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COVID-19

“Open by Easter”? A closer look at the U.S. economy’s timeline

Mitchell Hartman Mar 25, 2020
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images
COVID-19

“Open by Easter”? A closer look at the U.S. economy’s timeline

Mitchell Hartman Mar 25, 2020
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

What to make of President Donald Trump’s indication during a Fox News town hall that he’d like to get the U.S. back open again by Easter? That’s April 12, just about 2 1/2 weeks from now. Trump is also reportedly resisting extending the 15-day social distancing guidance from the White House.

During a later press briefing Tuesday evening, President Trump nuanced his position on the Easter timeline, saying that health officials and economists were “working to develop a sophisticated plan to open the economy as soon as the time is right — based on the best science, the best modeling and the best medical research there is anywhere on earth.”

There’s a lot of pushback from public health experts against reopening businesses, schools and gathering places while the epidemic is spreading. The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that the U.S. is in line to become the next epicenter of COVID-19.

In the worst-case scenario — one that becomes much more likely if the U.S. returns to business as usual, as President Trump has indicated — America could see 1.1 million deaths , according to experts.

Now, social distancing policies are driving the U.S. economy down, says MIT economics professor James Poterba.

“In a typical downturn, people are still going to restaurants, at least some of the time,” Poterba said. “People are still getting their hair cut, going to the dentist. But in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen this remarkable event — activities have basically stopped.”

But restarting that activity could be hard no matter what guidance President Trump gives to get people back to work, says economist James McCann at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

“I think it’d very difficult to reverse these effects, certainly in the short term,” McCann said.

He says relaxing restrictions might make the economic contraction less severe.

“But certainly things would still be pretty weak, and maybe we’d see alongside that a further escalation in the number of infections,” McCann said.

Some governors have recently increased state restrictions to keep people at home, which will slow the economy even more.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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