Microscopic view of the novel coronavirus
The Medically-Induced Coma
When leading global health policy authorities realized that the new coronavirus was likely to become a pandemic, they advocated for strong policies designed to limit social contact. We now know that those countries that have been the most effective at implementing and enforcing these policies have been the most successful in minimizing the number of infections and deaths. However, the direct consequence of these policies has been the near cessation of economic activity.
The Economic Coma
Historians who will one day study and write about this crisis will undoubtedly note that the leading nations of the world attempted to save their populations by limiting human movement and placing their economies in what has effectively become a medically-induced coma. This has never been done before and, as we write this on April 1, 2020 in the still-early weeks of this crisis, we cannot be sure how well it will work.
Governments have maintained essential social and economic functions. You can still buy groceries, fill up your tank at the gas station, and pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. The lights are still on. The heat is still on. The water is still running. The cable package still works. If you have a medical emergency, the ambulance will show up and take you to the emergency room. If your house catches on fire, the big red truck will show up. If you call 911, a dispatcher will take your call and send the police.
But there many things, as you undoubtedly know, that you cannot do. You cannot eat at a restaurant. You cannot cut get your hair cut, your nails done, your teeth cleaned. You cannot schedule an annual check-up with your doctor, shop at the mall, visit a movie theater, a museum, or the library. Stunning, isn’t it?
It remains to be seen what will happen when, after health authorities provide clearance, governments begin opening up the economy. Opinions from market analysts, economists, politicians and investors vary greatly. Some believe we will see a sharp V-shaped recovery. Others believe it will take years for the country to return to the economic levels of just a few weeks ago.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 410 points yesterday (-1.8%) yesterday and the S&P 500 Index was off 42 points (-1.6%). Thus ended the worst first-quarter in history for the major benchmarks. The Dow was down 23% and the S&P 500 fell 20% from the start of the year. Oil recently traded below $20 a barrel and is now priced at an 18-year low.
The Long-Term Strategy
The way to minimize the impact of the novel coronavirus is through containment. There is no treatment and there is no cure. Yet.
We need greatly expanded testing, so that we can identify those who are infected. We then need to isolate those who are infected. We also have to identify those with whom an infected person had physical contact (i.e. contact tracing). Those people must be quarantined for at least two weeks. Because infected people can be asymptomatic, we need to move towards efficient, cost-effective mass testing. This will allow us to identify the virus before it manifests. This latter step is aspirational and likely not feasible in the near term.
Several pharma companies are developing tests, including Abbott Labs, Mesa Biotech and Henry Schein. Abbott’s test is a potential game-changer, because it is point-of-care and the results are available in less than 15 minutes.
There will be a vaccine. Johnson & Johnson has a candidate that will go into testing trials in the fall. The hope is that it could be available in early 2021 and that 1 billion doses could be available by the end of next year. Moderna Inc. and Sanofi are also working on vaccines.
Difficult Days to Come
Yesterday President Trump finally acknowledged the severity of the pandemic, and in the daily taskforce briefing remarked that the next two weeks will be very challenging for the nation. It is a positive development that he is now listening more to the health experts than the political consultants. Fatalities from the novel coronavirus will rise significantly. The statistical models indicate we will lose between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans to this outbreak.
But as we all band together to “slow the spread,” the number of new cases will eventually begin to drop. That will result in fewer of us needing hospitalization, fewer in the ICU and fewer deaths.
Victory Lies Ahead
As Vice President Pence urged yesterday, let us not be discouraged. We will win this war.
Keep the faith, be safe and stay healthy.
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