Image: President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, March 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, Washington, D.C., and Austin, March 24 – Even with 19 positive test results for Chinese coronavirus in Montgomery County as of Monday night, March 23, 2020, fears are rising that the government reaction resulting in profound unemployment and a virtual shutdown of economic activity, as well as direct government interference in the right to free association of peoples, is worse than the disease itself.
President Trump ponders if “cure…worse than the problem itself.”
President Donald Trump put it bluntly: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
Trump, who tweeted his declaration overnight, is caught in the middle as tensions are rising between those who argue the country needs to get back up and running to prevent a deep depression, and medical experts who warn that, unless more extreme action is taken, the human cost will be catastrophic.
Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
But with the economic impact now snapping into focus with millions out of work, businesses shuttered and the markets in free fall — all undermining Trump’s reelection message — the chorus of backlash is growing louder.
“We can’t shut in the economy. The economic cost to individuals is just too great,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said in an interview Monday on Fox News Channel. “The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease and we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.”
It’s an opinion that has been echoed by others in the White House, some Republicans in Congress and on Fox, where host Steve Hilton delivered a monologue Sunday night that appeared to have, at least partially, inspired Trump’s tweet.
“You know that famous phrase, the cure is worse than the disease? That is exactly the territory we hurtling towards,” Hilton told his viewers, describing the economic, social and human impact of the shutdown as an “even bigger crisis” than the virus.
“You think it’s just the coronavirus that kills people? This total economic shutdown will kill people,” he said, pointing to growing poverty and despair.
The White House, which for the last two weeks has largely allowed doctors to lead the administration’s response, already seemed to be shifting in that direction.
Even as Trump tweeted that he would be waiting until the end of the current 15-day period of recommended closures and self-isolation to make any decisions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set to announce new guidance Monday making it possible for people who have been exposed to the virus to return to work faster “by wearing a mask for a certain period of time,” Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday.
It’s a change in tone that is drawing criticism from public health experts who suggested Trump risks making a dangerous mistake if he sets up a conflict between public health and the nation’s economic well-being, given how unlikely it is the threat posed by the virus will subside in another week.
If the U.S. stops social distancing too soon, “you will have more deaths and more dives in the stock market,” warned Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University, a lawyer with extensive public health expertise.
And the outbreak could come surging back once people return to their normal routines of commuting, working, dining out and socializing — further stressing the economy.
John Auerbach, president of the nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health, which works with governments at all levels to improve preparedness for public health emergencies, said widespread illness and death also have a powerful economic impact that’s impossible to ignore or play down.
“If you don’t flatten the curve and minimize those who are getting infected, the amount of sickness will cripple business,” said Auerbach.
Even Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, urged Trump to stick with the advice of public health officials.
“There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus,” he warned on Twitter. “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.”
“When it comes to how to fight #CoronavirusPandemic,” Graham added, “I’m making my decisions based on healthcare professionals like Dr. Fauci and others, not political punditry.” Anthony Fauci is the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
But Stephen Moore, a former Trump economic adviser, said it’s time now “to start thinking about what kind of dramatic costs to society are we absorbing from the shutdown,” including tens of millions unemployed and potential spikes in drug overdoses and suicides.
He said he has been urging his former colleagues to selectively open the economy in ways that minimize the public health risk with more testing and, for instance, taking people’s temperature in public places, as they are now doing in other countries.
“There’s no good solutions here, there’s just bad solutions,” Moore conceded. “And to me the worst solution is to just grind our economy to a halt.”
Kevin Hassett, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has also argued that, if coronavirus crisis drags on for months, “we’re going to have to either have a great depression or figure out a way to send people back to work, even though that’s risky” — by, for instance, having people work with masks and implementing widespread testing. Hassett just rejoined the White House to advise Trump on the pandemic.
Other economists warned that if Americans return to work too soon, there could be recurring outbreaks that would only worsen a recession. But if the period of isolation continues for too long, there will be a steep cost in trying to restart and sustain economic growth.
Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the consultancy RSM, said lifting restrictions after 15 days would be “potentially a profound policy mistake” because it could lead to a second or third wave of outbreaks that would do even more harm to economic growth. Additional outbreaks could be an even greater risk because the government might lack the political authority to respond given the extraordinary steps already being taken.
“We got one shot to get this all right,” Brusuelas said, noting that Trump has a great deal at stake personally, given the upcoming election in November. “The last thing one would want to do from an economic policy perspective is to elevate one’s electoral interests above that of the economy or, most importantly, public health.”
Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimated Monday that the economy will shrink at a record-breaking annualized pace of 30% in the second quarter. The unemployment rate would surge to 12.8% — the highest level ever in data that go back to the 1940s. But this forecast assumes the outbreak peaks in late April, after which there would be fewer reasons to restrict economic activity and a sharp rebound would begin in the June-August quarter, leading to solid growth in 2021.
Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago and a former adviser to President Barack Obama, says there is no real tension between containing the outbreak and preserving the U.S. economy. He has repeatedly emphasized that halting the outbreak is needed so that growth can resume as companies feel comfortable hiring and consumers ramp up spending.
“Anything that slows the spread of the virus is by far the best thing to restore the economy,” Goolsbee wrote on Twitter.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Worldwide, more than 350,000 cases have been reported, and while most people recover in weeks, more than 15,000 have died from the virus.
Governor Abbott seeks major disaster declaration
Governor Greg Abbott yesterday sent a letter to President Trump requesting a presidential declaration of a major disaster in Texas based on the continued impact of COVID-19. This action follows on the heels of a series of proactive measures, including declaring a state of disaster for all 254 Texas counties on March 13, 2020.
Filed in accordance with the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the request is based in part on Governor Abbott’s conclusion that the ongoing COVID-19 incident is of such severity and magnitude that supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives, to protect property, public health, and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a larger disaster.
“Texas is all-in on our response to COVID-19 and we need Washington’s financial assistance as provided for under the law to support our efforts to limit the spread of this virus,” said Governor Abbott. “COVID-19-related expenses and obligations are already exceeding $50 million and that will only rise as our efforts continue. Additional federal funding is essential for us to maintain our aggressive course of action to protect our state.”
In his letter, the Governor specifically requested Individual Assistance Crisis Counseling and Public Assistance Category B (Emergency Protective Measures) including Direct Federal Assistance for all 254 counties in Texas, noting that, as of March 23rd, Texas has 352 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with eight related deaths.
Governor Abbott’s letter also detailed the state’s efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including executing the state’s emergency management plan and issuing multiple executive orders, in accordance with guidelines from President Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These include:
- mandatory avoidance of social gatherings of more than 10 people;
- mandatory avoidance of dine-in eating and drinking at bars or restaurants, and of gyms or massage establishments;
- prohibition on non-critical visits to nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities; and
- the temporary closure of in-person school operations.
The Governor has also issued multiple waivers of state law to remove barriers limiting the response to this pandemic and activated the Texas National Guard to be prepared to assist with response efforts for COVID-19. To date, more than 466 Texas jurisdictions have submitted local disaster declarations, a number that is expected to rise.
The requested federal aid would be used to overcome the current shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), needed medical equipment and testing supplies as well as looming shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment, and a healthy and adequate cadre of medical personnel.
The letter also designated Chief Nim Kidd as the Governor’s Authorized Representative and State Coordinating Officer, tasked with continuing his coordination with FEMA on all matters related to COVID-19.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon works to calm citizens’ fears
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon addressed citizens’ concerns with respect to rumors about a lockdown or the imposition of martial law. Ligon stated unequivocally, ” There is no martial law in Montgomery County nor will there be. Roads will not be shut down nor will anyone at gunpoint order you to stay in your home.”
Ligon also explained that Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderon is keeping new Jail inmates isolated from the current Jail inmate population order to prevent Chinese coronavirus from spreading among the previous inmates.
In the meantime, the current Grand Jury has agreed to stay past their term and will hear over 100 cases on Tuesday, March 24.
Ligon also said, “Do not look to neighbors such as Dallas or Harris Counties as a barometer to what is going to happen in Montgomery County…County Judge [Mark] Keough is adopting procedures set forth by the CDC.”
Ligon explained that he and Keough are hopeful the bar and restaurant order will lift on April 2, 2020.