Hello! It’s been a tough week, friends, so I won’t say Happy Friday as I usually do. But I will say it is Friday, and I hope you’re getting a chance to exhale. As many people informed us on social media, Shakespeare wrote King Lear under quarantine, but King Lear isn’t his best, anyway, and he probably didn’t have to deal with screaming stir-crazy kiddos or a constant barrage of news. If you’ve been staring at the wall instead of writing the next great historical play, know that you’re very much not alone.
On that note, though, I’m going to do my very best to give you a quick look at what happened, is happening or could happen with the coronavirus outbreak (with the caveat that it would be impossible to capture the scope of this particular universe).
So here we go with the news:
Congress has been working with the administration, namely Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to put together a package that would help Americans battered economically by the shutdowns. At the core? Sending checks directly to Americans. The amount taxpayers would get, under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan, would be tied to income and number of children. It would also create a $300 billion pot for small businesses and guarantee loans for the airline industry.
The price tag on the plan — $1 trillion — sounds huge, but experts say it’s not enough to make anything but a minor dent. Congress should be thinking more in the $2 trillion-$3 trillion range.
President Donald Trump is also on board with sending checks to Americans, a move similar to what happened during the Great Recession.
While we’re on Capitol Hill news, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) dumped millions in stocks in February even as they were reassuring the public that the threat was well in hand. Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also warned a small group of constituents three weeks ago about the potential economic impact of the outbreak. One of the stock purchases Loeffler made was in a technology company that offers teleworking software.
Something that’s become abundantly clear over the past week is how ill-equipped the country’s health system is to bear the extra weight of a pandemic. Although Trump invoked war powers this week, he seems reluctant to actually use them. (And much of the government’s potential resources remain untapped.) He also shifted the onus to governors to figure out medical device and protective gear shortages. “The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” Trump said. “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
Meanwhile, doctors and other health care workers are having to reuse masks, repurpose bandannas and scarves, and take other measures as some hospitals are going through five- to six-months’ worth of supplies in a week. The number of cases is expected to climb across the country and providers are turning to social media to plead for more masks and protective gear. “It feels like a war zone,” was just one of a flood of quotes from desperate workers.
And protective gear isn’t the only thing that could run out — ICU beds are also in short supply. The federal government and states (and even cruise lines!) are taking measures to try to address the potential crisis, but hospitals are still preparing to have to make tough ethical choices about whom to treat.
Although testing in the United States has ramped up, frustration over the administration’s missteps lingers — especially since it appears that rich and famous Americans were able to get tested where others weren’t. South Korea, which identified its first case the same day the U.S. did, serves as a stark contrast. Well over 290,000 people have been tested and over 8,000 infections have been identified in that country, which is also a democracy. Reuters looks at what South Korea did right and what went wrong here.
Yours truly was one of those poor, misguided souls who decided last weekend that watching Contagion was exactly what I needed in the midst of our real-life pandemic. (I immediately regretted the decision, don’t worry.) But in the movie, a scientist tests a vaccine on herself and then — boom! — it’s out in the world.
That’s not how science works in reality, as we all know, but for many, it’s hard not to hold out hope for a quick miracle cure — either through a vaccine or a treatment.
This week, Trump touted a malaria drug called chloroquine as a potential game changer. But FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn was quick to pump the brakes, saying clinical trials would be needed to test its efficacy. (For a history of how chloroquine popped up on people’s radar, check out this interesting piece from WIRED.)
Meanwhile, the only company in the U.S. that makes chloroquine raised the price by almost 100% in January. The company has since reduced the cost.
For a glance at the status of drug and vaccine research, check out Stat’s roundup.
Many scientists and other experts are grappling with a lot of unanswerable questions, such as: Will the warmer weather help? and how long will social distancing last? Research is emerging every day on the virus, though, such as a new death rate out of Wuhan, China, that is lower than previous estimates.
It would be impossible to highlight all the compelling stories that ran this week, so here’s an overview of ones that might make good weekend reads:
That’s it from me. And before any Shakespeare fans come for my throat, I was just joking! (Though I do prefer his comedies.) Have a safe and restful weekend.