Welcome to the brave new world.
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* In conjunction with new guidance from the CDC, last night and today Washington governor Jay Inslee has announced new statewide restrictions: No gathering of more than 50 people. The closure of in-person dining in restaurants and bars (take-out and delivery will remain open). Day care and child care centers may remain open. Homeless shelters are also exempt.
The closure of many storefront businesses, excepting the essentials – grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, medical providers – is throwing countless people out of work. Many other state and local jurisdictions across the country are taking similar steps, impacting millions of people across the US who are suddenly jobless. Social distancing is critical to stem the spread of the pandemic. Inslee urged people, especially the elderly, to self-isolate at home: “This is not a legal statement from the governor, but it is as strong a recommendation as I can possibly make.”
* Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle gave the first shot of a prospective COVID-19 vaccine to a healthy volunteer today, a milestone in the search worldwide for an effective vaccine. The University of Washington has also been approved to begin similar clinical trials. Once a vaccine is found, it will still need further testing, regulatory approval, and mass production and distribution – meaning its public availability is a year or more away and not likely to help in the current pandemic.
* Puget Sound Energy announced that it would not disconnect electric or gas service for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis. The company is also suspending late fees. Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities announced similar measures last week.
* The US now has 4,281 cases, with 74 deaths.
* Wall Street closed sharply down, losing 2,997 points, or -12.9% . This is the biggest drop since 1987. Most economists are now predicting a recession, a formal designation that would be triggered by a two percent or more drop in economic productivity in the first two quarters of 2020.
* President Trump told governors today to seek out badly needed respirators and other hospital equipment in short supply on their own, and not to rely on the federal government to help them out. “Point of sales, much better.” Trump used most of the conference call to repeat upbeat rhetoric and blame President Obama for Trump’s ongoing failures. Thanks, pal. Leaders in states like Washington already have had to move ahead in their responses to the pandemic, in the absence of an appropriate coordinated response from the Trump Administration.
* Meanwhile, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, warned that the US could become the next Italy, saying the US was about where Italy was two weeks ago. Then, Italy had about 1,700 new cases; now it has over 27,000. The US has about 3,800 cases, but, Adams says, is following a similar trajectory.
* The US Supreme Court suspended oral arguments today for the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. The suspension will last at least a month and includes the case for Congress, New York state, and media organizations seeking Trump’s tax records. Six of the nine justices are 65 or older.
* The US Senate reconvened after a relaxing three-day weekend in which the number of confirmed cases in the US doubled. It is expected to take up the emergency relief bill passed by the House late Friday night. Nearly half of the senators are 65 or older. The House is already working on an additional emergency bill.
* New guidelines from the CDC urged the banning of gatherings of more than 50 people, and urged *everyone* to stay home. Avoid public transportation, including taxis and rideshares like Uber and Lyft. Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. Use separate rooms and bathrooms where possible. Call, rather than visit, a doctor to seek medical guidance. The scarcity of test kits ,the caseloads of medical providers already, and the risk of exposure makes such visits not worthwhile. Get immediate help if you have “emergency warning signs” such as trouble breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, or bluish lips or face. Otherwise, the CDC says, try to set up a network of people who can help – along with backups in case your helpers get sick, too.
* The three states that include parts of Metropolitan New York City – Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York – banned gatherings of more than 50 people. New York City closed restaurants and bars. Schools are closed in all three states. New Jersey also imposed an 8 PM curfew. NYC, along with Seattle, are the two American cities hardest hit so far by the pandemic.
* Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and gyms are closed in Los Angeles. Restaurants and bars are also closed in Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Puerto Rico.
* California governor Gavin Newsom urged people 65 and older to self-isolate in their homes and issued guidelines calling for the closure of all restaurants, bars, and wineries. Six Bay Area counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara – ordered a “shelter in place” restriction for all residents. The combined population of the counties is nearly seven million people.
* Actor Idris Elba is the latest celebrity to announce that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
* New research from the University of Washington shows that in the US and around the world, income inequality is already a major factor in the spread of COVID-19. Lower income people are more likely to both catch the disease and to die from it. At the same time, the economic impacts of the pandemic are worsening income inequality, acting as a multiplier on COVID-19’s spread – a self-reinforcing loop that the US and many other countries, especially outside Europe, are so far failing to address.
Beyond old age and pre-existing health conditions, poverty also puts us at greater risk – about twice as likely to die as people in the rest of society. And for low income people, the age of increased risk isn’t 70, 65, or 60 – it’s age 55 or older. Italy has already seen worker strikes over employers’ failure to protect workers from economic as well as health-related hardships. In the US, poverty will compound the pandemic as workers who don’t have paid sick leave continue to work and as people skip medical visits or prescription drugs because of the cost, even with insurance.
These problems then put *everyone* at greater risk – a concept of community interconnectedness that has largely been rejected in the US. The virus does not care about your income, ideology, race, or gender. It just wants to spread.
* Another new study, from Columbia University, reports that “stealth transmission” – the spread of COVID-19 by people with few or no symptoms – was responsible for two-thirds of the original rapid spread of the virus in Wuhan, China. The Chinese government was heavily criticized for its slow initial response to the outbreak, which also contributed to the spread – a response the Trump Administration has largely mirrored. The Chinese spread, the study found, was markedly slowed once the Chinese imposed travel restrictions and other stringent control measures.
* Fueled by the pandemic in Europe, there are now, for the first time, more confirmed COVID-19 cases outside China than in. Deaths are expected to pass the same milestone in the next two days.
* Canada has closed its borders to non-citizens. Americans are, for now, exempted.
* The head of the European Union proposed a shutdown of all non-essential travel into the E.U., currently the worst cluster of outbreaks in the world. A decision is expected tomorrow. Ten of the EU’s 26 countries have already reintroduced border controls within the EU.
* Hard-hit Italy announced on Monday a package of assistance for people affected by the outbreak. The $28 billion plan allows for delays in mortgage, loan and tax payments, and support for its overwhelmed national health system and for suddenly unemployed Italians – all measures the US needs to implement.
* Spain closed its land borders with Andorra, France, and Portugal. Airports remain open. All schools, restaurants and bars have been closed.
* In France, where the number of confirmed cases has been doubling every three days, all “non-indispensable” businesses have been closed. Germany barred all non-citizens from entering. Switzerland, having already closed its border with Italy, is likely to follow suit.
* Countries in the Middle East also were moving quickly to respond to the pandemic. Saudi Arabia sent most of its government workers home for 16 days. Lebanon ordered residents to stay home unless necessary. Hard-hit Iran announced plans for “public screenings” across the country beginning tomorrow, but did not offer details. Celebrations of the Iranian New Year this Friday were largely cancelled.
Global cases went up sharply again today: 181,127 confirmed cases, with 7,114 deaths. By country:
South Korea 8,236
Help your neighbors. WASH YOUR HANDS!