For a president long caught up in the exuberance of a rising stock market and a strong economy, the coronavirus-induced plunge must be a nightmare.
For many Americans, life as they know it, is on pause. Covid-19 is proving to be a health and wealth crisis like no other. In some states, the number of confirmed cases has doubled every 48 hours. Conferences, tournaments, sport leagues, television shows with live audience, flight schedules, religious meetings are being postponed or cancelled all together. Schools have closed all over the country as many explore remote learning alternatives. Long lines and barren shelves are now regular features in supermarkets across the country as the fear of future shortages push consumers into a frenzy of panic buying. Worried shoppers are stripping America’s supermarket shelves bare. Supermarkets now ration the sale of toilet rolls and other essentials in parts of New York and Boston.
The stock market continues to hemorrhage value as uncertainty becomes the only certainty for investors. Dow Jones capped a week of wild swings by soaring over 1,900 points Friday. Dow futures along with S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures enjoyed their best one-day gains since 2018. 24 hours prior, the Dow Jones industrial average had plunged 2,014 points, its biggest single-day loss since October 2008. The last time the Dow suffered a 2,000-point hemorrhage was during the financial crisis of 2008. For a president who often sees the market as a real-time political barometer directly linked to developments in Washington, the coronavirus-induced plunge in the market portends a gloomy prognosis for his reelection in November.
A pandemic and a national crisis
At least 2,800 cases have been confirmed in the US with death toll at 58 according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). Expect the figures to change before you finish reading this story. That’s how fast change is happening with the coronavirus since it hit the United States. “We have not yet reached our peak” immunologist Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump’s task force on coronavirus, said Saturday. The CDC urges Americans and local health officials to prepare for significant impacts to their daily lives as the virus continues to spread across the country.
The CDC projects that 65 percent of Americans could be infected with the virus in a worst-case scenario. In this hypothetical scenario, as many as 21 million people could be hospitalized and up to 1.7 million people die. “That’s a worst-case scenario that is very unlikely to come true with the concerted efforts currently in place to tackle the virus,” says Dr Emeka Nwaokorie, a Nigerian American physician in New York. “What we are doing in New York right now is to find, isolate, test and treat every case to break the chains of transmission,” explains Nwokorie.
CDC notes that the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person through close contact and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. A person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
“The United States nationally is currently in the initiation phases, but states where community spread is occurring are in the acceleration phase,” states CDC. “The duration and severity of each phase can vary depending on the characteristics of the virus and the public health response,” the agency explains. Some experts warn that infected persons without symptoms might be driving the spread of coronavirus more widely than is thought to exist presently. “Asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic transmission are a major factor in transmission for Covid-19,” notes William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and an adviser to the CDC. “They’re going to be the drivers of spread in the community.”
Schools avoid in-person classes
As coronavirus rates continue to rise, state and local governments, institutions and agencies continue to clamp down on large public gatherings. In a letter to Boston University (BU) faculty Monday, provost Jean Morrison wrote that “If the university were required to close or otherwise cease all in-person meetings, it is our expectation that faculty will find the best approach to continue offering course content.” There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus at BU, but the governor of its host state, Massachusetts, declared a state of emergency after 51 news cases were announced Wednesday.
New York-based Hofstra University announced it is canceling in-person classes beginning today. Harvard University president, Lawrence Bacow announced the school will begin transitioning to online classes by March 23 for all students out of an abundance of caution. “We are doing this not just to protect you but also to protect other members of our community who may be more vulnerable to this disease than you are,” Bacow said in an email announcing the decision. Most of the cases in Massachusetts are linked to a conference organized in February by Biogen, a Boston-based tech company.
Five people in North Carolina have tested positive to the virus last week. All five people were in Boston in February to attend the BioGen conference. As a result of the rising threat, North Carolina-based Duke University said, “all on-campus classes will be suspended until further notice, and we will transition to remote instruction.” Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Barnard, UCLA, Princeton, Ohio State, and Purdue are some other US universities that have taken similar measures.
“Our goal is to minimize the number of people in our facilities at any one time, while allowing science that is absolutely essential to continue on-site,” writes Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in an email to staff Saturday morning announcing that “non-critical” work at the institute had to wrap up by this Wednesday. In an email sent by Patrick Collins on Saturday, Tufts University also told its researchers “to ramp down research in physical laboratories on our campuses for 2 weeks effective immediately, after which the university will evaluate if additional time is warranted.”
Globally, the UN warns that an unprecedented number of children, youth and adults are not attending schools or universities presently because of COVID-19. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) notes that governments in 49 countries have announced or implemented the closure of educational institutions to slow the spread of the disease. “29 countries have closed schools nationwide, impacting almost 391.5 million children and youth. A further 20 countries have implemented localized school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, hundreds of millions of additional learners will experience education disruption,” writes agency.
A president in search of palliatives
Former White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney recently told participants at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that impeachment was the “hoax of the year” and now the media believes coronavirus “is going to be what brings down the president.” Conservative talk show host and Fox News contributor, Dan Bongino, blames the mainstream media for the crisis and how it is impacting public opinion about the Trump administration. He said the media is “engaged in a pathetic disgusting pile-on” to damage the president’s political standing by making it appear that he isn’t doing enough to combat the spread of the virus. A Quinnipiac poll released last week indicates that 63% of Republicans were either “not so concerned” or “not concerned at all” about the virus. 87% of Republicans approve how Trump has handled the virus so far, while 83% of Democrats disapprove, according to the poll.
President Trump on his part, believes the summer heat more than any other thing, will be the final nail on Covid-19. “The virus that we’re talking about, a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat, as the heat comes in, typically that will go away in April,” the New York Times quotes Trump as saying in a White House meeting. “Generally speaking, the heat kills this kind of virus,” the president told a crowd of supporters during a New Hampshire rally last month. He says the virus will be gone by April when the weather gets warmer.
Wait for summer heat?
Could warmer weather in April chase away the virus, as Trump claims? Drawing from the experience of SARS, a similar health crisis in 2003, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, writes that “SARS did not die of natural causes.” Lipsitch insists “It was killed by extremely intense public health interventions in mainland Chinese cities, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Canada and elsewhere.” There’s currently no known cure for Covid-19. While scientists continue to research possible solutions, experts project it might not be until 2021 before a breakthrough in vaccine.
Covid-19 is war for the Trump administration, but nothing like the conventional wars previous administrations fought in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. Coronavirus goes against human nature – and against American instincts and way of life. Although reported cases so far are not huge, the psychological effects are taking a toll on the administration and the American people. For President Trump, the battle is just beginning. “We are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” he said Wednesday while declaring a state of emergency.
As Jessica Menton writes in USA Today, “the US economy has an impressive track record of predicting the next president, if history is any indication.” How well the economy rebounds – if at all – may go a long way to determine whether Trump remains in the White House after November this year. Stock losses may continue to steepen in the coming days. However, as market strategist Ryan Detrick puts it – “the big question now is how quickly can this be contained? Given the evolving nature of Covid-19, ‘how quick’ is exactly one question no one can precisely answer right now.