrations in state houses like those of Michigan by cheaters, or by the right-wing majority decision on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn the state residence rules, or by the news photos of diners sitting cheeks cheek in some restaurants and bars reopened.

Open Table data, combined with opinion polls, indicate that the vast majority of Americans still prefer to keep businesses closed to fight coronavirus.

In a recent Washington Post-Ipsos pollfor example, 79% of the fired respondents preferred to continue fighting the spread of the virus “even if it means keeping many companies closed”. This was a higher figure than all the interviewees, who preferred to keep the closure from 74% to 25%.

In other words, the majority of Americans are still voting with their feet, or to put it indelibly, with their backs on the sofa, to keep activities at risk of infection closed.

It is true, however, that signs are emerging that Americans are getting tired of restrictions that seem unnecessarily stringent. Some evidence comes from a mobility database gathered by Apple from requests for driving, pedestrian and transit directions made to its Apple Maps app. (Apple claims that the data is aggregated to preserve user privacy and does not track individual trips.)

Data indicate that Americans stopped moving from early to mid-March, when direction searches dropped sharply by more than 60% from baseline and hit bottom with a drop of around 70% in the first half of April. Since then, however, searches have increased measurably, with searches for walking routes by only 39% and driving directions by 40% since 10 May.

Research involving the transit, however, remained bogged down to 77% negative. This is not surprising, as a reduction in commuting will keep workers away from buses and trains, and any remaining passengers could be stifled by concerns about sharing travel with strangers.

This is a sign of exasperation with arrest.

“#StayHome had its moment,” Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus writes in the Atlantic. “But the quarantine effort is real.” Emphasizes the effect of emotional isolation, which can “seriously damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the start of the crisis. ” In a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of respondents said the pandemic damaged their mental health.

Clearly it is the open nature of the blockade that is weighing on Americans. In the same poll, published on April 2, about 74% of respondents said that “the worst is yet to come”.

This is where the Trump administration deserves the biggest blame. The path to cracking down on the pandemic in the United States in early summer has never been in doubt.

In early April, public health expert Harvey V. Fineberg asked to establish a unified command with unquestionable authority to mobilize all public and private resources for the war against the virus. The nation is expected to gear up to perform millions of diagnostic tests by mid-April and establish a disease surveillance and quarantine system for infected or at-risk individuals.

More importantly, American public opinion, resistant to the government regiment even in the event of a crisis, should be shown how shared action and shared sacrifice would defeat the virus. Any intrusive system would require credible leadership to “inspire and mobilize the public,” said Fineberg.

Trump did not do any of these things. Managing the coronavirus response to the White House and throughout the federal government has given new meaning to the word “chaos”. Nobody knows who is in charge of what, the government has divided into fiefdoms engaged in internal battles and the only person known to have Trump’s ear is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has shown incompetence at every turn, aggravated by arrogance.

Trump falters between the urgency of caution in the reopening of the economy and the encouragement of gangs that trigger the fight against the blockades. He seems to think that saying something is tantamount to making it happen, as was evident when he promised that anyone in America could get a COVID-19 test on demand, so he promised that there were drive-up test stands around the country in a short time. It was March 13th. It hasn’t happened yet.

As Keith Humphreys of Stanford University points out, the obstacles to implementing a national “test, trace and isolation program” are not technical: Germany and South Korea have managed to do so. The challenges are political and cultural in a country that was formed by the Reagan administration to distrust the government.

That particular chicken came home to settle. At a time when a coherent and humanistic expression of government authority would save thousands of lives, federal leadership is in the hands of a petulant egocentric whose interest appears to be in using this crisis to divide Americans, not uniting them in a cause shared, and blame everyone else for his obvious failure.

Trump is getting what he seems to want: a nation mired in chaos that benefits only those with the means to isolate themselves from the crisis. The rest of us can’t help but grind our teeth to an endless stop, amen.

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