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Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 4/20/20

As the discussion moves forward to reopening the country which, in reality, means reopening businesses, there have been many suggestions with the most reasonable being the following:

  1. Be able to perform substantial Covid-19 testing in accordance with CDC guidelines;
  2. Be able to perform substantial antibody testing;
  3. Wear masks and gloves in public.

The scientific methodologies and logistics that will need to be employed are likely more complex than those relatively simple statements.  If the federal government devoted adequate resources in the near future, we would have sufficient testing capacity, to give us some level of data about the safety of what we are doing.  Ad hoc approaches simply will not work.  
Assuming that the economic environment continues in a negative pattern, Vice President Biden might think about offering a WPA type program which would focus, as it did in the 1930’s, on infrastructure repair and replacement, he should prepare to convert the dollars now used for unemployment insurance towards wages  Roads, bridges, sewers, electric lines, data lines, water lines could be replaced and upgraded which would have a tremendous positive impact on the economy in the short-term, and clearly, in the long-term.  This work could begin immediately if the testing for Covid-19 antibodies is successful and large segments of the population have them.    Those testing positive for the active virus should be monitored and return to work once cleared by the appropriate health authorities.  There is no doubt we are going to need prolonged government programs and paying people to sit home is not necessarily in the best interest of the individual, nor society. 

Now for a little humor.  I understand masks now serve an alternative purpose.  All should be urged to wear masks both in and outside the home to prevent us from eating and getting out the front door.

A former New York Times reporter, Alex Berenson, was on Fox News recently, essentially espousing the same theories as the far right which asserts that there has been an over reaction in favor of preventing the spread of the virus versus keeping business open.    Based upon his analysis of available data he concluded that the modeling doesn’t line up with the realities of the virus.    His analysis is data driven, but reaches conclusions not shared by scientist.  My suspicion is that the public would be outraged if we ended social distancing and the result was a spike in cases and deaths. 

On the scientific front, string crafted in southwest France by Neanderthals between 41,000 and 52,000 years was found and reported in “Scientific Reports.  This is leading scientists to conclude that the Neanderthals were not a lesser intelligent species as has been believed. 

Morning Trade reported that Covid-19 is not stopping the flow of US/Canada workers.  In particular, they noted the efforts being made to facilitate the crossing by healthcare workers.  Obviously, there are occasional glitches, but CBP seems to be making real efforts to facilitate this process.  This publication also reported that it has anticipated that global trade will drop by 4% in the first quarter of 2020, which really should not be a surprise.  The question is how quickly can we facilitate a recovery while keeping ourselves safe.

Continuing on the Covid-19 front, the media has made a big deal of the fact that the US has more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world.  It fails to point out in these frightening headlines the fact that Italy, for instance, has a population that is at least 75% less than the US, so by any statistical rational we shouldn’t be surprised that we have more cases and deaths than Italy did.  The only place where there is a surprise, from my perspective, is with China as that is a far larger country than the US by population, and yet, apparently had fewer “reported” cases and fewer deaths.  This, of course, assumes that the Chinese reported this information accurately which we learned on Friday was not true.    This is not in any way to minimize what is happening in the United States, but rather to put it in perspective. 

I know many of my Jewish friends did their seder dinner remotely for Passover this year, and we did the same thing for Easter dinner.  This allowed us to see one another, hear one another, and hopefully, share some joy. 

As we struggle through the Covid-19 crisis which creates day to day survival questions for many businesses and deep frustration and some level of anxiety for those of us who are quarantined, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunity.  This can come in the form of providing aid to others, financial or otherwise, just simply reaching out to see how our family and friends are doing, and of course, there will be business opportunity, all of which gives us hope, a most important ingredient in our lives.

This week POTUS withdrew funding from the World Health Organization because of its alleged incompetence.  How do we withdraw funding from POTUS, vote in November?

POTUS announced a Council to help reopen the country which included luminaries such as his daughter and son-in-law and many members of the cabinet.  There are a few individuals who run large successful businesses, and hopefully, that is where the guidance and analysis will come from. 

Apple and Goggle have come up with a new App that effectively will assist in tracking people’s contacts in the event that they are diagnosed with Covid-19.  Apparently the App works by identifying another iPhone or android phone that an individual comes in close proximity to.  This raises a host of interesting privacy questions because it will disclose with whom you have met walked by, possibly when, and other information that could be potentially embarrassing or lead to  criminal charges, divorce proceedings  Will the App identify a person I walk past as one I have had contact with even though I don’t know the person and had no interaction with them, will it just pick-up those in my contact list.  We will certainly need to have a greater understanding of how this works before we try large scale implementation.

POTUS claimed absolute authority as President of the United States to direct the reopening of the country.  He received enormous pushback from governors, constitutional scholars and even Republicans.  Hopefully, he didn’t clear this with his advisors, because if he did and they consented to these statements, then we are in deeper trouble than I thought.

Canada is weighing whether or not to prohibit nurses from crossing the border in places like Windsor/Detroit, Vancouver/Seattle, Montreal/Plattsburgh, since they are needed in Canada and there is concern that if they travel to the United States and get sick they will be unavailable in Canada, and Canada may have to care for them.  Mr. Trump’s PPE embargo a couple of weeks ago may have boomeranged on him more quickly than he thought, well maybe he didn’t think.

The governor’s order requiring everyone to wear masks while in public will create an enormous demand and significant expense to employers.  Putting community buying groups together makes a great deal of sense so as to limit profit taking and reduce financial stress for individual businesses.

The idea that the country can be reopened absent adequate testing platforms, whether that is to determine the presence of the Covid-19 virus, or for antibodies evidencing a prior infection, is a  theme that is consistent in most responsible conversations and needs to remain so.

Stay well, stay healthy.

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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