A very unusual Easter

In the United States, Easter is marked with travels to visit family, abundance of chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs, and egg hunts for young children. This holiday often overlaps with spring break at schools.

April 2020 in the United States is probably quite similar to April in many other countries: not many people travel at all, with the travel restrictions placed on citizens to avoid the spread of COVID-19. In the US the shelter-in-place order and its restrictions on citizens’ freedoms are decided by each state’s governor. However, individual counties within states can also order their own shelter-in-place. This was the case with San Francisco county, where the shelter-in- place order went into effect on March 16. This order was issued by the health officer of the county and we learned about it by a message sent automatically to our cell phones.

In subsequent days, we learned what shelter-in-place meant. Many people suddenly found themselves to be “essential” in their employment. The meaning of this classification was that an essential worker’s employment would not be disrupted. This group includes first respondents (fire, police, ambulance), grocery shop employees, pharmacy employees, medical personnel including doctors, nurses and various specialist technicians. Suddenly we learned we could no longer go to restaurants – instead, we could have meals delivered or picked up. This means many restaurants had to let go of many workers because to survive, they had to reduce their staffing levels significantly. A few examples from California: schools, universities are closed in their physical form; learning is taking place online. We have to stand 6 feet away from each other in public places; there are no music concerts, sport events, competitions, religious services of any kind. Whatever it possible to be done online is getting done online.

Because the US economy was overall very strong before the pandemic , the disruption cannot be compared to other economic declines – it was artificially induced. The reductions took place gradually in different states, according to governors’ assessment of situations in the states they govern.

The Wall Street Journal of April 10 lists 12 states as having most severe restrictions. Since, for example, California is on state-wide lockdown, travel is restricted only to travel for essential needs/work. Needs include shopping for food and medications. Most other kind of shops are closed. They maintain online presence and deliveries of various items are commonplace.

Easter with COVID-19 is accompanied by worries about the economy. On one hand we know that we will not be fully safe moving about without a vaccination made widely available; on the other, there are many people who question if shutting down the whole economy was a wise idea. One thing that is certain is that it is a dynamic situation. New data received daily about the number of infections and deaths dictates where the market is headed. It should be noted that the way the US counts the COVID-19 deaths is by the strictest standard possible. What it means is that if a person died with COVID-19, regardless of the primary cause of death (a heart attack, a stroke, terminal cancer), that death is counted and reported as COVID-19 victim.

An interesting way to analyze the incidences of infections and deaths from COVID-19 is using the data from worldometer.info This data is constantly updated. For example, on March 28, 2020 worldometer.info reported 123,313 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States (on the same day 92,472 in Italy, 73,235 in Spain and 57,695 in Germany). This kind of presentation of data showed the US as having the most cases in the world. However, the same data can be expressed as percentage of the country’s total population: and thus on March 28, 2020 COVID-19 confirmed cases represented 0.15% of the population of Italy, 0.16% of Spain, 0.07 % of Germany, and 0.04% of the population of the United States.

Because the US economy was strong before the outbreak of the pandemic (as evidenced by the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rate was 3.5% in September 2019, 3.6% in October, and 3.5% in December, and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the US economy grew 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019), the hope is that as soon as the numbers of new infections and deaths start declining, our society in general will be able to return to work. It may be a gradual process but it is aided by “Coronavirus aid payments”, a federal assistance plan. According to the Wall Street Journal of April 10, 2020, the majority of eligible Americans will receive these payments no later than April 15. The federal government assists Americans with suspension of foreclosures and evictions for mortgage by postponing it for at least 60 days (https://www.fhfa.gov/Media/PublicAffairs/Pages/FHFA-Suspends-Foreclosures-and-Evictions-for-Enterprise-Backed-Mortgages.aspx). Such dates (60 days) indicate that indeed, the return to normal life and work is expected. On April 10, 2020, president Trump set out to establish an independent task force that will determine how the focus on economic opening will move forward. He promised to assemble a team in the week following Easter (starting Monday, April 13, 2020).

On Good Friday, the aircraft manufacturer Boeing advised that as soon as Easter Monday, it plans to recall about 2,500 of its 30,000 employees. The company said it will provide workers with safety equipment and measures of physical distancing will be enforced (Seattle Times, April 10, 2020). While dealing with COVID-19 pandemic is indeed very dynamic, the expectation is that gradually, the US work force will return to its normal activities. Plans are being made for how to implement physical distancing at work places. It appears that in places where the pandemic struck particularly hard (high density areas such as New York City) return to school before September may be difficult. Practical matters such as separation of children at school may prove to be a challenge.

Overall, if the pandemic-induced unemployment does not last an extended period of time, the American economy will recover reasonably smoothly.

By Dorota Ratusińska, environmentalist

Berkeley, California

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