The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide is nearing 2 million, as of April 14. The United States has registered more than 584,000 cases, and most states are approaching the one-month mark of lockdown measures being in place.
How much longer those shutdowns will last is an unanswerable question at this point, but some states are beginning to at least come up with plans for eventually easing restrictions. California, Oregon, and Washington are coordinating for their region, and a consortium of states along the East Coast, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, are also working together on a strategy to reopen their economies.
But President Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his desire to reopen the country as quickly as possible, is insisting that he has the “ultimate authority” in this matter and can order states to reopen their economies whenever he wants, regardless of what the governors have planned.
This is untrue (at least, according to a little thing called the US Constitution), and the administration still lacks a plan, or the tools, for how to actually reopen the economy, even if it wanted to.
To try to remedy that, the president is assembling a task force to come up with an economic strategy. Those experts, Reuters reports, are expected to include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, among others. Notably, that list does not yet include public health officials.
Governments around the world are struggling with whether and when to relax shutdown measures. France has extended its lockdown until mid-May. Austria has relaxed some of its restrictions, reopening small shops and parks. And even Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, has allowed bookstores and some other small stores to reopen.
This worldwide “Great Lockdown,” as the International Monetary Fund has dubbed it, is likely to cause the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, the organization reiterated Tuesday. The group projects that global output will shrink 3 percent this year.
Here’s what you need to know today.
States are making plans to eventually reopen. Trump is tweeting about movies.
Most US states are still trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, maintaining strict stay-at-home orders and keeping all but the most essential businesses closed. But as states begin to see the rate of infections and hospitalizations stabilize, calls to begin lifting restrictions and allowing economies to reopen are going to get louder and louder.
Right now, the federal government does not have a plan to reopen the country, though the Trump administration has floated the end of April as a possible target date for that. Which is why states are beginning to come up with their own plans, laying out regional roadmaps on how to slowly, maybe even haltingly, lift restrictions, reopen businesses, and protect the health of their residents.
California, Oregon, and Washington are forming something of a “western pact” to integrate their reopening plans. “COVID-19 has preyed upon our interconnectedness,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a joint statement Monday. “In the coming weeks, the West Coast will flip the script on COVID-19 — with our states acting in close coordination and collaboration to ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities.”
On the East Coast, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are coming together to create a regional reopening plan for schools and businesses.
“If you do it wrong, it can backfire, and we’ve seen that with other places in the globe,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “What the art form is going to be here is doing that smartly and doing that in a coordinated way.”
The details of these plans aren’t yet known, but leaders on both coasts have suggested any easing of restrictions would have to go hand in hand with more robust testing, including testing for antibodies to determine who has already been infected and potentially developed some degree of immunity. New York and its neighbors, like New Jersey, have been much harder hit by the coronavirus than the West Coast, though the country’s first outbreak began in Seattle.
Which is why governors, especially on the East Coast, are still urging caution and patience. “I still have an infection that’s growing,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told CNN Tuesday morning. “This is no time to relax.”
As these states team up, President Donald Trump has claimed that he has the “ultimate authority” to reopen the economy, which is not true because of things like federalism. While Trump has issued federal social-distancing guidelines (“15 days” — then “30 days” — to slow the spread), these are just recommendations, and states ultimately ordered their businesses shut and nonessential workforces to stay at home. Some governors also resisted issuing stay-at-home directives.
Trump is convening a council to reopen the economy, but it is not expected to include any public health officials, according to the Associated Press. Public health experts within Trump’s own administration have warned that easing social distancing regulation too early could lead to a resurgence in cases. Trump on Monday said the council “will give us some also good advice but no, we want to be very, very safe. At the same time we’ve got to get our country open.”
State governors have pushed back against Trump’s assertion of ultimate authority, saying they will make their own decisions about when it’s safe to ease rules in their states. “If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it,” Cuomo said on CNN Tuesday. “And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government and that would go into the courts.”
Trump is apparently not taking this resistance well. He tweeted Tuesday morning that Cuomo had been “calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc.,” but “now he seems to want Independence!”
“That won’t happen,” Trump wrote.
Less than an hour later, the president sent out a bizarre missive that referenced the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, seemingly accusing state governors of rising up against him. (Or something?)
The tweet does not include any mention about expanded testing or contact tracing — things that would help create the conditions needed to safely restart the economy — so it’s just Trump being Trump.
Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020
France extends its lockdown as other parts of Europe start to open
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he would extend France’s lockdown for another four weeks, until May 11, and then gradually reopen schools. Macron said pubs, restaurants, museums, and other venues might not be open until mid-July.
“I fully understand the effort I’m asking from you,” Macron said in a televised address. “When will we be able to return to a normal life? I would love to be able to answer you. But to be frank, I have to humbly tell you we don’t have definitive answers.”
France’s coronavirus crisis hasn’t gotten as much attention as Italy’s or Spain’s, but it’s right up there among the hardest-hit in Europe. The country has confirmed more than 137,000 coronavirus cases and recorded nearly 15,000 deaths as of April 14.
In recent days, though, the number of infections has slowed, a sign that the strict measures are helping stymie the virus’s transmission. “The epidemic is starting to slow down. The results are there,” Macron said.
Elsewhere in Europe, some countries are cautiously easing their restrictions. Spain allowed some businesses to reopen earlier this week. Austria, on Tuesday, also allowed some small shops, garden centers, and public parks to reopen. Though the Austrian government allowed these businesses to open, everyone must continue to abide by social distancing rules (only limited numbers of people in shops at once) and people must wear masks when in public. Fines will be issued to places or people that don’t follow the rules.
And even Italy, Europe’s coronavirus epicenter, is experiencing a slight relaxing of rules, with book shops and children’s clothing stores listed among the businesses now deemed essential and thus allowed to be open. Not every part of Italy has eased up on the total lockdown, though; in the north, where the outbreak devastated places like Lombardy, stores remain shut, according to the BBC.
The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and now: The “Great Lockdown”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organization that promotes the stability of the global monetary system, had already warned last week that the global economic fallout from the coronavirus would be the worst the world had seen since the Great Depression.
On Tuesday, the organization offered its projections for what it has begun calling the “Great Lockdown”: The global economy will shrink 3 percent in 2020, though it will rebound in 2021, the organization predicts. Advanced economies — including the US and many eurozone countries — could shrink as much as 6 percent. And that bounce-back next year depends on the course of the pandemic: how governments respond, and whether the world can collectively slow the spread.
“Countries urgently need to work together to slow the spread of the virus and to develop a vaccine and therapies to counter the disease,” the report said. “Until such medical interventions become available, no country is safe from the pandemic (including a recurrence after the initial wave subsides) as long as transmission occurs elsewhere.”
The big takeaway from all this is that this year is definitely going to bad, and the consensus is moving away from a rapid economic bounce-back and toward a more drawn-out economic recovery. As Vox’s Emily Stewart and Dylan Scott explain: “Too much structural damage has been done, jobs and businesses lost that will never come back. Supply chains have been broken and need to be rebuilt.”
And some good news
New York City has been deeply and profoundly affected by the coronavirus crisis. On Monday, the heavy rain and wind that battered much of the East Coast blew through the city. But when it cleared in the evening, many residents were treated to a truly gorgeous rainbow above the city.
Rainbows have become the symbol of hope during the coronavirus — people are posting them in their windows around the world for kids (and, let’s be real, adults too) to spot on their walks.
Monday evening’s real-life rainbow felt like a small sign of hope for a city in trauma.
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