Topline: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a Sunday CNN appearance that “if we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days, people will die who don’t have to die” as the city—now the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic—faces a possible shortage of medical supplies.
“We’re about 10 days from seeing widespread shortages,” de Blasio said, adding, “We have seen next to nothing from the federal government at this point.”
De Blasio also said that the military hasn’t been mobilized by the Trump administration, and that the Defense Production Act, which the president invoked by executive order Wednesday, has not been put into motion.
“It feels like we’re on our own at this point,” de Blasio said, adding that April would be worse for New York City than March has been, and he fears May could be even worse.
CNN also reported Sunday that Federal Emergency Management Agency head Peter Gaynor could not provide a number of how many medical masks were in the federal stockpile or how many have been shipped to state and local governments.
In a sign of demand on medical supplies, a Friday letter from a New York-Presbyterian Hospital department head said each employee would only be given one N95 mask (when it typically uses 4,000 per day).
Big number: 300 million. That’s how many masks could be needed for healthcare workers versus the current stockpile of 30 million, as testified to Congress by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the end of February.
Key background: The Defense Production Act is intended to be used by Trump to obtain “health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of Covid-19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators.” Trump faced questions Thursday around his reticence to use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce healthcare items to combat the coronavirus, one day after he said he’d be invoking its powers. The New York Times reported Thursday that both the U.S. and countries abroad are facing a shortage of ventilators, with manufacturers saying that they can’t increase production to meet the demand.
I’m a New York-based journalist covering breaking news at Forbes. I hold a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previous bylines: Gotham Gazette, Bklyner, Thrillist, Task & Purpose and xoJane.
Topline: U.S. stocks recovered some losses on Thursday and oil prices soared, though the modest gains were not enough to offset the damage done by a weeks-long sell-off.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.8%, or 170 points. The S&P 500 gained 0.3% while the Nasdaq gained 2.3%.
Tech stocks led the way on Thursday, with Amazon up 2.8% and Microsoft up 1.6%.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said he would consider for companies who receive bailouts under his administration’s proposed $1 trillion stimulus plan.
Central banks are also continuing to act in order to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus outbreak: yesterday, the European Central Bank announced an $818 billion bond-buying program and the Federal Reserve said it will act to shore up prime money market funds.
Crucial quote: “Central banks, particularly the Fed, really are playing whack-a-mole with the financial system,” Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein, told CNBC. “Every day, a new area of distress pops up and every day, they’re coming up with a new program or rebooting an old program.” The Federal Reserve is taking extraordinary steps to stabilize the U.S. economy: it has cut interest rates to almost zero, said it’s prepared to inject trillions of dollars into the overnight repo market, slashed bank reserve requirements and agreed to buy short term debt from companies with good credit ratings.
Big number: The price of oil bounced 24% on Thursday, gaining back about half of its losses from Wednesday, when it reached a multi-decade low. According to reporting in the Wall Street Journalciting people familiar with the matter, the Trump administration is considering intervening in the ongoing oil-price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Key background: The Dow dropped 6.3% yesterday, nearly 2,000 points, while the S&P 500 was down 5.2% and the Nasdaq slid 4.7%. It was the eighth consecutive day where the S&P 500 swung more than 4% in either direction—that level of volatility is far worse than the previous record of six days during the Great Depression, according to LPL Financial. Last night, President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill into law. The bill includes free coronavirus testing and paid sick leave, among other measures.The Trump administration is also pushing for a $1 trillion economic stimulus package.
I’m an assistant editor on Forbes’ Money team, covering markets, fintech, and blockchain. I recently completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
(Bloomberg) — The stomach-turning ride on global financial markets took a dramatic turn Monday, with U.S. stocks plunging the most since 1987 after President Donald Trump warned the economic disruption from the virus could last into summer.
The S&P 500 sank 12%, extending losses as Trump said the economy could fall into a recessoin. Equities opened sharply lower after central bank stimulus around the world failed to mollify investors worried about the damage the coronavirus is inflicting on economies.
The negative superlatives for American stocks are piling up. The S&P wiped out its gain in 2019 and is now down almost 30% from its all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 13%, falling 3,000 points to close at at two-year low. The Russell 2000 had its worst day on record, losing more than 14%.
“This is different. The thing that is scarier about it is you’ve never been in a scenario where you shut down the entire economy,” said Steve Chiavarone, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors. “You get a sense in your stomach that we don’t know how to price this and that markets could fall more.”
While the Fed cut rates toward zero and stepped up bond buying, investors continued to clamor for a massive spending package to offset the pain from closures of schools, restaurants, cinemas and sporting events. Companies around the world have scaled back activity to accommodate government demands to limit social interaction.
Here are some of Monday’s key moves across major assets:
All 11 groups in the S&P 500 fell, with eight of them down at least 10%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s tumble from its record reached 30%.
Brent crude dipped below $30 a barrel for the first time since 2016.
Treasury yields retreated across the curve with moves most pronounced on the short end.
Shares tumbled in Asia and Europe, where the continent is now reporting more new virus cases each day than China did at its peak as more countries lock down.
The yen surged, the Swiss franc rallied and the dollar fluctuated.
Gold failed again to capitalize on the rush to havens and reversed an earlier gain to tumble.
Bonds declined across most of Europe, where a measure of market stress hit levels not seen since the 2011-2012 euro crisis.
The Fed and other central banks have dramatically stepped up efforts to stabilize capital markets and liquidity, yet the moves have so far failed to boost sentiment or improve the rapidly deteriorating global economic outlook. An International Monetary Fund pledge to mobilize its $1 trillion lending capacity also had little impact in markets.
The problem is, bad news keeps stacking up. The New York Fed’s regional gauge of factory activity plunged. Ryanair Holdings Plc said Monday it will ground most of its European aircraft while a consultant said the pandemic will bankrupt most airlines worldwide before June unless governments and the industry step in. Nike Inc. and Apple Inc. announced mass store closings.
“In normal circumstances, a large policy response like this would put a floor under risk assets and support a recovery,” Jason Daw, a strategist at Societe Generale SA in Singapore, wrote in a note. “However, the size of the growth shock is becoming exponential and markets are rightfully questioning what else monetary policy can do and discounting its effectiveness in mitigating coronavirus-induced downside risks.”
The yen rebounded from Friday’s plunge after the Fed and five counterparts said they would deploy foreign-exchange swap lines. Australian equities fell almost 10%, the most since 1992, even after the Reserve Bank of Australia said it stood ready to buy bonds for the first time — an announcement that sent yields tumbling. New Zealand’s currency slumped after an emergency rate cut by the country’s central bank.
Meanwhile, China reported Monday that output and retail sales tumbled in the past two months.
These are the main moves in markets:
The S&P 500 fell 11.98% as of 4 p.m. in New York.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 12.93%
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index lost 4.9%, paring a drop that reached 10%.
The MSCI Emerging Market Index declined 6.3%.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index decreased 3.7%.
The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.2%.
The euro gained 0.5% to $1.1162.
The Japanese yen strengthened 1.8% to 105.94 per dollar.
The yield on two-year Treasuries sank 14 basis points to 0.35%.
The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined 22 basis points to 0.73%.
The yield on 30-year Treasuries declined 22 basis points to 1.31%.
Germany’s 10-year yield climbed seven basis points to -0.47%.
West Texas Intermediate crude fell 9.2% to $29.05 a barrel.
Gold weakened 4.3% to $1,463.30 an ounce.
Iron ore sank 2.5% to $86.10 per metric ton.
—With assistance from Claire Ballentine, Elena Popina and Elizabeth Stanton.
The spread of information is fast, so whatever happens makes the stock market crash fast. People are selling in panic as the market might go down more. The fact is nobody knows what will happen. The only thing that works always is being prepared for anything, invest for the long-term and keep rational. Want to know more about my research and portfolios? Here is my independent stock market analysis and research! STOCK MARKET RESEARCH PLATFORM (analysis, stocks to buy, model portfolio) https://sven-carlin-research-platform… Sign up for the FREE Stock Market Investing Course – a comprehensive guide to investing discussing all that matters: https://sven-carlin-research-platform… I am also a book author: Modern Value Investing book: https://amzn.to/2lvfH3t Check my website to hear more about me, read my analyses and about OUR charity. (YouTube ad money is donated) http://www.svencarlin.com Listen to Modern Value Investing Podcast: https://svencarlin.com/podcasts/ I am also learning a lot by interning with my mentors: dr. Per Jenster and Peter Barklin at the Niche Masters fund. http://nichemastersfund.com#stockmarketcrash#market#stocks
On Monday, Italy placed its 60 million residents under lockdown, as the number of cases of the COVID-19 virus throughout the country continues to rise.
In less than a month, Italy has gone from having only three cases of the coronavirus to having the highest number of cases and deaths outside of China, with 463 deaths and at least 9, 172 of people infected throughout all 20 regions of the country. The number of cases rose by 50% on March 8 alone. Italy also faces an above average mortality rate of 4%.
“We all must give something up for the good of Italy,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a televised address on Monday while announcing the nationwide lockdown. “There is no more time.”
The nationwide lockdown is expected to have major economic repercussions on the country, where growth was already stagnating. While the government has not specified exactly how long the ban will last, it says it will remain in place until April 3.
Keep up to date with our daily coronavirus newsletter by clicking here.
Here is how the virus spread across the country — and why it is so much worse in Italy than any other European country:
How did coronavirus start spreading in Italy?
Officially it began in Feb. 20, when a 38-year-old man checked himself into a local hospital in the town of Codogno in Lombardy. He tested positive with the virus, becoming the first recorded patient with the COVID-19 virus in Italy.
Yet some health officials believe that the virus arrived in Italy long before the first case was discovered. “The virus had probably been circulating for quite some time,” Flavia Riccardo, a researcher in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Italian National Institute of Health tells TIME. “This happened right when we were having our peak of influenza and people were presenting with influenza symptoms.”
Before the first case was reported, there was an unusually high number of pneumonia cases recorded at a hospital in Codogno in northern Italy, the head of the emergency ward Stefano Paglia told the newspaper La Repubblica, suggesting it is possible patients with the virus were treated as if they had a seasonal flu. Health facilities hosting these patients could have become sites for infection, helping proliferate the spread of the virus.
The northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, have been most affected by the outbreak. 85% of infected patients are in the region which is home to 92% of deaths so far. But the virus has been confirmed in all 20 regions of the country.
Why does Italy have such a high number of cases and deaths?
Because the virus spread undetected, some officials believe this is the reason for such a high number of cases in the country. “This started unnoticed which means by the time we realized it, there were a lot of transmission chains happening,” Riccardo says, noting that this may be why Italy has seen such a high number of cases.
Some officials also believe Italy, which has already tested over 42, 000 people, may have a higher number of cases as a result of performing more rigorous tests than their European counterparts.
Italy, however, is also reporting an above average mortality rate at 4%. The average age of coronavirus patients who have died because of the virus in Italy is 81, according to the National Health Institute. Italy, which has one the world’s oldest populations, could be facing a higher mortality rate as a result of its above-average elderly population. “Italy is the oldest country in the oldest continent in the world,” says Lorenzo Casani, the health director of a clinic for elderly people in Lombardy told TIME. “We have a lot of people over 65.”
Casani also suggests the mortality rate might be higher than average because Italy is testing only the critical cases. “We are not doing enough,” he said.
Casani says that pollution in northern Italy could be a factor in higher death rates. According to a report by the Swiss air monitoring platform IQAir, 24 of Europe’s 100 most polluted cities are in Italy. “Studies have shown a high correlation between mortality rates from viral respiratory conditions and pollution,” Casani says. “This could be a factor.”
Was the Italian government prepared for the outbreak?
The outbreak in Italy has come as a surprise to some, given the stringent measures Italy imposed to protect itself from the virus. A month before the first case was reported, the Italian Health Ministry created a task force to manage coronavirus. Italy was the first European Union country to ban flights to and from China.
The travel ban, however, may have encouraged travellers to come in on connecting flights without disclosing their country of departure. Some experts also believe the virus could have entered the country before the government took action, spreading undetected throughout the country.
How is the government responding now?
The Italian government has taken the biggest steps outside of China to curb the spread of the disease.
Under the new lockdown legislation, people can be issued fines for traveling within or outside the country without a permit, though foreigners still can travel to Italy. All public events are banned and schools have been cancelled throughout the country. Public spaces, such as gyms, theatres and cinemas, have also been closed by the government. Individuals who defy the lockdown could face up to three months in jail or a fine of $234. The new rules prohibit inmates from having visitors or day releases, which set off protests at 27 prisons throughout the country.
Why Overreacting to the Threat of the Coronavirus May Be Rational
The problem with COVID-19 is that it’s unclear what to do.
Many have applauded Italy’s actions. In a tweet, the Director-General of the World Health Organization commended Italy for its “bold, courageous steps” and for “making genuine sacrifices.”
The government & the people of 🇮🇹 are taking bold, courageous steps aimed at slowing the spread of the #coronavirus & protecting their country & 🌍. They are making genuine sacrifices. @WHO stands in solidarity with 🇮🇹 & is here to continue supporting you.https://t.co/Y2rkgUihtA
Some infectious disease and public health experts, however, have concerns about the effectiveness of the lockdown.
“These measures will probably have a short-term impact,” John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told Reuters, noting that the measures were “almost certainly unsustainable.” He added, “if they can’t be sustained for the long term, all they are likely to do is delay the epidemic for a while.”
How is the Italian healthcare system handling it?
Italy’s current national health service, known as Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), provides free universal care to patients yet remains under-funded. Investments in public healthcare make up only 6.8% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is lower than other countries in the European Union including France and Germany.
“The continuous cuts—to care and to research—are obviously a problem right now,” Casani says. “We were not prepared. We do not have enough doctors for the people. We do not have an organized plan for pandemics.”
With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise, the Italian health ministry has doubled the number of hospital beds in infectious disease wards. The Governor of Lombardy Attilio Fontana has requested that universities grant degrees earlier this school year in order to increase the number of nurses in Italy. Yet some health officials fear these efforts will not be enough.
“Right now in Lombardy, we do not have free beds in intensive care units,” Casani says. He added that doctors “have to make this horrible choice and decide who is going to survive and who is not going to survive…who is going to get a monitor, a respirator and the attention they need.”
What impact will the lockdown have on the Italian economy?
The lockdown could push Italy into a recession. Berenberg bank, which before the outbreak estimated that Italy’s GDP would contract by 0.3%, now forecasts it will fall by 1.2% this year.
Conte said on March 9 that the government would deploy a “massive shock therapy” in order to protect the economy. Italy’s Deputy Economy Minister, Laura Castelli said in an interview with Rai Radio 1 today that “mortgages, taxes, everything is suspended” as a result of the lockdown. The government has also created a support package of $8.5 billion for families and businesses affected by virus.
Italy’s Deputy Economy Minister, Laura Castelli @LaCastelliM5s from the Five Star Movement saying decree tomorrow will suspend mortgages and taxes:
“ Mortgages suspended? Mortgages, taxes, everything is suspended.
But we need to look at the situation of the municipalities” https://t.co/fR6vwMl9T0
Some experts are concerned about the long-term implications of this spending.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Italy was already struggling with a public debt that is at 134% of the country’s GDP. In the Europe Union, countries are not supposed to have debt that is higher than 60% of their country’s GDP. “With the increased spending that comes with having to support people and businesses, the deficit might explode,” says Pepijn Bergsen, a Europe Research Fellow at Chatham House.
An economic slowdown in Italy, a country in the Eurozone, will have impacts on the rest of the continent.
“It is likely there will be a Eurozone wide recession this year,” Bergsen says, citing both an Italian recession and potential future lockdowns in other European Union countries as contributing factors. “It will be difficult for authorities to come up with any measures that would avoid a recession.”
On Wednesday night, Trump finally took the coronavirus COVID-19 seriously. He banned all travel to EU countries for 30 days.
The disease may seem benign to some. Around 95% or more of the people who get it will survive and symptoms are generally mild and far from scary. But what is scary is how fast it spreads. And there are too many unknowns about the disease to find comfort in the fact that less than 1,000 people have it.
China went from 1,000 patients to 80,000 in a matter of roughly six weeks, mostly all of it in a self contained, quarantined state called Hubei.
Italy went from around 20 cases two and half weeks ago to over 12,000. It is now the Hubei of the Western world.
Travel bans on China helped mitigate spread from travelers coming to the U.S. from there. All early cases last month were from China travelers. They have since healed.
The U.S. was caught flat footed by Europe, cruises, and European business travelers at major conferences. The U.S. is now playing catch-up in the mitigation phase.
Trump reiterated what the World Health Organization said this week, calling the coronavirus a global pandemic.
We are probably one sick politician, or one more circuit-breaker on the Dow away from declaring a national emergency, forcing the NYSE to close.
“When people don’t want to go out to crowded events you start to wonder if fear begets more fear. We are seeing a lot of that now,” says Patrick Healey, founder and president of Caliber Financial Partners in Jersey City, N.J. “Until you see fewer cases in Europe, I’d be worried. The threat of spread is greater there than it was in China,” he says, citing France, Spain, Germany and the U.K.’s slow response to the crisis.
Cutting The Tail
Italy was about two weeks too late, but at least they are doing something to save Europe. They shut themselves off. This is literally a “stop the world I want to get off” moment. Italy took the China approach. They put themselves on lockdown.
The U.S. has two fairly solid case studies with how to respond to COVID-19. One is the China path of lockdowns and forced quarantining, coupled with massive stimulus.
The other model is South Korea’s massive free testing and treatment, which also corralled the disease and kept infection rates low. Mortality rates are even lower at just under 1%.
A hybrid model of both seems to be best: lockdown clusters of the virus. Test like crazy.
China is healing. It’s already got its stimulus plan lined up.
“The China approach has worked. It’s been a draconian clampdown and takes away quarterly growth,” says Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, chief economist for Boston Consulting Group in New York. “The high frequency data in China, the proxies for movement for goods and people, all of those see a nice pick up. And the infection rate curve of new cases in South Korea has bent downward. Just hope we don’t see any worsening outbreaks.”
By slowing the spread of the virus, which includes potential spreaders who came from high risk countries like Italy, China, South Korea and Iran, buys healthcare officials time. It keeps hospitals from being overwhelmed, which is what is happening now in Italy as cases rise, Italy still seems to be fine with ICU bed capacity at hospitals.
A nearly three month lockdown of Hubei, the epicenter province, means Hubei now officially has fewer infections than Italy. The number of new patients in China’s “ground zero” has slowed to double digits, instead of thousands three to four weeks ago.
Eventually, South Korea may also be forced to implement a version of the lockdown model to stop the spread of infection after someone working in a call center tested positive for the disease.
Without any firm facts on transmission, the risk of spreading the disease without showing signs of it are high.
As a result, China has maintained strict control of peoples movements in major cities. The South Korea testing model is harder for China due to its massive, urban population, which is why it is so important to keep those cities fairly inoculated.
From on the ground accounts in Beijing, that inoculation requires school closures, no movies, no malls, no non-essential businesses open and most bank branches closed.
Businesses close at 6pm to get sprayed with disinfectant. Street fumigation takes place regularly. Building sterilization takes place several times a day.
Italy is doing exactly this now. Spraying public spaces, primarily.
In China, face masks must always be worn or else you can’t ride in taxis, take public transportation, or enter any business. Temperature readings are mandatory upon entering an office building. People with slight temps get sent straight to quarantine, according to sources there.
Entire neighborhoods are blocked off to non-residents, with security personnel patrolling to check for proof of residence.
Apartments housing someone with the coronavirus are forced into quarantine. No one can leave.
Beijing has under 200 cases today. Shanghai has under 30, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
“We just can’t impose a China style quarantine, but corporations can impose a work from home policy. You can cut off work travel and that is already happening,” says Brendan Ahern, CIO of KraneShares, who is working from home on Thursday. “Corporations here are acting pretty quickly.”
NBA has canceled its entire season. The NHL put the rest of its season on hold. Major League Baseball is thinking of postponing opening day. The BNP Paribas Tennis Open was canceled, scheduled for this week in Indian Wells. Coachella, the outdoor indie rock event, was postponed. Broadway has postponed shows for a month. Private colleges are sending kids home for the semester. Princess Cruises isn’t setting a course for adventure for the next 60 days.
If the U.S. is dragged reluctantly into a South Korea/China lockdown model, it would usher in a further drop in economic activity. Mega stimulus will be only thing keeping it alive.
It is unclear if Republicans and Democrats can work together on this, as some may see a destroyed economy as a way to finally get rid of Trump in 2021.
“You’ll have the market constantly repricing and mispring,” says Nancy Perez, a portfolio manager at wealth management firm Boston Private in Miami. “Both political parties will have to take this on. No party wants to be blamed for not doing something.”
To offset the drag, fiscal stimulus is necessary to make sure companies can meet payroll and rollover debts, preferably at no interest directly from the Fed.
Disaster relief legislation from Congress can draw on the unlimited checkbook of the Fed to help keep individual, corporate, and even municipal bankruptcies from soaring.
“I’m looking at dozens of companies in the S&P 500 right now that can literally go bankrupt if the government doesn’t act together on this,” CNBC star Jim Cramer said on Squawk Box this morning. “The government should not be collecting any cash right now.”
Quarantining a city like New York would represent a significant tax on all business activity. Administration talk of a payroll tax cut is not enough. Bold tax cuts and deferments would be best. For Cramer, a tax holiday for six months or longer is even better.
In the first 8 days of the month, China has:
Required banks to provide a grace period for the virus-hit small and medium sized enterprises (SME) immediately upon application in repaying the principal and interest of their outstanding loans until June 30.
Waived penalty interest
Banks are providing special loan quotas for firms in Hubei, and lowering the financing costs for SMEs.
The Politburo called for accelerating the investment on “new infrastructure”, including 5G networks and data centers
Beijing waived social security taxes for SMEs for five months retroactive to February 1.
Phases Of A Pandemic
According to the Center for Disease Control’s “Pandemic Influenza Plan,” updated in 2017, there are four distinct pandemic stages in terms of caseloads — initiation, acceleration, deceleration and preparation for the next wave.
Europe and the U.S. are now in the acceleration stage.
Hubei is in the deceleration phase, but this comes following two months of lockdown.
Self-protective quarantine, lockdowns of outbreak clusters and testing are the best precautionary approach to pandemic outbreaks, writes Nassim Nicholas Taleb, famous “black swan” forecaster and author of the book Skin in the Game.
Taleb and colleagues from New York University and the New England Complex Systems Institute wrote in a note published recently that cutting mobility in the early stages of an outbreak, especially when little is known about the pathogen, are essential.
“It will cost something to reduce mobility in the short term, but to fail do so will eventually cost everything,” they wrote.
Earlier this week, a shutdown announcement posted outside a hospital in Hubei province’s capital city of Wuhan, touted the treatment of more than 1,700 patients since February 2 without a single fatality.
“If a general return to work occurs this week and new infections do not spike, Chinese markets could quickly be on the mend,” thinks Vladimir Signorelli, head of Bretton Woods Research in Long Valley, New Jersey.
Indeed, they are doing better than the U.S. The S&P 500 is down 23.2%. The CSI-300 Index in Shanghai is down 8.3%.
Should new cases balloon out in Shanghai and Beijing, it would be a huge blow to containment efforts and worsen the global economic outlook. Investors would then calculate similar re-occurring outbreaks in Europe and then in the U.S. once they get cleared of the one they are dealing with now, possibly taking them well into the summer.
“We may have a couple quarters of negative growth and a technical recession because of demand destruction,” says Perez. “Prepare for the volatility.”
Says BCG’s Carlsson-Szlezak, “If we are still dealing with this until the summer, with China-style quarantine measures in effect in places like New York, it will have a massive impact on the economy,” he says. “How massive? We don’t know.”
I’ve spent 20 years as a reporter for the best in the business, including as a Brazil-based staffer for WSJ. Since 2011, I focus on business and investing in the big emerging markets exclusively for Forbes. My work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Nation, Salon and USA Today. Occasional BBC guest. Former holder of the FINRA Series 7 and 66. Doesn’t follow the herd.
The Dow fell more than 12% in total last week. Peter Kraus, chairman and CEO of Aperture Investors, and Liz Young, director of market strategy at BNY Mellon Investment Management, join “Squawk Box” to discuss the week ahead in the markets as investors brace for more turbulence.
Topline: As the coronavirus pandemic wipes out markets, closes schools and colleges, suspends major conferences, sports leagues and cultural events as well as upends the travel industry, businesses losing out on cash flow have started laying off workers.
Here’s who’s axed staff so far:
Norwegian Air said Thursday that it would temporarily lay off up to 50% of its workforce (and suspend 4,000 flights) due to the pandemic.
50 employees of music and culture festival South By Southwest were let go after this year’s event was canceled, the Washington Post reported.
The Port of Los Angeles let go of 145 drivers after ships from China stopped arriving.
Christie Lights, an Orlando, Florida, based stage lighting company, laid off 100 employees.
HMSHost, a Seattle, Washington, global restaurant-services provider said it would lay off 200 people and an area corporate shuttle service would lay off 75, HuffPost reported, while an area hotel chain eliminated an entire department, according to the Post.
Travel agencies in Los Angeles, California, along with Atlanta, Georgia, had to let employees go as the pandemic battered their industry.
Aid workers in Las Vegas are reportedly seeing a surge in requests for food assistance and other help as events and trade shows get canceled.
What to watch for: If any U.S. airlines end up laying off workers. Delta Airlines said Tuesday it was cutting flights and freezing hiring. American Airlines is also cutting flights, and delaying trainings for new flight attendants and pilots. Reuters reported Thursday that jobless claims are down for the week, but coronavirus-related layoffs are likely on the horizon.
Big number: 2,352 points. That’s how far the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted Thursday, which is a 10% drop. The S&P 500 fell 9.5%, while the Nasdaq Composite sank 9.4%.
Key background: There are now more than 1,300 reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. and at least 38 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide cases now amount to almost 128,000 infected and more than 4,700 dead. Meanwhile, Congress is in conflicted talks over a coronavirus relief bill that may not pass this week, while New York and other state governments begin to implement bans on large gatherings to stem the spread of disease. Cancelations of concerts, sports leagues, festivals, religious gatherings and other large events have impacted millions of people. At least 135 colleges have so far canceled in-person classes. On Wednesday night, President Trump announced a 30 day travel ban from Europe (excluding the U.K. and Ireland) that sent airlines and travelers scrambling to adjust.
I’m a New York-based journalist covering breaking news at Forbes. I hold a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previous bylines: Gotham Gazette, Bklyner, Thrillist, Task & Purpose and xoJane.
Kevin Connolly says his father-in-law credits the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington with “giving him his life back.” It’s where he recovered from hospice care, flirted with nurses and enjoyed eating chicken pot pie. But now, it’s where Connolly worries the 81-year-old will die because of what he says has been a bungled response to the coronavirus outbreak that has devastated the nursing home facility, which is linked to at least 13 of the 19 coronavirus deaths that had been reported in the U.S. as of Sunday morning.
“I can no longer sit around and wait for a phone call to tell me my loved one has died. Our loved ones that live here are already amongst the most vulnerable in the community, and they are being left to be picked off one by one by this disease,” Connolly said Thursday at a press conference held by relatives of Life Care Center residents.
“We have limited resources to battle this disease, and I think somebody somewhere decided that this population of people wasn’t worth wasting resources on. That’s how it feels.”
The arrival of the coronavirus in the United States has intersected with the persistent problems associated with caring for the elderly, one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, especially as long-term care is often understaffed and underfunded.
The Time for Containing Coronavirus Is Over. Here’s How The Government And Scientists Are Delivering The News.
There comes a point in the unfolding of every epidemic when public-health officials acknowledge that despite their best efforts, an invisible microbial foe has managed to outwit them. That time has come.
As health experts urge nursing homes to plan ahead and take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus in their communities, some are cancelling bingo games and family dinners, encouraging relatives to take advantage of the ability to “visit” via Skype, and stocking up on the supplies they would need to combat an outbreak in their facilities.
“The data from China and from Italy seems to suggest that this virus disproportionately affects older adults. We’re looking at mortality rates for people over the age of 80 close to 15%,” says Dr. David Dosa, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University and a geriatrician who has researched nursing home infections, referencing a study of the outbreak in China published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. (While hard to assess, the overall coronavirus fatality rate is far lower — 3.4%, according to the World Health Organization on March 3.)
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About 1.3 million Americans live in nursing homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more than half are over the age of 75.
“They do need to take it very seriously,” Dosa says. “I think that the Washington case is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.”
He said the virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, can spread quickly in nursing home settings, where people with existing medical conditions and compromised immune systems live in close proximity and depend on help for daily activities, including bathing, dressing and eating. On Friday, another nursing home and a senior living complex in Seattle each reported a case of coronavirus among their residents, the New York Times reported.
Brenda Chrystie says she was reassured by an email she received Monday from her father’s memory care facility in King County, the same county where the Life Care Center of Kirkland is located. Leaders at Aegis Living said they are disinfecting “high touch surfaces” daily, preparing a containment plan in case residents or staff members become infected, stocking up on both CDC-approved cleaning agents for the virus and enough food to feed staff and residents “for an extended period of time” if necessary, and canceling events for large groups. The facility has also asked anyone who traveled outside of the U.S. in the past 30 days to postpone their visit.
Su Wilson hands flowers to a staff member (in red uniform) to give to her mother, Chun Liu, who is a patient at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, on March 6, 2020.
Karen Ducey—Getty Images
“For all of us who care for the elderly, the coronavirus is presenting an unprecedented challenge,” Kris Engskov, Aegis Living president, said in a statement on Thursday. “Over the last few days, we’ve put extraordinary protocols in place in all of our communities to ensure we were doing everything possible to protect our residents and staff from infection.”
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“They’re having to ratchet it up and take it to another level and just hoping that all of us, the loved ones, don’t freak out and panic too much,” Chrystie says. “But who knows? Who knows how this is going to spread?”
She says she’s trying to protect her 80-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s, from any of that panic because stress can be harmful to his health. “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know about the coronavirus,” she says. “And I’ll keep it that way.”
Bethany Retirement Living in Fargo, North Dakota has cancelled group activities, including bingo, music and group exercise as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of germs.
“A lot of times, bingo is passing around cards. Group exercise might be throwing around the same ball,” says Shawn Stuhaug, president and CEO of Bethany Retirement Living. “We’re just trying to be precautionary until we know more.”
The organization has started directing visitors through certain entrances to guarantee they pass a hand sanitizing station, and asking people not to visit if they have a fever or cough, have been on a cruise or have traveled to a country affected by the outbreak. The facility allows family members to Skype or FaceTime their loved ones if they can’t come in person.
Sandy Sidler, a 67-year-old retired teacher, visits her 91-year-old mother, who has been recovering from the flu, almost every day at Bethany, sitting beside her until she wakes up from her afternoon nap and keeping her company during supper. Sidler says she’s not worried about the spread of coronavirus yet, but she always uses hand sanitizer before entering her mother’s room.
Because there have not yet been any cases of coronavirus identified in North Dakota, Stuhaug says his biggest priority right now is preventing the spread of the seasonal flu, which is more likely to be deadly in an elderly population. “It’s just as important to pay attention to the flu,” he says. “Every year, I wish everybody would get this excited about the flu.”
In Rhode Island — where officials have identified three “presumptive positive” cases of COVID-19 — former state senator Gloria Kennedy Fleck says she has been asking her 90-year-old mother’s nursing home, the West Shore Health Center in Warwick, R.I., for its contingency plan in case the virus spreads there. She has wondered if residents would be temporarily moved or separated if they test positive for the virus, but she hasn’t received a clear answer.
“The biggest concern is that no preparations are being made, and if and when it happens, then what? They’re just going to let them sit there in the petri dish?” she says. “I’m not trying to be an alarmist. We have to take precautions. There has to be a plan.”
On Thursday, she spoke with an administrator who told her plans are underway. Representatives from the West Shore Health Center directed inquiries from TIME to Scott Fraser, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, who said the nursing home was screening visitors, had put up signs asking them not to enter if they’re ill and would be following its existing contingency plans for seasonal flu and norovirus outbreaks, but he could not elaborate on what those plans entail.
“We’re following state guidelines and CDC guidelines, and we’re following them very closely because obviously the residents in all our homes are some of the most vulnerable,” he said.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released guidelines last week aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, asking facilities to screen visitors for symptoms such as a cough, fever and sore throat and for international travel to restricted countries within 14 days. Any health care workers who develop symptoms on the job should stop work, put on a face mask and self-quarantine at home, the guidelines say.
Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, says he’s advising families to ask more questions of the facilities housing their elderly relatives. “We’re telling people, ‘Look to see, is your nursing home implementing better practices, doing more cleaning, ensuring that everyone is on board with hand washing,’” he says. “I would ask the administrator, ‘Are you prepared for what is going to come?’”
Fleck — who brings her mother lemon-filled donuts and Hershey’s kisses each time she visits — says she worries about exactly that. Last month, healthcare workers protested at the Rhode Island state house over under-staffed nursing homes in the state, and Fleck worries staffing levels will worsen because of COVID-19.
In Washington state, the leader of the union representing home care and nursing home workers says that’s already happening. Sterling Harders, president of the SEIU 775, says the outbreak is “making the chronic understaffing in nursing homes even worse,” as more workers call in sick.
Sherylon Hughes — a direct caregiver at the North Cascades Health and Rehabilitation Center in Bellingham, Washington — says at the start of their shift, workers are now required to report to the nurse on duty to have their temperature checked and fill out a short questionnaire about whether they’ve come in contact with anyone who is potentially infected.
“Everyone is just really concerned,” Hughes says. “There’s a lot of frustration among some of the workers. We feel like the people who are in charge haven’t really come up with a plan for what we are supposed to do.”
She and her coworkers have wondered what would happen if someone at her nursing home tests positive for the coronavirus. Will the facility shut down? Will all the workers be tested? Will they have to pay for it themselves?
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington address a news conference on the coronavirus in his state as Vice President Mike Pence looks on, in Tacoma on March 5, 2020.
Chona Kasinger—Bloomberg/Getty Images
“I’m very concerned about the health care workers, the people who are on the front lines,” says Hughes, who makes about $17 an hour. “The potential loss of livelihood is devastating, especially for caregivers. We do not make very much money at all, and none of us can afford to miss work for any extended period of time, and very few of us have healthcare that’s affordable.”
At a press conference on Friday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state would cover the cost of the test for anyone who does not have insurance. As officials work to contain the spread of the virus, he said the state would dedicate assistance specifically to long-term care facilities. “We know that the first potential victims of this virus are elderly and those who are medically compromised,” he said. “We are standing up a separate incident command post in the structure to specifically give assistance to long-term care facilities, both to help them prevent infection from entering the facilities and to help them deal with it in the event that that happens.”
But questions linger for many of the Life Care Center relatives, who on Thursday expressed their frustration with a lack of communication, demanding clear guidance on when their relatives would be tested for the virus and asking to speak with CDC health officials and to relocate healthy residents to a different facility.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said Friday that the Life Care Center has not been shut down or evacuated because the more than 60 residents remaining there require 24-hour medical care, and there were no hospitals or nursing homes with the capacity to take them in. “This is, for many of the residents, the best place that they can be — those who are asymptomatic but have these health conditions that have to be attended to in a 24-hour care facility,” he said.
Connolly’s father-in-law is one of those residents, but he is still seeking more answers. Constantine said all Life Care Center residents and staff members will be tested for COVID-19 now that there is increased testing capacity at the University of Washington.
On Saturday, Connolly said his father-in-law, who has not been showing symptoms for coronavirus, had not yet been tested.
“Still no one has reached out to us,” Connolly said in a text to TIME. “Still we are in the dark.”
Markets in Asia and the Middle East opened sharply lower on Monday as investors digested the relentless global spread of the coronavirus and turmoil in the oil markets. Shares in Saudi Aramco, the state oil giant, dropped 10 percent leading to a halt in trading on the Riyadh stock market.
Asian markets opened sharply lower on Monday as investors digested the relentless global spread of the coronavirus and turmoil in the oil markets.Tokyo was down 4.7 percent at midmorning on Monday, while Hong Kong was down 4.1 percent. Futures markets showed investors predicting sharp drops in Wall Street and Europe as well.
The coronavirus has unnerved investors as it spreads, clouding the prospects for global growth. Italy on Sunday put a broad swath of its industrial northern region under lockdown as the virus has spread, making it one of the biggest sources of confirmed infections outside China. France, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries also took further steps to stop the spread.
In the United States, the number of confirmed infections exceeded 500 cases. A top American expert said on Sunday that regional lockdowns could be necessary.A clash over oil between Russia and Saudi Arabia, two major producers, further unnerved investors. As the coronavirus hits demand for fuel, Saudi Arabia slashed its export oil prices over the weekend, starting an apparent price war aimed at Russia.
Lower oil prices could help consumers, but it could unsettle countries that depend on oil revenue to prop up their economies. In futures markets, the benchmark price for American and Europe oil supplies tumbled $10, or about one-quarter.Investors fled to the safety of the bond market, driving yields lower. In the market for U.S. Treasury bonds, yields broadly fell below the 1 percent level for both short term and long term holdings. The 10-year Treasury bond, which is closely watched, was yielding about 0.5 percent.
In other Asian markets, South Korea was down 3.6 percent. Shanghai was down 1.5 percent.
Italy reported a huge jump in deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday, a surge of more than 50 percent from the day before, as it ordered an unprecedented peacetime lockdown of its wealthiest region in a sweeping effort to fight the epidemic. The extraordinary measure restricted movement for a quarter of the country’s population.“We are facing an emergency, a national emergency,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in announcing the government decree in a news conference after 2 a.m.
The move is tantamount to sacrificing the Italian economy in the short term to save it from the ravages of the virus in the long term. The measures will turn stretches of Italy’s wealthy north — including the economic and cultural capital of Milan and landmark tourist destinations such as Venice — into quarantined red zones until at least April 3.
They will prevent the free movement of roughly 16 million people. Funerals and cultural events are banned. The decree requires that people keep a distance of at least one meter from one another at sporting events, bars, churches and supermarkets. The Italian outbreak — the worst outside Asia — has inflicted serious damage on one of Europe’s most fragile economies and prompted the closing of Italy’s schools. The country’s cases nearly tripled from about 2,500 infections on Wednesday to more than 7,375 on Sunday. Deaths rose to 366.
More and more countries have adopted or are considering stronger measures to try to keep infected people from entering and to contain outbreaks. More and more countries have adopted or are considering stronger measures to try to keep infected people from entering and to contain outbreaks.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia cut off access to Shiite Muslim towns and villages in the east of the kingdom, cordoning off an area in Qatif Governorate where all 11 of the country’s confirmed coronavirus cases have been identified. And local Saudi media reported that the country would temporarily close down all educational institutions and block travel to and from a number of countries in the region. The kingdom had already suspended pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
In Iran, which has been hit the hardest in the Middle East, state media reported that all flights to Europe would be suspended indefinitely. The health minister in France, one of Europe’s bigger trouble spots, announced a ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. The U.S. has counted at least 539 cases across 34 states — Connecticut reported its first case and Washington announced another patient being treated for coronavirus had died on Sunday — and the District of Columbia, and logged 22 deaths. Washington State, New York, California, Maryland and Oregon have declared emergencies.
A growing number of schools are shutting down across the country, raising concerns about the closings will affect learning, burden families and upend communities. The U.S. Army suspended travel to and from Italy and South Korea, now the world’s third largest hot spot, until May 6, an order that affects 4,500 soldiers and family members. And the Finnish armed forces announced that troop exercises planned for March 9-19 with Norway would be scrapped.
On Sunday, the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, said that it was possible that regional lockdowns could become necessary and recommended that those at greatest risk — the elderly and those with underlying health conditions — abstain from travel. Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the Trump administration was prepared to “take whatever action is appropriate” to contain the outbreak, including travel restrictions in areas with a high number of cases.
“I don’t think it would be as draconian as ‘nobody in and nobody out,’” Dr. Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But there’ll be, if we continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what we call mitigation.”
Even as the rate of new infections appeared to taper in China, the number of cases around the world continued to rise on Sunday, with some of the biggest clusters emerging in Europe. Besides the sharp rise in Italy, Germany reported more than 930 cases; Switzerland’s total reached 281; and Britain’s health department said that three people with the virus had died and that the number of cases in the country had jumped to 273 by Sunday. The smallest E.U. nation, Malta, reported its first confirmed case on Saturday: a 12-year-old girl recently returned from a vacation in northern Italy. Her condition was described as good.
The Spanish authorities announced on Sunday that three more people diagnosed with coronavirus had died in Madrid, raising the number of coronavirus fatalities in the country to 13. There are now over 500 cases, the authorities said. Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister, said at a news conference in Madrid that several cases in Spain were linked to people who recently traveled to Italy.
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Have things gotten plane confusing for you? With the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak occurring, are you having trouble deciding whether to cancel or postpone your air travel plans?
It seems like a fair number of people are trying to make such decisions right now. Social media certainly has had its share of “should I stay or should I go” clashes of opinions and discussions. For example, @scottbudman tweeted out these recommendations:
And someone here is worried about more than hot farts:
Then there was this question to Florian Krammer, PhD, a Professor at the Department of Microbiology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai:
On the flip side, if you don’t like lines and crowds at the airport, this may seem like a great time to fly, with an emphasis on the word seem. According to Rick Clough reporting for Bloomberg, commercial air traffic is on track to drop by 8.9% this year, which would be the biggest decline since 1978 and in fact only the fourth year that air travel has fell in that time frame. Declines also have occurred in 1991, 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and 2009 amidst the recession and the H1N1 flu pandemic. Cecile Daurat and Justin Bachman have written for Bloomberg that the airline industry stands to lose up to $113 billion in sales and that some airlines are already cutting back on available flights. Who knows? Maybe you can even find a seat on the plane that has a free seat next to it, so that you can actually do things like see your feet while sitting.
So what should you do? Well, as you’ll see in a bit, there are clearer-cut situations in which air travel is not advisable and canceling or postponing makes sense. However, for some other situations, the answer is a bit more complicated and evolving. The SARS-CoV2 outbreak and accompanying travel recommendations are evolving and serious situations. The SARS-CoV2 seems to be significantly more contagious and more virulent than the flu virus. But it is not yet clear exactly how much more. Its reported case fatality rate has been in the 1.5% to 3.8% range, nowhere near that of the original SARS virus. But things continue to change as more info emerges. There is still much to learn about SARS-CoV2 and its spread. So caution but not panic is worthwhile. Moreover, you’ve got to weigh different factors, risks, and benefits.
If your destination has some major travel warnings or restrictions, then the answer may be easy. For example, China and Iran fall into the category of “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission and restrictions on entry to the United States.” That means that you shouldn’t consider traveling to these countries unless you absolutely have to do so. South Korea and Italy are listed as having “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission,” which also means that postponing travel to these countries is a good idea. There’s a warning about Japan as well, if you are an older adult or someone with a chronic medical condition.
As things are changing fairly rapidly, check this website often. Bookmark the site. Treat it like you would Cristiano Ronaldo’s Instagram feed. Follow it. Learn it. Absorb it.
A second thing to do is double-check whether the meeting, the gathering, or whatever you’re going to may be canceled. Recently meetings have been like primary candidates in a political race: “it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, no problems, oh, time to shut things down.” Last minute cancellations have been occurring, so you don’t want to be stuck with a ticket and no place to go, just like what may be going on, or perhaps not going on, here:
So what do you do if your destination doesn’t have a major warning and your event still seems on track? Air travel certainly isn’t the same as staying in your apartment or house surrounded by mounds and mounds of toilet paper rolls. The only way to completely avoid the possibility of infection is to completely avoid contact with people or any of the objects or surfaces that they touch. This is may not be practical. Life is never risk-free. So there will be risks with any activity, especially ones that involve larger numbers of people.
But let’s be clear what the real risks may be. For example, how much of a risk is the recycled air in airplanes? Well, the air does go through HEPA filters. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air [filter]” and is supposed to filter out at least 99.97% of microbes, dust, pollen, mold, and any airborne particles that are 0.3 microns (µm) in size. The filter may even be more efficient at filtering particles that are smaller or larger than 0.3 µm, such as French fries.
Assuming that the HEPA filter is working properly then you may not have to worry so much about the air nozzle overhead that’s creating a mini-tornado on your face. Plus, SARS-CoV2 can only travel so far in the air. It’s not as if they have little wings. Viruses don’t drink Red Bull. Instead, they hitch rides on respiratory droplets that come out of an infected person through coughing, sneezing, spitting, or the like. These droplets can travel up to three to six feet from the person.
What may be of greater concern is the close proximity between passengers on the plane. Over the past decade or so, passengers haven’t exactly been declaring, “wow, what do I do with all this legroom? There’s just too much legroom here in economy seating.” In fact, Stephanie Robertson has written for the New York Times about “Fighting the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat” and how airplane seat sizes have been shrinking since since the U.S. airline industry underwent deregulation in the 1970’s. Maintaining a three to six foot distance from other passengers may be tough even if you were to have excessive and obvious heated flatulence. So yes, if the person next to you is infectious, you could get exposed.
Then there are the various surfaces on the plane. You are probably more likely to catch respiratory viruses like coronaviruses and flu viruses through touching things that have been contaminated with the virus. That includes body parts like hands or surfaces like seat belt buckles and Baby Yoda figurines that have been touched by someone infectious. Quite a few of the surfaces in an airplane cabin would be considered “high touch,” meaning that different people touch them frequently. These include tray tables, seats, seat belts, video monitors, and that crypt-like pocket in the back of the seat in front of you. People shove who knows what in those pockets, including magazines, wrapping papers, used tissues, and maybe even a doughnut.
That’s why limiting what you touch, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, and not touching your face with unwashed hands will be more important than holding your breath for the entire duration of the six hour or so flight. (By the way, you can only hold your breath for a few minutes before you pass out, so don’t even try it.) Of course, not touching your face is easier said than done, as I described previously for Forbes. Your face can feel like a gigantic planet with a massive gravitational pull on your fingers. Therefore, try keeping your hands occupied like putting them in your pockets, typing on a computer, or flashing gang signs to yourself.
Hand sanitizer can help but make sure you use it properly. Use enough sanitizer to cover all parts of your hands. Then massage your hands together as if they were the main characters in a romance novel. Keep up the rubbing until they become dry. Recite the alphabet while doing this so that you know that you’ve gone long enough, because isn’t that what lovers in a romance novel do?
Washing your hands with soap and water, if done properly, is always better than just using hand sanitizer. However, airplane bathrooms may be areas of really high touch, in more ways than one. A lot can go on in a bathroom and a decent percentage of it is not good, from a microbe standpoint, that is. The words “airplane bathroom” and “luxurious” usually don’t go together. While in a cramped airplane bathroom, it can be difficult to limit your touching, especially when turbulence makes it feel like you are an ingredient in a smoothie being made.
Therefore, definitely wash your hands thoroughly at the end of an adventure in an airplane bathroom. This may not be the easiest thing with the design of the bathroom sink. Many such bathrooms don’t have automatic sensor-driven faucets. Instead you’ve got to continuously hold down those little faucet handles, and keep pushing that lever that allows the sink to drain. After drying your hands with a paper towel, try not to touch other used items when throwing the towel away in the garbage. This can be tough when the garbage container lid slams back shut like gator’s mouth. When you are leaving the bathroom, use a paper towel to handle the door knob so that you don’t just re-contaminate your hands.
Pay attention to how everything in the cabin is maintained and cleaned. As a customer, consider it a right to know what safety and disinfection procedures are in place during and between flights. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the new coronavirus may be able to survive on surfaces for “a few hours or up to several days.” That means what happened in the cabin during the flights before yours may stay in the cabin. Therefore, before a flight, consider inquiring about the specifics of an airline’s cleaning policies. After all, scrimping and saving on such things may be one way some airlines try to cut costs, unless customers shine more of a light on such practices.
Another question that is coming up is whether flights will be canceled or grounded due to the outbreak, leaving you stranded. That will depend on where you are flying, how the outbreak proceeds, and what the governments and the airlines plan on doing. It is difficult to predict what may happen. Therefore, follow closely official CDC announcements and the news, the real news that is and not what Uncle Joey or Aunt Marmy are saying on Facebook.
Stick with airlines that have more flexible cancellation and change policies. Beware of the airlines that say, “oh, you can change your flight but it will require this massive fee and a body part.” If you have already booked a flight and the airline has instituted a new more flexible change policy, see if you can benefit from that policy too. For example:
Consider purchasing travel insurance or a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy to cover you in case plans have to change. As always, read the fine print of such policies, which may not always be so fine.
Also, look into alternatives to air travel. Even if you do end up taking a flight, it is helpful to know how you may get back if your return flight ends up getting canceled. Make sure that the options are viable. After all, find a bicycle and pedal like mad may not work if you are going from San Francisco to New York City.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to make blanket recommendations about air travel. (Oh, by the way, make sure that airline blankets are properly cleaned before using them.) In general, this doesn’t seem to be the best time to schedule optional travel. There’s still a fair amount of uncertainty. So if you can easily cancel your air travel, then you may want to do so.
If your travel isn’t completely optional, try to identify alternatives such as video-conferencing or sending a gigantic cake. Cutting down air travel not only may decrease your risk of getting sick but also reduce the risk of you carrying the virus to others who may be of even greater risk for bad health outcomes if they have other diseases or are older. It ain’t a bad thing for the environment either.
If you are over 65 years of age or have a chronic medical condition like lung disease, have a very low threshold for canceling your air travel. You may be at risk for worse health outcomes if you get infected. Check with your doctor before considering such travel. If you are a little kid, enjoy smearing things on your face, and don’t quite understand boundaries yet, you may not want to travel either because you won’t be able to maintain the necessary aforementioned infection control precautions. Besides if you are a kid, you are probably less likely to have essential work travel.
If canceling or postponing your air travel is difficult to do and you do end up having to travel by air, no need to be paranoid. “Be paranoid” is rarely the recommendation for any situation. Just take the precautions mentioned above, which are probably precautions that you should always take when traveling by plane regardless of whether a novel virus is circulating.
So, again, right now, you should avoid the locations that the CDC website warns you to avoid and consider canceling or postponing all non-essential air travel if it is reasonably feasible to do so. You also may want to avoid air travel if you are in a higher risk group such those over 65 years of age or with a chronic medical condition.
Of course, lots of air travel doesn’t quite fall into these categories, which makes decision making more difficult. As with all difficult decisions, your decision on whether to cancel your flight plans is personal, depending on your risk tolerance and needs. Yes, being confined close together with others in a cabin for several hours does have its risks. Yes, you are depending on others to keep surfaces clean and disinfected. Yes, you don’t know exactly what will happen in the ensuing weeks. But there are things that you can do to reduce the accompanying risks. Realize that nothing has no risk.
Be aware of the real risks and not what so-and-so with ten followers on Twitter is trying to get you to believe. Don’t listen to some of the panicky chatter out there or anyone who tells you that there is one definitive answer for everyone, such as all air travel should be canceled immediately or that no one should be concerned about air travel at all. Keep in mind the expertise and agendas of anyone who may be giving advice. Follow closely announcements from trusted sources. If you can follow what a celebrity is doing with his or her hair each day on social media, you can frequently check websites like the CDC’s. In other words, just stay appropriately grounded when making your decision of whether to fly.
I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am a Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (CUNY), Executive Director of PHICOR (@PHICORteam), Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, and founder and CEO of Symsilico. My previous positions include serving as Executive Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at Johns Hopkins University, Associate Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Senior Manager at Quintiles Transnational, working in biotechnology equity research at Montgomery Securities, and co-founding a biotechnology/bioinformatics company. My work involves developing computational approaches, models, and tools to help health and healthcare decision makers in all continents (except for Antarctica) and has been supported by a wide variety of sponsors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the NIH, AHRQ, CDC, UNICEF, USAID and the Global Fund. I have authored over 200 scientific publications and three books. Follow me on Twitter (@bruce_y_lee) but don’t ask me if I know martial arts.
(LONDON) — As cases of the coronavirus surge in Italy, Iran, South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere, many scientists say it’s plain that the world is in the grips of a pandemic — a serious global outbreak.
The World Health Organization has so far resisted describing the crisis as such, saying the word “pandemic” might spook the world further and lead some countries to lose hope of containing the virus.
“Unless we’re convinced it’s uncontrollable, why (would) we call it a pandemic?” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.
The U.N. health agency has previously described a pandemic as a situation in which a new virus is causing “sustained community-level outbreaks” in at least two world regions.
Many experts say that threshold has long been met: The virus that was first identified in China is now spreading freely in four regions, it has reached every continent but Antarctica, and its advance seems unavoidable. The disease has managed to gain a foothold and multiply quickly even in countries with relatively strong public health systems.
On Friday, the virus hit a new milestone, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide, far more than those sickened by SARS, MERS or Ebola in recent years.
“I think it’s pretty clear we’re in a pandemic and I don’t know why WHO is resisting that,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Experts acknowledge that declaring a pandemic is politically fraught because it can rattle markets, lead to more drastic travel and trade restrictions and stigmatize people coming from affected regions. WHO was previously criticized for labeling the 2009 swine flu outbreak a pandemic. But experts said calling this crisis a pandemic could also spur countries to prepare for the virus’s eventual arrival.
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WHO already declared the virus a “global health emergency’ in late January, putting countries and humanitarian organizations on notice and issuing a broad set of recommendations to curb its spread.
Even in countries that moved quickly to shut down their links to China, COVID-19 has managed to sneak in. Within a matter of weeks, officials in Italy, Iran and South Korea went from reporting single new cases to hundreds.
“We were the first country to stop flights to China and we were completely surprised by this disease,” said Massimo Galli, an infectious-diseases professor at the University of Milan. “It’s dangerous for the entire world that the virus is able to spread underground like this.”
With more than 3,800 cases, Italy is the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak and has shut down schools, closed sports stadiums to fans and urged the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary. But it has still exported cases of the virus to at least 10 countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Spain, South Africa and Nigeria.
Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh who co-chaired a review of WHO’s response to the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, said a pandemic declaration is long overdue.
“This outbreak meets all the definitions for a pandemic that we had pre-coronavirus,” she said.
At a news conference last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said a pandemic is “a unique situation in which we believe that all citizens on the planet” will likely be exposed to a virus “within a defined period of time.”
Several experts said they hadn’t heard that definition. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for its part, defines a pandemic as “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”
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