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For U.S. consumers, COVID-19 is not a big concern … yet

Mitchell Hartman Feb 24, 2020
Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

For U.S. consumers, COVID-19 is not a big concern … yet

Mitchell Hartman Feb 24, 2020
Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Financial markets are falling around the world from escalating fears of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease — both the fact of its increasingly wide and rapid spread in Asia, Europe and the Middle East and the widening economic impact on global supply chains, travel, and consumption. 

We haven’t seen much impact yet on U.S. consumer sentiment, though we’ll get new numbers from the Conference Board on consumer confidence Tuesday.

So far, when research outfits like the Conference Board and University of Michigan have asked consumers how they’re feeling about the economy, COVID-19 hasn’t seemed to be worrying them enough to dampen their optimism about the future or crimp their willingness to spend (though the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 1,000-point plunge Monday could change that outlook).

At a transit station not far from downtown Portland, Oregon, Lincoln Barron Holmes was waiting for his bus. He works as a costumer for TV shows. I asked if he’s thinking about the outbreak.

“Honestly, I am not worried about it in like a deep, visceral way,” he said, adding that the epidemic is on his mind but doesn’t impact what he does with his time or money.

“It doesn’t touch my day-to-day life that much,” Barron Holmes said. “I’m not planning international travel.”

So far, U.S. consumers are hearing about global supply chain disruptions and now the stock market.

Santa Clara University finance professor Meir Statman thinks at some point, it’s likely clusters of COVID-19 cases will show up in major U.S. cities.

“The psychological impact if it gets close to us is likely to be more threatening, where you are afraid to come close to people, to go to the movie theater or a stadium,” Statman said.

And Barron Holmes was thinking about it at a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game last night.

“It crossed my mind while I was there, just because I was in a big group of people,” he said.

Steve Schroeder is starting to worry about his personal economy. He’s visiting from Bloomington, Indiana, where he runs a vegan ice cream business.

“My biggest product is coconut milk, unfortunately, and a lot of the places where coconut milk comes from — I really hope we can figure this out and get a vaccine soon,” Schroeder said. “There’s too many deaths, and it’s scary.”

Schroeder’s already concerned about his ice cream sales for summer.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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