This week officials carved out the first crack at roadmaps to reopening the city and state. I say both city and state because Nashville is not included in Governor’ Lee’s plan, which has been dubbed the “Tennessee Pledge” by state officials (Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga will also rely on metro-centered plans for their re-opening strategies). In Nashville, this is taking shape as a four stage plan, with each phase dependent on acceptably stable or a sustained declining trend in new COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days before it will be considered. Each phase also outlines the parameters for which business types will be eligible to open in each phase, and which guidelines apply to those businesses in each stage of the process. “Living with COVID-19 means returning to work with COVID-19,” notes Mayor Cooper’s outline. “We must proceed carefully to ensure we do not create a surge that will send us all back home.” Governor Lee’s plan will apply to 89 of the state’s 95 counties, relying on self-governance of best practices in allowing individuals and businesses to proceed with caution as they best see fit.
As it relates to the first of these two slides from the “Tennessee Pledge” presentation deck, I’ll echo Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is quoted as saying, “As far as the state goes, you kind of have to ask them what they’re looking at because if you look at the overall state numbers they’re climbing. […] Most of what we’ve been seeing is that public health experts want to see consistent decline before you alter your regime and get more people together.” The state’s deck claims “COVID-like illness (CLI) has seen a steady decline since March 25,” which I have to assume is a case of miscommunication, given that even between April 20 and April 24 cases jumped by 1,488 (20.5%) and deaths by 16 (10.5%). I haven’t the slightest clue what they’re referring to there.
In trending the “average daily growth rate” of new cases, it’s been hovering around 5% per their chart, which again just doesn’t add up. Additionally, they add that there’s a “downward trajectory of positive tests as percentage of total tests since April 1.” This is true, but their chart uses a trend line from March 23 to increase the downward slope, which overstates the nature of their claim. I’ve primarily been referring to the state’s website for data updates, but the Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, and New York Times‘ tracking tools all reflect nearly the exact same figures (the NYT page shows slightly higher as of this morning), none of which seem to be in line with the “Tennessee Pledge” data.
No matter what the rough figures are that are being used, there’s no doubt in my mind that case and death figures are being severely under-reported. The New York Times published an article this week investigating wide gaps in globally reported death tolls, which is in line with some thoughts I was having, myself:
“At least 36,000 more people have died during the coronavirus pandemic over the last month than the official Covid-19 death counts report, a review of mortality data in 12 countries shows — providing a clearer, if still incomplete, picture of the toll of the crisis. In the last month, far more people died in these countries than in previous years, The New York Times found. The totals include deaths from Covid-19 as well as those from other causes, likely including people who could not be treated as hospitals became overwhelmed. […] These numbers undermine the notion that many people who have died from the virus may soon have died anyway.”
Vanderbilt published their latest update yesterday, which noted that transmission levels across the state are hovering around 1.0, which is good, and if that dips any further that will trigger the state’s metropolitan cities to roll out the first phase of their plans. Their models use what’s referred to as a “circuit breaker threshold” which works to identify how long it might take for that transmission level to rise to certain milestones, and how those increases in cases could be tied to hospital bed shortages. When certain thresholds are reached, authorities should trigger the breaker, implementing safer-at-home measures that have now been proven effective in combating the spread of COVID-19. Transmission levels are essentially the pulse of the virus, and it will be nerve-racking to see how the state’s upcoming stress test bodes.
With stimulus money kicking in an extra $600/week for unemployment checks (until the end of July, at least), there’s more hope that those who are relying on assistance are going to get a financial boost soon. That should help those without work, but on the side of those seeking assistance to keep their businesses and employees afloat, the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) has been about as clear as a tub of swamp water. Earmarked to help small businesses, publicly traded companies have been able to pursue and secure loans, depleting the pool of available funds remaining for local businesses. But fundamentally speaking, the plan isn’t doing much beyond applying a fiscal bandaid to a financial sinkhole.
Restaurants are taking one of the biggest hits among any sector. Along with the Independent Restaurant Coalition (which represents some 500,000 restaurants in the country), the James Beard Foundation surveyed more than 1,400 restaurant owners between April 9 and April 13 and published a report this week confirming their findings.
“As of April 13, restaurant owners reported laying off 91% of their hourly workforce and nearly 70% of their salaried employees. This is a significant increase from March, when restaurant owners reported they had let go of 78% of their hourly workers and 58% of their salaried employees. […]
Today over 55% of restaurants have at least $50,000 in new debt thanks to the pandemic—that’s a significant financial burden for most small
restaurants that average a 5% profit margin each year. That’s debt that restaurants cannot afford when the restaurant industry faces months of uncertainty and an estimated 50% reduction in sales for at least the next 12-18 months. It’s also a debt the Paycheck Protection Program won’t fix
This is obviously being felt everywhere, and News Channel 5 spoke to the issue that treatment centers are having in this time coping with dwindling censuses. Despite the report noting that Cumberland is receiving $4 million from the PPP, I talked with several friends of mine who work the other night after they received an email asking for voluntary resignations. Having to let go employees in this environment (hell, any time, really) has to be difficult, but this really upset my friends, and I felt frustrated for them (and guilty, actually, considering I left my position there not even two months back). Employees have been given a week to make a decision about resigning, but any decision to do so needs to be approved based on a closed-door meeting about which roles are considered expendable, and which essential. What bothers me is the cat and mouse angle of it: If you voluntarily resign and are approved to do so, you get two-months paid severance, while if you don’t want to leave, and fail to voluntarily resign, you’ll be given nothing if they fire you… Or at least that was true until this week’s unemployment boost announcement.
As Tyler Cowen writes, “If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage. No one knows when, or how to model the course of that process.” I think what’s wearing the most on me, and the friends I’ve talked to about this, is the constant wear of insecurity that is absolutely everywhere right now. It’s impossible to go online (which, let’s be real, is where most interaction is happening right now) and not see traces of that in full effect, largely coming to a head with accusatory finger pointing (which shouldn’t be that big of a surprise; it is, after all, the Internet). This morning I think something broke in me, though, when I noticed a post from a stranger on a neighborhood Facebook group who was venting about the problems they’ve been having filing unemployment. She was having a terrible time filling everything out, her documents were rejected, and she was clearly struggling to figure out why and what she should do about it. Someone who I know in my community—who’s indisputably an agitator—jumped on the thread and used it as a platform to voice his opinion about how this is a perfect example of why we don’t need any further Big Government, thank you very much, Democrats. Part of me gives up. Y’know what? If someone is dumb enough to consume disinfectants because an elderly circus peanut on TV told suggested it, do it. And who cares about other people’s rights to health or well-being when it comes to opening businesses back up, because individual liberties outweigh collective safety! (Part of me can’t help but wonder how densely populated the overlapping section might be on the Venn Diagram between those who are trying to use COVID-19 to revoke women’s reproductive rights and those who were at last weekend’s freedom protests.)
The problem is that even when it’s my liberties, my rights, and my freedoms I am not an island. No one among us is. For good or bad, we’re all in this together, and we all need some grace as we try to navigate our way through the darkness. Maybe I just need a little break from screen time.