CoVid Vaccine Update, Gauging Timeline for Return to the New Normal, Economic Snapshot & ...
Memorial Day was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures into the 70's, and dry. Given the month of May is nearly over, I thought I'd do a recap of what has transpired during the month to gauge how far we've come and how far we have to go to return to the new normal.
Let's start with a quick update on the CoVid virus itself. As we entered the month of May, new CoVid hospitalizations were running about 800 per day. As of Governor Cuomo's last few reports, the number of new hospitalizations is running at between 200 - 300 per day. The net daily intubations have been running negative [meaning more people coming off than going on] for most of the last couple of months ranging from close to zero [meaning folks coming off intubations were about equal to those going on] to nearly 150 more coming off than going on.
As we exited April, NYC and NYS were closing the popup hospitals located primarily around the city, as the existing facilities were moving into a position where they were able to handle the sick patients entering the healthcare system. Overall both NYC and NYS have freed up a considerable amount of hospital and respirator capacity, so that most parts of the state will be economically open in the Phase I stage by this coming week - with the exception being NYC. NYC has met six of the seven metrics required to enter Phase I of the reopening of the economy. The seventh metric is to free up enough hospital capacity [30% available capacity is the target] in order to reopen safely, according to the guidelines outlined by NYS Governor Cuomo.
It's important to remind folks that NYC, with a population of about 8.5 million, represents nearly half of the approximately 19.5 million population of NYS - and that we're far more densely packed into a far smaller space than likely anywhere else in the nation. I mention this to help folks understand that we, in NYC, have the highest hurdle to transcend to move toward the new normal. But that said both the Mayor and the Governor believe that if the trends continue, NYC should be in a position to move into Phase I sometime within the first two weeks of June.
Phase I allows for construction, manufacturing and curbside retail to resume.
In prior reports we've identified the people most at risk of dying from the disease should they contract it. These folks still need to tread cautiously, as well as the folks who surround them, as no cure is in sight - regardless of what you may hear on the ratings-driven TV news or from a flailing president who oftentimes seems more concerned about the impact of the virus on his re-election chances, than on Americans' health.
Scientists and pharmaceutical organizations around the world on working on numerous different therapies which may help speed recoveries. There are eight new vaccines that are in some stage of clinical trials, and a reported 110 vaccines in the works. The eight in clinical trials are only in the early stages of clinical trials, which are used to determine the efficacy and safety profile of a drug.
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CoVid Vaccine Update, Gauging Timeline for Return to the New Normal, Economic Snapshot & ...
Is the 'Real' Donald 'Faking' News About a CoVid Vaccine?
If you listen to the blather of the bellowing Donald who constantly berates the 'fake news', you'd think a CoVid 19 cure is just around the corner. But hark back to a couple of months ago, to listen to what the Donald was telling Americans as the Corona Virus was getting underway.
As of this writing, over 1.6 million Americans have contracted CoVid 19 and nearly 100,000 Americans have died from it. Americans account for about 5% of the population of the world and account for about 30% of the reported CoVid cases and deaths. America is certainly first .
What do People with Vaccine Education & Experience Say?
The people who have been educated in the field of infectious diseases, and have experience in the field, say that a vaccine is AT LEAST A YEAR OR MORE AWAY. As I've published before, THE SHORTEST TIME IT EVER TOOK TO PRODUCE A VACCINE was in the 1950's for polio, and that took four years. So that's one pretty solid benchmark to keep in mind going forward.
If a vaccine killed just one in 500 people, that would amount to 660,000 deaths in a fully vaccinated populace in this nation alone. In a March 8, 2020 report in the New Yorker, John Shiver, the SVP of Global Vaccine Research & Development of Sanofi, a multi-national pharmaceutical company, said, "You certainly don't want a vaccine that can make it worse".
The public policy thinking is that we don't want to give a vaccine to the nation's population without properly testing it for both efficacy and safety. This is why the FDA has a rigorous set of rules surrounding the testing of drugs before they are released to the general public.
Expectations / Timelines for Obtaining a Trustworthy Vaccine
The New York Times posted a graphical Op Ed piece on April 20, 2020 that graphically depicted the data for new drugs that looked at various scenarios for shortening the timeline for drug testing, regulatory review and approvals and manufacturing. After reviewing the piece I came away with the conclusion that - based on historical records - we're years away.
A March 8, 2020 piece in the New Yorker looked at some of the earliest vaccines out of the starting block for CoVid 19. One of the first steps in the process is reading the genetic map of the virus which the Chinese had done by January of 2020, and which they subsequently distributed. Relative to history, this was very fast. The New Yorker piece stated that,
"a covid-19 vaccine developed, licensed, and manufactured at a global scale in twelve months would be an unprecedented, remarkable, even revolutionary achievement."
I suppose anything is possible, but for those of us on the ground, living amidst CoVid 19 on a daily basis, we need to stay focused on what is pragmatic and what is probable. So a vaccine isn't likely or probable within the next year or so - and by most accounts - likely quite a bit longer. If a vaccine is found that is both efficacious and safe in less time - it will be akin to winning the lottery ... great. But most of us don't have the luxury of being able to live our lives banking on winning the lottery. An April 20, 2020 report in National Geographic starts with the second headline stating,
"Considering the history and science behind making these drugs, "a year to 18 months would be absolutely unprecedented ...".
Reality Check: Why Getting a Vaccine Takes so Long
The bottom line is that you have to test vaccines / drugs to see how well they work in the general population. That requires recruiting numerous people willing to take the risk of being treated with an unproven vaccine or the risk of being treated with a placebo - meaning no protection. Then you have to put them in an environment where they are exposed to the virus so you can see how well they fare [immunity]. That may prove efficacy. Then you have to test the drug / vaccine in large enough numbers of the population to be able to measure the impact [its safety] on people with various health conditions and whether there are adverse interactions with other drugs.
A good example of what this testing can find is a recent study conducted on hydroxychloroquine - the drug 'Doctor' Donald has been promoting to treat CoVid 19, which is commonly used to treat malaria and lupus. According to an April 17, 2020 report by Reuters, a clinical trial in Brazil involving 81 patients was halted after eleven of the participants died. Of those who died, four were receiving low doses and seven were on high doses.
Assuming the same results for the U.S. population, if all Americans followed 'Doctor' Donald's advice to take hydroxychloroquine to treat themselves for CoVid 19 - up to 44 million of them could die. You should know that this is a simplistic analysis - but the point remains valid - drugs need to be tested before releasing them to the general public or the 'cure' could be far more devastating than the cause or 'condition'.
That's the end of the science part of this report. The goal here is not to reduce any optimism of a revolutionary break through - but to temper that optimism with realism - so that you can properly prepare or steel yourself for the coming year(s).
When Do We Return to Normal? Gauging the Timeline Based on Institutional Announcements
A few institutions have provided what I consider benchmarks for our expectations of a return to the new normal.
Broadway Shows announced that they won't be opening again until at least September. Various large universities have given mixed guidance for the Fall semester with NYU and Columbia University declaring their intent to re-open for in person classes as early as the Fall according to a May 19th report in the Gothamist. Governor Cuomo has not yet taken a position on schools reopening for SUNY and CUNY, but both Binghamton and Syracuse announced last Wednesday that they intend to open for in-person classes this Fall - although Governor Cuomo went public saying that it's too early to know for sure.
Professional sports are expected to resume / begin practice and training at their facilities this week or next as the Governor just gave the green light within the past couple of days. Some professional sports teams may resume professional league play without in-person audiences as early as July.
And both the Mayor and the Governor agree that, assuming trends and progress continue, NYC should enter phase one of opening the economy in the first or second week of June.
A Slower Economy & The New Normal
Then there's the economy. As our attention shifted from containing the virus and its impact on the healthcare system, we began to shift focus to earning a living again. This is our next great challenge, and it is complicated by the lingering threat of CoVid 19 and the limitations of what science can do for us as described above.
In early May, the Governor and the Mayor began collaborating to disinfect the subway on a daily basis, while transitioning the homeless to other quarters as the homeless had made the subway their home during the pandemic outbreak. This effort will help minimize the spread of the virus via mass transit, by which millions travel daily in normal times.
By mid-May the Governor had given the green light to several regions of NYS to re-open, yet said NY Pause was still in effect, even though by the end of the month, likely only NYC will remain closed [for reasons mentioned above as we're half the state and we're the most densely populated and trafficked NYS / USA region].
NYC Unemployment Losses Spike as does NYS & USA
By the end of April, the number of new unemployment claims nationally since the CoVid outbreak began in mid-March, had risen to 30 million. As of this post, that number now stands at 38 million. A May 24th report on CNN stated that Senior White House Economic Advisor Kevin Hassett told CNN that,
"... he thinks the unemployment rate, which hit 14.7% in April, may rise to 22% to 23% by May and edge up a bit in June before heading lower ..."
Given how badly New York City and New York State were hit - surprisingly - the economies of both were performing in line with the rest of the nation [unemployment-wise]. The unemployment rates for both NYC and NYS were in the neighborhood of 14.2% and 14.5% respectively. But these may statistics are believed to have undercounted the real picture, which as noted in the quote above, is expected to significantly worsen in May.
NYC Leisure & Hospitality Hardest Hit in NYS
According to the NY Department of Labor April 2020 report, the Leisure and Hospitality category was the hardest hit, losing 335,000 jobs - down nearly 72% from the prior year. This should come as no surprise, as NYC attracts some 60 to 65 million tourists per year. Tourism represents an average influx of 5.5 million people each month, who NYC can normally count on to spend some of their cash. But since mid-March tourists have not been a factor in our economy. In total NYC lost 885,000 jobs in April, down nearly 22% to about 3.2 million jobs in the private sector.
Airlines report that their traffic is down in the neighborhood of 90% +/- since the pandemic began in mid-March. I found it interesting that those figures are in line with the subway usage declines. These passenger losses affect NYC's busy airports, many of the people they employed by both the airlines and the terminals, and related services. Our airports are also economic engines.
NYC Tenants, Landlords & Real Estate Mortgage Payments
In April and again in May, many people in NYC have missed their rent payments. Governor Cuomo put in place an eviction moratorium, which was extended through August 20th, and allowed tenants to use security deposits as payments until they can ante up the money at a later unspecified date. And many people have had to rely on food pantries to help them make ends meet. Long lines are reported at many of the pantries spread throughout NYC.
And to add to our economic woes, on a national level 3.8 million people missed their mortgage payments in April and another 1.6 million people missed their payments in May.
So, like the Corona Virus itself, the economic fallout will, in some measure, linger on indefinitely. The $2.5 trillion stimulus was meant to offset some of the losses, but as reported previously, the largest stimulus bill ever seemed crafted by a corrupt administration, as very wealthy people were given tax breaks which seemed not to have any real connection to the pandemic fallout. Trump also has since FIRED THREE INSPECTOR GENERALS, who would normally provide some transparency for what seems a lot of wasteful spending by the Republican president and his party, led by Senate Mouse Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But then the Democrats, led by New Yorker Chuck Schumer and Californian Nancy Pelosi, went on to ask for trillions more, because they did such a poor job of negotiating the first couple of stimulus bills, where it appeared the special interest gorged themselves at the public trough [to be paid for by America's babies and unborn children], while the state and municipal governments - those most impacted by the virus - seemed to be left with scraps.
As an example of what happened while we were all watching the pandemic unfold, the richest 1% reportedly increased their wealth by nearly a half trillion dollars, while most of the rest of the population lost ground.
The same is true for industry sectors. Retail, restaurants, hoteliers and gaming industries were hit pretty hard. A number of large retailers declared bankruptcy including Neiman Marcus, Pier 1 Imports, J Crew, and J.C. Penney is reportedly in talks to be sold to Amazon, which is trading near an all-time high.
The airlines received a $25 billion dollar bailout in the form of grants [66%] and loans [33%]. So the American taxpayer anted up for the airlines and we, the public, seemed to get nothing back. The Donald had relentlessly claimed he was a great negotiator while running in 2016, and yet it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who seemed to be the toughest negotiator. She is working on a $9.7 billion bailout for German airline Lufthansa, but in exchange the public gets 20% of the airline stock and a poison pill to avert a takeover by a foreign / private entity trying to cash in on the public largesse. Hertz car rental also filed for bankruptcy.
Newspaper companies, which were already on the rocks, are also suffering. In 2019 about 3,400 journalists lost their jobs. Since the CoVid pandemic, 36,000 people working for newspapers [not just journalists so this is not an apples to apples comparison] lost their jobs or were laid off. Meanwhile the valuations on companies like Google and Facebook [who are eating newspapers lunch] are trading at [Facebook] or just below [-13%] their all time highs.
In several industry categories, the bricks and mortar players lost ground at an accelerating pace to the technology companies. The same is true for many small businesses, which were already challenged by rising rents, limited pricing power. And now CoVid may have delivered a death blow to many of them . According to the Small Business Administration small businesses make up 64% of new jobs, 49% of employment and 43% of payroll. And they are also an important factor in the lifeblood of most communities.
It's going to be a changed and evolving landscape, so stay tuned.
Blog / Lifestyle & Miscellaneous More coming later this week.