Image: President Donald Trump salutes as the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort pulls away from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, March 28, 2020. The ship is departing for New York to assist hospitals responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is at right. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, Austin, Washington, D.C., March 28 – Montgomery County now has sixty-three (63) positive test results of Chinese coronavirus, with sixty-two (62) of the cases active, since one individual, who was diagnosed, has recovered. Montgomery County has had no deaths from the viral illness originating in the area of the Wuhan meat market in China.
While the jump from 47 to 63 cases, constituting a thirty-four percent (34%) increase is alarming, public officials have taken note in particular of the dense population area of zip code 77382, south-central Montgomery County including Sterling Ridge and Alden Bridge in The Woodlands, which has twenty-one (21) cases and an increase of 61.5% since yesterday.
“It’s very important for people in The Woodlands zip code 77382 to heed social distancing warnings,” Jason Millsaps, Chief of Staff to Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and the Executive Director for Emergency Management, told The Golden Hammer during an interview this afternoon. “There is an active community spread in that area.”
Trump considering quarantine for NY, NJ and Connecticut
President Donald Trump said he was considering a quarantine as early as Saturday for coronavirus hotspots in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, though it wasn’t clear whether he had the power to order state residents to stay put.
Trump told reporters that he had spoken with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, among others, and that “a lot of the states that are infected but don’t have a big problem, they’ve asked me if I’ll look at it, so we’re going to look at it.”
Ultra-liberal Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who criticized the federal government’s response as his state became the country’s virus epicenter, said the issue did not come up in a conversation he had with Trump earlier Saturday.
“I don’t even know what that means,” the Democrat said at a briefing in New York. “I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable, and from a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing. … I don’t like the sound of it.”
Trump made his remarks while on a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, to see off a U.S. Navy hospital ship heading to New York City to help with the pandemic. At the event, he spoke to a sparse crowd at the naval base and cautioned Americans to take virus protections, even though he himself, at 73, is in a high-risk category and among those who have been advised to refrain from all non-essential travel.
The federal government is empowered to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases between states, but it’s not clear that means Trump can ban people from leaving their state. It has never been tested in the modern era — and in rare cases when any quarantine was challenged, the courts generally sided with public health officials.
Courts have ruled consistently for years that the authority to order quarantines inside states rests almost entirely with the states, under provisions in the Constitution ceding power not explicitly delegated to the federal government to states. The federal government, though, would have power under constitutional clauses regulating commerce to quarantine international travelers or those traveling state to state who might be carriers of deadly diseases.
Still, “it is entirely unprecedented that governors or the president would prevent people from traveling from one state to another during an infectious disease outbreak,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor and public health specialist who questioned Trump’s ability to order a quarantine on states.
But as Trump traveled to Norfolk, he tweeted: “I am giving consideration to a QUARANTINE of developing “hot spots”, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A decision will be made, one way or another, shortly.”
When asked about legal authority for quarantine, the incoming White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said officials are “evaluating all the options right now.”
Administration officials were discussing less-stringent measures as well. One idea under consideration would be to tell residents of the hard-hit areas to isolate themselves and not travel for two weeks, just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has instructed anyone who recently left New York to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to one person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations.
The measure wouldn’t necessarily come with any legal force or penalty, just the hope that people would comply in an effort to try to contain the virus spread.
The governors of Florida, Maryland, South Carolina and Texas already have ordered people arriving from the New York area to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival. In a more dramatic step, Rhode Island police have begun pulling over drivers with New York plates so that the National Guard can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.
Trump said the idea of isolating many in the trio of Democratic strongholds in the Northeast was pushed by DeSantis, one of the president’s most outspoken supporters. It came a day after Trump made clear he wanted governors to be grateful when asking for federal support for the pandemic.
Trump said people “go to Florida and a lot of people don’t want that. So we’ll see what happens.” He later clarified it would not affect truckers or people transiting through, and would not affect trade.
“We’ll be announcing that one way or the other fairly soon,” he said.
Florida is a perennial swing state, and one Trump must win come November — plus he recently moved his residence from New York to Florida. It also has a population of 21 million with a large percentage of old people, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
DeSantis confirmed he had spoken with the president about the possibility of a quarantine for the New York City area. Speaking Saturday to reporters, DeSantis said Florida will soon set up a checkpoint along Interstate 95 to screen travelers from that area, similar to one already in place along Interstate 10 to screen people from Louisiana. Many airports in Florida also are screening travelers from certain areas, requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days.
“I think whatever works is what we need to do,” DeSantis said.
The U.S. leads the world in reported cases with more than 115,000. There were roughly 1,900 deaths recorded by Saturday.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said he did not talk about quarantining the tri-state area in his recent conversation with Trump, and learned of the president’s comments as he walked into Saturday’s daily briefing.
“Until further notified we’re going to keep doing exactly what we’re doing, because we believe the data and the facts are on our side in terms of this aggressive, as aggressive as any American state right now, in terms of social distancing and flattening the curve,” he said.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, also a Democrat, said he’d already called on residents to stay home.
“I look forward to speaking to the President directly about his comments and any further enforcement actions, because confusion leads to panic,” he said in a statement.
The quarantine idea comes a day after the president took a round of steps to expand the federal government’s role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic, even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.
“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said Friday after the White House announced he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.
Yet Trump — who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown — rejected any criticism of the federal government’s response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.
After speaking in Norfolk, Trump watched as the USS Comfort slowly made its way out of port. The 1,000-bed hospital ship had been undergoing planned maintenance, but was rushed back into service to aid the city.
It is scheduled to arrive Monday at a Manhattan pier days after its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, arrived in Los Angeles to perform a similar duty on the West Coast.
“We will stop at nothing to protect the health of New Yorkers and the health of the people of our country in their hour of need,” Trump said.
The ship has 12 operating rooms as well as radiology suites and a CT scanner. It also has ICU beds, a lab and a pharmacy. The 1,100 or so medical staff on board are mostly active duty service members from the U.S. Navy, and some reservists, who serve on the East Coast.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.
On Wall Street, some optimism penetrates the uncertainty
Even after a loss on Friday, the S&P 500 had its best weekly percentage gain since March 2009. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its biggest weekly rally since 1938. The gains came after two brutal weeks that conjured memories of the market’s sell-off in 2008 as the government and the Federal Reserve scrambled to contain the financial crisis.
“The takeaway from this week is the initial down phase has probably run its course,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “Investors can get out of the duck-and-cover mode and start to figure out what they need to do. But it doesn’t mean that we’ve gotten an all-clear signal.”
The S&P 500 remains 25% below the record highs it set in February, however, after nearly relentless selling earlier this month. Strategists like Delwiche know the outlook is still uncertain, at least until more progress can be made fighting the pandemic and the number of new cases level off and start dropping. This week the U.S. passed China as the country with the most virus cases and the numbers continue to accelerate.
A lot will depend on how badly the coronavirus outbreak stalled the U.S. economy. The government reported a historic spike in applications for unemployment benefits this week and more grim numbers are expected in the weeks ahead. Wall Street has been slashing its estimates for company profits even as the companies themselves say little publicly about the impact on their bottom lines.
“The key at this point is getting a handle on the spread of the virus so that then we can start to think about what (economic) growth looks like for the remainder of the year,” Delwiche said. Some economists are predicting the U.S. economy will contract as much as an astonishing 30% in the second quarter as the full impact of business and factory closures, layoffs and the dramatic halt to Americans’ daily routine takes effect.
On Friday, the S&P 500 fell 3.4%, erasing some of the rally from the previous three days. The index still finished with a gain of 10.3% for the week. The Dow closed with a weekly gain of 12.8%, led by a rebound in shares of Boeing.
The Chicago-based airplane maker was one of the blue-chip companies investors rushed to buy this week after the stock has fallen to a nearly seven-year low. It gained 70.5%, yet is still down 41% in March.
Besides the chance to buy companies seen as oversold, the overall downturn in the markets in recent weeks is creating good opportunities for investors to buy into sectors of the market that will be “prevalent” for the next decade, said Solita Marcelli, deputy chief investment officer, Americas, at UBS Global Wealth Management. That includes e-commerce and technology companies that focus on things like gene therapies.
That said, Marcelli cautioned that the next few weeks will be challenging for investors, who should refrain from any drastic action.
“Investors have to keep bracing for volatility,” she said. “This is not a time to make a complete portfolio makeover.”
Much of this week’s rally was driven by enthusiasm over a historic $2.2 trillion financial rescue package that was signed into law by President Donald Trump Friday. It includes direct payments to households, aid to hard-hit industries like airlines and support for small businesses.
The push to deliver financial relief took on more urgency as the outbreak widened. The number of cases in the U.S. has surpassed those in China and Italy, climbing to more than 104,000 known cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The worldwide total has topped 607,000, and the death toll has climbed to more than 28,000, while more than 130,000 have recovered.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Investors have yet to get a clear picture of exactly how badly the crisis has hurt corporate profits, the ultimate driver of stock prices. Many companies have simply withdrawn the profit forecasts they issued earlier in the year.
At the start of this year, analysts expected S&P 500 companies’ earnings would grow 4.4% in the January-March quarter. They now expect earnings will be down 4.1%, according to FactSet. That may not fully reflect the size of the potential earnings declines this year, with only 15% of analysts having adjusted their estimates within the past couple of weeks, according to a report by Credit Suisse.
Earnings for airlines, which have been hit by lost bookings as businesses and individuals canceled travel plans to minimize their risk of contracting the virus, are expected to be terrible. Wall Street’s estimate for Delta went from an expected 2.2% decline to a 108% plunge.
Darden Restaurants, parent of Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, rose 43% this week, but is still down 43% for the month and 49% for the year. Analysts now expect the company to lose $1.46 per share in the fiscal fourth quarter ending in May, whereas back in February they expected a profit of $2.01, according to FactSet.
Energy markets are also feeling the impact of the virus outbreak. The price of crude oil slid 4.8% to close at $21.51 a barrel. Goldman Sachs has forecast that it will fall well below $20 a barrel in the next two months because storage will be filled to the brim and wells will have to be shut in.
That’s sure to cause even more trouble for energy companies, which are lagging far behind the rest of the market. The price of oil has plunged recently, in part due to a price war that broke out early this month between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The energy sector of the S&P 500 has lost half its value this year.
Shares of Exxon Mobil are down 47% so far this year. Shares of Continental Resources, which drills for oil in North Dakota and Oklahoma, have dropped 75%.
Governor Abbott Announces National Guard Deployment in Support of COVID-19 Response
As part of the State of Texas’ ongoing response to COVID-19, Governor Greg Abbott today announced the deployment of three National Guard Joint Task Force Brigades. The 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and the 176th Engineer Brigade will operate ten general support units located throughout the state.
“Whether it’s overseas combat, major storms, or deadly viruses, the Texas National Guard is always quick to defend and serve their fellow Texans,” said Governor Abbott. “Texans can be grateful that these troops are now standing their post alongside healthcare professionals and first responders on the front lines of this crisis.”
The Governor has ordered an initial focus on two critical missions that will directly benefit from Texas National Guard’s unparalleled logistics capabilities, medical expertise, communications support, infrastructure maintenance, and transportation assets: assisting drive through testing sites and bolstering the state’s healthcare infrastructure.
Over the past week, Guard members have practiced erecting and running drive through testing site locations alongside medical staff to ensure a well-coordinated process that allows Texans to access COVID-19 screenings in a safe, efficient way that also limits contact with potentially infected members of the public.
The Guard is also rolling out support for the state’s healthcare infrastructure with medical providers, equipment, and supplies needed to provide access to care. As the response advances, Guardsmen will continue working with partners at the local, state, and national levels to identify and develop additional locations that can be converted to healthcare facilities.
“We are citizen soldiers and we find our highest calling in serving our fellow citizens, no matter where duty calls us,” said Major General Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas and commander of the Texas National Guard. “This will be no easy task but we have faced difficult times before. With the commitment of our soldiers and support of the community we will show the world that we are Texas strong and Texas proud, and together we will overcome this challenge.”
Governor Abbott also stressed that these taskings will not diminish the Guard’s ability to meet operational commitments including the Texas border mission and overseas deployments.
To ensure responding Guard members are healthy, trained medical staff will be attached to each unit and provide screenings before each Guard member is approved for the mission. Any Guard member showing signs of illness will receive treatment and the needed resources to recover while following all requirements outlined by the CDC. This measure will keep responding units healthy and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.