The real COVID-19 disaster, and it’s not getting sick

James Freeman:

Based on the latest analysis from America’s leading public health experts, politicians can stop comparing Covid-19 to World War II. But can their war on the U.S. economy be halted in time to prevent irreparable damage?

The good news on lower expected virus mortality arrived at Wednesday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing. Here’s an excerpt from the official transcript:

Q Last week, your top experts were saying that we should expect 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in this country. You’ve been talking about how it looks like maybe things are plateauing. Are these numbers now being revised downward? I know you don’t want people to stop social distancing and that sort of thing, but what can you tell us about the numbers? Are they being revised down?

President Donald Trump responded that his impression was that current expectations were for lower mortality numbers and then he deferred to others on the stage. Dr. Deborah Birx said:

We believe that our healthcare delivery system in the United States is quite extraordinary. I know many of you are watching the Act Now model and the IHME model from — and they have consistently decreased the number, the mortality from over almost 90,000 or 86,000, down to 81,000 and now down to 61,000. That is modeled on what America is doing. That’s what’s happening.

It just so happens that 61,000 is exactly the number of deaths that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes to the 2017-2018 flu season. As much time as media folk spend on the differences between coronavirus and the flu, perhaps they should also spend some time discussing similarities.

More good news on the 2020 coronavirus season is that there’s reason to believe Americans seek to avoid infection even when the government isn’t forcing them. Added Dr. Birx:

I think what has been so remarkable, I think to those of us who have been in the science fields for so long, is how important behavioral change is and how amazing Americans are in adapting to and following through on these behavioral changes. And that’s what’s changing the rate of new cases, and that’s what will change the mortality going forward, because now we’re into the time period of full mitigation that should be reflected within the coming weeks of decreasing mortality. I mean, that’s what we really hope to see… we are still in awe, really, of the American people’s strength in this and following through.

CDC Director Robert Redfield lauded “the commitment of the American people” and said:

You know, a lot of us have always had challenges of changing behavior, whether it’s exercising regularly or different habits with smoking, when it — when it affects us.

What’s been remarkable to watch here is how the American public has changed their behavior when it protects the vulnerable.

Now government needs to get out of the way and let the American people protect those vulnerable to the virus—as well as the surging population of people who are vulnerable to government-created poverty. The Journal’s Sarah Chaney and David Harrison report:

A record 7.5 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits at the end of March as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hit the U.S. labor market.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that another 6.6 million had submitted claims in the week ended April 4 after reaching a record 6.9 million revised figure from a week earlier. Claims were hovering at just over 200,000 a week before the coronavirus-related shutdowns put millions of people out of work in mid-March.

Ms. Chaney and Mr. Harrison note that the situation is even worse than it appears because “states are still addressing backlogs of claims. Many laid-off Americans have been unsuccessful in applying for unemployment insurance because state labor department websites are freezing and their phone lines are inundated with inquiries.” The Journal report continues:

The steep rise in joblessness is keeping job-training centers like Goodwill in Fort Worth, Texas, busy.

“People are calling in, and they’re like, ‘I need a job. I need it right now. I’ve got to feed my kids,’” said Romney Guy, vice president of workforce development at Goodwill in Fort Worth.

The need to feed kids is driving a horrifying surge in demand for another critical service. Nicholas Kulish reports in the New York Times:

Demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate, just as the nation’s food banks are being struck by shortages of both donated food and volunteer workers.

Uniformed guardsmen help “take the edge off” at increasingly tense distributions of boxes filled with cans of chicken noodle soup, tuna fish, and pork and beans, said Mike Manning, the chief executive at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. “Their presence provides safety for us during distributions.”

Mr. Kulish adds:

The coronavirus is everywhere in America, and so is the hunger. More than a million people have viewed drone footage of a miles-long line of cars waiting for food last week along a bend in the Monongahela River leading to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank… Tini Mason, 44, was in one of those cars, making his first-ever trip to a food bank. “We have to stretch every can, every package, everything that we have, because we don’t know what’s around the corner,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Mason lost his job as a cook shortly before the outbreak took hold. The career office where he had been looking for work has closed its doors, and he is still waiting for his unemployment benefits to come through. His partner, Crystal Stewart, 49, lost her job at a Residence Inn by Marriott, then briefly found work at a supermarket. But she developed a cough and was forced to isolate while awaiting the results of a swab test. (Her test has since come back negative.)

Do we need to see a surge in U.S. malnutrition cases before governors and mayors will reconsider their shutdown orders? Model that.

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