Category Archives: Pandemic

In isolation, worries and stress are magnified During the Coronavirus Pandemic. COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression!

Jonathan Kanter wrote in the Conversation that Isolation, social distancing and extreme changes in daily life are hard now, but the United States also needs to be prepared for what may be an epidemic of clinical depression because of COVID-19.

We are clinical psychological scientists at the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection. We study human relationships, how to improve them, and how to help people with clinical depression, emphasizing evidence-based approaches for those who lack resources.

We do not wish to be the bearers of bad news. But this crisis, and our response to it, will have psychological consequences. Individuals, families and communities need to do what they can to prepare for a depression epidemic. Policymakers need to consider – and fund – a large-scale response to this coming crisis.

A perfect storm of depression risks

Most of us know the emotional components of depression: sadness, irritability, emptiness and exhaustion. Given certain conditions, these universal experiences take over the body and transform it, sapping motivation and disrupting sleep, appetite and attention. Depression lays waste to our capacity to problem-solve, set and achieve goals and function effectively.

The general public understands depression as a brain disease. Our genes do influence how easily we may fall into clinical depression, but depression is also, for most of us, substantially influenced by environmental stress. The unique environmental stressors of the COVID-19 crisis suggest that an unusually large proportion of the population may develop depression. This pain is likely to be distributed inequitably.

Stress and loss

Exacerbating the widespread stress of this crisis, many of us are suffering significant personal losses and grief reactions, which are robust predictors of depression. The ongoing and unpredictable course of these stressors adds an additional layer of risk.

As this crisis unfolds, death tolls will rise. For some, especially those on the front lines, acute experiences of grief, trauma and exhaustion will compound the stress and place them at even greater risk.

Interpersonal isolation

Prolonged social isolation – our primary strategy to reduce the spread of the virus – adds another layer of risk. Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long. Past studies suggest that people forced to “shelter in place” will experience more depression. Those living alone and lacking social opportunities are at risk. Loneliness breeds depression.

Families, who must navigate unusual amounts of time together in confined spaces, may experience more conflict, also increasing risk. China experienced an increase in divorce following their COVID-19 quarantine. Divorce predicts depression, especially for women, largely due to increased economic hardship over time.

Financial difficulties

The biggest stressor for many is financial. Unemployment and economic losses will be severe. Research on past recessions suggests that rising unemployment and financial insecurity lead to increased rates of depression and suicide. debt and financial deprivation during recessions are at significant risk for depression due to increased stress and difficult life circumstances. Minority-owned businesses may be at particular risk for buckling under the strain.

Recovery will be harder

Home foreclosures during the 2008 recession produced a 62% increased risk of depression among those foreclosed.

The mental health burden of economic recession will be distributed inequitably. When the stock market crashed in 2008, the rich experienced large wealth losses but not increased rates of depression. In contrast, those who experience unemployment,

While the COVID-19 crisis increases risk for depression, depression will make recovery from the crisis harder across a spectrum of needs.

Given depression’s impact on motivation and problem-solving, when our economy recovers, those who are depressed will have a harder time engaging in new goal pursuits and finding work. When the period of mandated social isolation ends, those who are depressed will have a harder time re-engaging in meaningful social activity and exercise.

When the threat of coronavirus infection recedes, those who are depressed will face increased immunological dysfunction, making it more likely they will suffer other infections. Depression amplifies symptoms of chronic illness. The inequitable distribution of the burden of the crisis will exacerbate existing racial health disparities, including disparities in access to depression treatment.

What to do?

Self-help suggestions are readily available. A good list, more evidence-based than most, is here. It is our experience, however, that such self-help encouragements for depression are not enough, and at times even insulting, for those who are truly struggling.

We need higher-level shifts in policy and how we approach the problem. Economic relief measures from the federal government are crucial responses both to economic recession and psychological depression. We call for a public health campaign to increase awareness of depression and treatment options, and for improvements in mental health sick-leave policies and insurance reimbursement to minimize barriers to treatment access.

How we talk about depression must change. The distress we feel is a normal human response to a severe crisis. Acknowledging and accepting these feelings prevents distress from turning into disorder. Describing depression solely as a brain disease increases helplessness and substance use among those who are depressed and decreases help-seeking. Emphasizing the causal role of our environmental context, in contrast, matches how depressed individuals across different ethnicities view the causes of their suffering, decreases stigma and increases help-seeking.

Finally, we recommend specific treatment options be prioritized. As we have discussed elsewhere, easy-to-train, cross-culturally applicable and effective treatment options exist. We wish for an army of practitioners to be trained and embedded in community and treatment centers across the country, and this army should represent the great diversity of our country.

Some specific suggestions to help us all:

Protect Your Family’s Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Begin the Day with Gratitude

Before your feet hit the floor in the morning, think of something that you’re grateful for. Making this a focus for yourself, and teaching your kids to do the same, can have a significant impact on your emotional health. The heaviness of our current situation can quickly weigh us down, and if we begin our day with doom and gloom, then we have set the negative feeling pendulum into full swing.

A study published in the journal Psychotherapy Research found that writing a gratitude letter can improve a person’s outlook and emotional well-being. It even seems to change brain activity in a positive way, based on MRI scans of study participants.

Get into a Routine and Make a Daily Schedule

Depression and anxiety can keep you from feeling in control of your life. One way to counteract that feeling is by making a regular schedule and sticking with it. When you organize and structure your life, you know what to expect. Make sure you have a family routine.

Remember, kids are used to routine and structure in schools. Many thrive on having consistency in their lives, which consequently helps them feel in control, something kids need now more than ever.

Not only will having a plan can help you stay centered, it will keep you focused on the tasks at hand. A study published in the Annual Review of Psychology on psychological habits showed people rely on their routines and habits when they are stressed. That helps them get through difficult times, suggesting that establishing healthy routines could help with physical, emotional and mental health during difficult times like these.

So, go ahead and make a schedule. The first item on the list should be to make your bed. According to a survey by OnePoll and Sleepopolis, which provides mattress reviews, people who make their beds regularly tend to report feeling happier and more productive. Plus, if making your bed is on your to-do list, you can accomplish your first goal of the day.

How to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety. 

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. And research shows the amount and quality of sleep we get has a significant impact on mental health. The amount of sleep kids need varies considerably by their age. That ranges from newborns snoozing away most of the day (14 to 17 hours recommended), to preschoolers splitting time awake and asleep (11 to 13 hours in la la land recommended), to teens who are advised to get eight to 10 hours of sleep daily, though they rarely do.

Researchers have discovered that those suffering from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are at an increased risk of insomnia. And not getting adequate rest can raise one’s risk for mental health problems.

So, during times of high stress, sleep is of utmost importance. In addition to following a routine, another way that you can ensure a healthy night’s rest for you and your kids is by making sure the whole family is active during the day.

Go Outside

Research from Sweden suggests that being outside is associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders. In a separate study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, researchers showed that spending about 20 minutes in the park can improve your overall well-being.

Even if you can’t get to a park, just getting some fresh air – while keeping 6 feet from others outside your household – can do you a world of good.

Eat Healthy

During this stressful time, it’s important to watch what you eat. That’s because what you put into your body will affect how you think and feel. Research has long documented the positive impact nutrition has on mood and that eating well is associated with lower levels of anxiety and stress.

Research has demonstrated the benefits of eating unprocessed food and having a diet that’s high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, with fish and only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. Studies suggest that those who eat this way have depression rates 25% to 35% lower than those who consume a traditional Western diet characterized by processed foods, lots of red meat and high intake of unhealthy fats and carbs. The saying “you are what you eat” applies as much to mental health as it does to your physical health.

In a time of uncertainty, you need to take care of your mental health. Sure, you may be more confined than you usually are, but you don’t have to let anxiety and depression consume you. Make your mental health a priority by following the measures outlined above.

Also, if you need professional help, please reach out, as there are trained professionals who would like to assist you. Don’t forget, with COVID-19, you are not alone in how you are feeling. More importantly, remember this, too, shall pass.

Depression costs the U.S. economy US$210 billion yearly. That is under normal conditions. An epidemic of depression requires a multi-faceted, multi-level response.

Are We Only Going to See More Substance Abuse and Bad Behavior Including Gambling?

I was amazed that when our Governor of the great state of Maryland shut done businesses yesterday that the liquor stores were exempt, but not my medical offices. I also noticed that the substance abuse/methadone clinic next store to my office was still open for business and as usual, very busy. I continued to wonder when my oldest daughter asked how the pandemic will affect individuals suffering from substance use problems, particularly now that many of these individuals are in forced isolation.

Yale University professor Adrian Bonenberger noted that the coronavirus quarantine means different things to different people: A necessary inconvenience. A fusion of work and home life. A leap into social media, or virtual meetings once held face-to-face. For some, it’s possible to see a silver lining: more time with one’s family, and a change to the regular routine. But for people who suffer from substance use disorder, gambling addiction, or problematic video gaming—otherwise known as internet gaming disorder—the quarantine is fraught with danger.

“People will likely be practicing social distancing per the government’s recommendation,” said Marc Potenza, Ph.D., MD, HS, professor of psychiatry, who directs Yale’s Center of Excellence in Gambling Research, the Women and Addictive Disorders Core at Women’s Health Research at Yale, and the Yale Research Program on Impulsivity. “Oftentimes stress is linked to addictive behaviors, and there can be little question that the social distancing around coronavirus or COVID-19 has been a stressful interruption of routine for many.”

For people in treatment for substance use disorder, COVID-19 could lead to the type of stress and isolation most likely to result in risky behavior.

“Everyone is trying to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19, and the only way to make that happen is social distancing,” said Ellen Edens, MD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry. “But social distancing can also be especially harmful for people with mental conditions or substance use disorder.”

According to Edens, there is a related concern: those who depend on medications to treat a substance use disorder may fall through the cracks. Like those with an opioid use disorder who take methadone or buprenorphine, both of which block cravings, treat opioid withdrawal and prevent opioid overdose; or those with a prescription for disulfiram, a medication that causes people to become sick if they drink alcohol and is most effective when taken under direct observation. Disulfiram is unavailable nationwide, according to Edens, though the intensively monitored in-person treatment often required for best outcomes, particularly early in treatment, is also unlikely in the current context.

Edens also notes that the most vulnerable moment for someone with substance use disorder is at the beginning of treatment, when they are deliberately and intensely plugged into group therapies and peer support groups like those popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. “With social distancing, one of the key components of addiction treatment—the reforging of family, social, or professional connections that may have been severed, exemplified by ‘network therapy’ or a ‘community reinforcement approach’—is lost,” she said. “The psychiatric community is doing what it can to make up for the sudden disruption of tested and effective in-person programs with things like old fashioned telephone calls. But between the technology gap with older patients and specific challenges faced by patients for whom disconnection is essentially the greatest danger, it’s difficult. Many AA groups that have closed their doors to comply with the injunction against gatherings of numerous people, and while it’s certainly prudent, it also leaves many attendees adrift.”

Another possible fallout from COVID-19 stems from the shutdown of casinos across the United States, coupled with the postponement or cancellation of professional sporting events including the NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB (suspended), the Masters (postponed), the Boston Marathon (postponed), and the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments (canceled). Although gambling and sports gambling have been online and lightly regulated for years, there has never been an absolute vacuum of physical gambling locations. It’s likely that in the absence of a physical space in which to gamble, and without many of the typical outlets for gambling in place, some people with gambling addition will make their way to the internet.

The rise of e-sports is one possible place where online gambling and problematic video gaming could converge. A growing field with audiences for a single event in the millions, and over $1 billion in revenue as of 2019, e-sports, in which people play video games online competitively, requires no crowds, and can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone or laptop.

“A quarantine, particularly at home, may lead to bingeing on video games, alcohol, or drugs given the significant change to routine life. It could also lead to a relapse for those who had been doing well previously. Second, those who may have been considering coming to treatment now may suddenly be hesitant given possible exposure to the virus in a hospital or treatment setting and have decided to delay getting help,” said Brian Fuehrlein, MD, Ph.D., FW ’13, associate professor of psychiatry and director, Psychiatric Emergency Room, VA Connecticut Health Care System. Fuehrlein was careful to echo his colleagues in underlining the necessity of home quarantine and the importance of following it, and was unequivocal about the dangers posed to vulnerable populations like those who will be significantly economically impacted by social distancing.

There has already been an observable change in normal behavior at the VA, according to Fuehrlein—and the opposite of what one might expect, which is more cases. Fewer patients have been coming in for any reason, which does not bode well for long-term mental wellness. “Currently, we are seeing an uptick in those who were considering treatment for substance use disorder but have now decided to stay home instead (and thus are likely continuing to drink or use). Our census in the psych ER has actually been running lower than average,” said Fuehrlein.

In the long run, this will almost certainly turn into a large problem, or even a secondary epidemic for people already suffering from the various diseases of addiction. “I think in the long run we will see a sharp increase in depression, anxiety, and addictions of all types as a direct consequence of the current pandemic,” said Fuehrlein. “This may be due to the death of a loved one, a financial crisis, the loss of a job or housing, or some related tragedy. At the moment those consequences have yet to play out.”

Potenza echoes Fuehrlein and Edens’ concerns for people suffering from substance use or gambling problems at home, away from the usual forms of treatment. He brought up another population that will be at risk—in addition to the tens of millions of American workers (over 18% of the work force, according to an article published March 17, 2020 in the Los Angeles Times), millions of school children who have been cut loose with weeks of unstructured time. Without supervision, these groups will be especially vulnerable to what the DSM-5 defines as internet gaming disorder, on top of the better-known associated substance use disorder.

Said Potenza, “Oftentimes, it appears that people who are experiencing negative mood states or life stressors may turn to gambling, gaming, or use various substances including alcohol and drugs. COVID-19 is almost certainly creating more stress, and while health professionals and the government are mobilizing to address the threats posed by the virus, some of the recommended actions like social distancing and staying at home seem likely to lead to more gambling, more gaming, and more substance use.”

Almost 20 million American adults suffered from substance use disorder in 2017, while nearly 10 million American adults struggled with a gambling problem as of 2016. Both groups, in which there is almost certainly some overlap, rely on a therapeutic model that relies on person-to-person meetings. Potenza, Edens, and Fuehrlein all agreed that patients suffering from mental illness and substance use disorder could receive effective treatment via phone or computer, and that technology was racing to keep up with the changing demands of quarantine and the patient population. Any mechanism by which a connection could be forged, according to them, was preferable to isolation during the search for an effective vaccine and perhaps a cure.

“Ultimately,” said Potenza, “we don’t know what will happen. And that’s a source of stress for most if not all of us.”

It’s stockpiling, but not as you know it. Why coronavirus is making people hoard illegal drugs

Ms. Emma Reynolds of London (CNN) wrote that it’s not just toilet roll that people are panic buying. Some illegal drug users are reportedly stockpiling their substance of choice as restrictions intended to stop the spread of coronavirus disrupt the international supply chain.

And the consequences could be devastating, with experts concerned that people will adopt riskier habits, substitute unfamiliar drugs or enter withdrawal, which can be dangerous if unmanaged. Since heavy users often have other health problems, this could mean increased strain on services that are already near breaking point.

UK drug policy and crime experts told CNN they were worried over a growing number of reports of shortages and escalating prices for drugs, as international borders close and supply lines are cut off.

“There are reports coming through of people stockpiling their favorite drug or their drug of choice, and of course, that just creates a shortage, which has inevitably led to price increases,” Ian Hamilton, senior lecturer in addiction and mental health at the University of York, told CNN. He said he expected to see heroin “disappearing very, very quickly” in the UK.

Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, told CNN there was “anecdotal evidence of price rises… and that doesn’t seem surprising.”

“It does seem likely that the supply of drugs that these people are using, in particular heroin, is going to be restricted … it’s going to be more challenging to move drugs around.

“As weeks stretch into months, I think we’re likely to see a drought, a heroin drought.”

Alex Stevens, criminal justice professor at the University of Kent, told CNN that in areas including Birmingham and Bristol, users of heroin and synthetic cannabinoids “are reporting that they’re getting less in a £10 ($12) bag than they would have done four or five weeks ago.”

But this is an industry that operates on supply and demand. The dark web and sites including Craigslist are still active, with many users buying drugs through the mail at a time when police are not focused on monitoring post, according to several experts. “If the heroin isn’t available, they will probably find another route, whether it’s alcohol or inhalants, or benzodiazepines or something else,” said Rolles.

Rolles has even heard reports of dealers dressing in nurse’s uniforms and supermarket uniforms to make deliveries unnoticed.

What happens during a drought?

When the UK last experienced a heroin drought in 2010-11, the drug’s purity at “local dealer level” fell to 18%, according to the National Crime Agency. Street prices reportedly increased, and there was a reduction in the number of deaths involving heroin and a simultaneous (but smaller) increase in deaths involving methadone.

That may sound positive, but the experts say the effects could be different this time. Users may move from less dangerous drug-taking methods to injecting. They may use lethal combinations of drugs. They may use too much of their stockpile. And they may be more likely to overdose alone because of social distancing.

Women are using code words at pharmacies to escape domestic violence during lockdown

One vital difference between 2010 and 2020 that is causing anxiety among the experts is the proliferation of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and can therefore be transported in much smaller quantities. The drug has not yet become widespread in countries including Britain, but is wreaking havoc in the United States.

Fentanyl is the drug most often involved in overdoses in the US, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The rate of overdoses involving the opioid skyrocketed by about 113% each year from 2013 through 2016. If you’re used to heroin and you take fentanyl, “the risk of overdose is extreme,” said Hamilton.

The drug is often manufactured in China, but little is moving out of the original coronavirus epicenter. It is also manufactured in Mexico and possibly Eastern Europe.

With many drug users dealing with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, coronavirus isolation presents an unprecedented challenge.

“People who have an active disorder, addiction disorder, they’re going to look for ways to get a drug,” Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, executive director at NAADAC in the US (National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors), told CNN.

Asking for help

The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

The lines are staffed by a mix of paid professionals and unpaid volunteers trained in crisis and suicide intervention. The confidential environment, the 24-hour accessibility, a caller’s ability to hang up at any time and the person-centered care have helped its success, advocates say.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

Tuohy expects more “poly-use” of readily available marijuana and alcohol, which is already seeing increased consumption worldwide.

It takes longer to build up data on illegal drug consumption, but analysts are watching closely.

Federal confidentiality laws in the US have been relaxed to allow people to access counseling and peer support faster. NAADAC is offering telehealth training, and resources to help clients find services available in their state.

“Whenever there’s a natural disaster, we know that relapse goes up, because of anxiety, the fear of the unknown,” said Tuohy. “Now we have an ongoing, natural disaster, if you will.

“The longer a crisis goes on, the less hope that people see … it doesn’t feel like there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Long term, we’re likely to see suicide go up as a result of depression. So I know that the suicide centers are gearing up and the suicide hotlines already are taking calls.”

A vulnerable population

Any disruption to the illicit drug supply will have the biggest effect on the most vulnerable populations. Heavy drug users are more likely to live with multiple people, have respiratory or other health issues or be homeless — and are therefore more at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“They are in a double tier of vulnerability in that they’re more likely to get the virus and they’re more likely to be affected negatively by it,” said Rolles. “So there’s a big responsibility, I think, on society to look after and protect those populations.”

If that doesn’t happen, hospitals and treatment facilities will face a huge additional strain, he warns.

Governments are conscious of the risks. The UK government has asked local authorities to house all homeless people. Low risk and pregnant prisoners are being released across the world.

Facilities in the US, UK and Canada are allowing stable users to pick up supplies of addiction treatment medications like methadone and buprenorphine once a week or every two weeks instead of daily, but this also presents risks.

Mat Southwell, a drug user and global advocate from Bath in southwest England, told CNN he was delivering a methadone prescription to a woman who cannot pick it up for herself, is suicidal and self-harms. She had gone three days without it.

Coronavirus is revealing how badly the UK has failed its most vulnerable

Will Haydock, from Public Health Dorset also in southwest England, told CNN that UK clinics were seeing an increase in people accessing treatment. He said this was encouraging but warned that for providers already making “significant changes to service design” this was adding to pressure. “It’s going to be a real challenge to deal with that influx of people who want support,” he said.

“This is a particularly vulnerable group of people, and you’re looking at services that are already really stretched.

“If we’re not able to offer the kind of level of support that we would like to, we will see more people die earlier than they need to.”

A spokesperson for the UK’s Home Office told CNN it is “monitoring the impacts of coronavirus” and law enforcement are “continuing to prevent drug trafficking and are successfully disrupting the drugs supply within the UK.”

The world was already facing a drug crisis before the coronavirus pandemic. The US is in the throes of an opioid epidemic. An estimated 10.3 million Americans ages 12 and older misused opioids in 2018. In 2017, there were more than 70,200 overdose deaths in the US and 47,600 of those deaths involved opioids.

The UK has seen near-record levels of drug-related deaths for six years in a row, and Scotland’s death rate is the highest in the European Union.

“I’m very apprehensive about what’s happening right now and what’s going to happen over the next few weeks to this group of our society who are extremely vulnerable, who’ve been exposed to adverse experiences, neglect and abuse from childhood onwards, and now risk being put at the back of the queue for support when in fact, they should be in front of it,” said Stevens, from the University of Kent.

The coming weeks and months will be crucial in identifying the effects of coronavirus on illegal drug use, alcoholism, suicide, domestic abuse, anxiety, and depression — and what it means for all of us as well as how we need to compromise, care and treat each other.

The Increasing Infection Rate and Tips for Running Your Practice or Your Business in a Coronavirus/Pandemic Crisis

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, expressed recently that 200,000 Americans could die even “if we do things perfectly.” However, the Society of Critical Care Medicine has projected that more than 960,000 people in the United States may require ventilators during the course of this pandemic. A study from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Center in the UK gathered data from a sample of those on advanced respiratory support as treatment for COVID-19. Sixty-six percent of those patients died. If these numbers are correct, then we may see over 600,000 deaths in the United States by the time this pandemic is over, and those numbers may increase if we are unable to produce enough ventilators for our response. Each day the numbers get worse.

We need a national strategy

Local government officials across the nation are implementing curfews and extreme social distancing measures. However, in these same states, we continue to see people congregating on beaches, at parks and in other public areas. The federal government’s inability to take decisive action will lead to a wave of death that in many ways will be much worse than the disaster seen on 9/11. Federal officials have plucked the low-hanging fruit of mitigation — and now it’s time to reach deeper and enact a national quarantine.

Part of that strategy is a plan for our practices as healthcare givers and other small and medium business owners and managers. 

I found an interesting article written by Debra A. Shute included in a Medscape email. As I was reviewing the article and editing it for my use I found that during these difficult times, when businesses are being cut back or shut down that many of these suggestions can be applied to all of us in our times of financial and healthcare needs. 

We all have the same requirements as small or medium sized businesses. We want to survive, protect our businesses and our employees, assist our clients, so that when the pandemic is over, we can get back to what we do best, running our business, whatever that might be.

I was also amazed this morning when I went in to the office to take a look at what additional PPEs that I had to give to the local hospitals and clinics. I already loaded up a full SUV of gloves, surgical gowns and masks. Anyway, I noticed an office, a vein clinic, still open with at least 14 cars in their office parking lot. Is this office a necessity? I think not and what are they thinking driving from an area of increasing COVID-19 infection to our “neck of the woods” where so far, we have a low incidence of COVID-19 infection. More importantly our area has a larger population of older patients. Think of Italy and their mortality due mostly to the fact that they have the second oldest population in the world.

What is this physician thinking? Evidently the greed factor plays a role here and not the safety of her patients, her staff and yes, even herself as a physician. I am amazed and disheartened to see this idiocy in such a serious crisis.

Considerations to consider in this time of a pandemic:

  1. Do you or your practice need to continue to keep your practice doors open to see patients? Many states are mandating shutting all nonessential businesses including physician and nurse practitioner offices unless essential emergent care is needed. The same questions can be applied to most businesses if you think your business is essential and the state government hasn’t shut down with threats of jail time and fines.
  2. What patients are you going to see in this time of crisis and what are the challenges. i.e. eighty or older patients with no suspicious symptoms for the COVID-19 virus.
  3. The safety of three parts of your practice- a. your patients, b. your staff and c. you the treating practitioner.

If you need to continue to run your practice what tips can we provide? Debra Shulte, a freelance writer, summarized it in her article: 7 Tips for Running Your Practice in the Coronavirus Crisis, which appeared on the Medscape Web post. The rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the US raises the possibility that some physician and nurse practitioner offices will need to decide or be forced to close temporarily, as occurred in London last month as well as many areas in the U.S. Just recently, Maryland’s Governor Hogan sent out through the Health Department new regulations closing offices. So, now many practices across the country have to adjust to the way they operate, amid daily changes in this pandemic. The question is-what should you do to adapt to this new way of operating your practice?

  1. Create a Task, Practitioner and Staff Force or Core Team to Manage Change

“The readiness of medical practices to address the myriad challenges posed by this crisis has so far been a mixed bag”, said Owen Dahl, MBA, a Texas-based medical management consultant. Leadership is going to have to access what’s happening in the community, what’s happening with staff members who may or may not have the disease and may or may not have to self-quarantine.” Dahl said.

The physicians, the administrator, CEO, or managing partner should be involved in decision making as the global crisis unfolds, added Laurie Morgan, MBA, a California-based practice management consultant. And depending on the size of the practice, it may be useful to delegate specific components of this work to various department managers or other individuals in the group.

The Team should assess:

  1. Recommendations and/ or mandates from local, state, and federal governments
  2. Guidance from specialty and state medical societies
  3. How to triage patients over the phone, i.e. what questions to ask? Can they participate in Virtual visits and do they and your office have the hardware and software technology? Or can or should they be referred to an alternate site of care (culture sites).
  4. Where to send patients, if necessary, for testing?
  5. The practice’s inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  6. Review of and possible revision of current infection control policies
  7. Possible collaborations within the community including hospitals, clinics and Health Departments, etc.
  8. Reimbursement policies for suspected COVID-19 triage, testing, and follow-up treatment- in office or virtually. Interestingly enough there is a new ICD-10 code for COVID-19 for coding visits and treatment.
  9. Whether some employees’ work (e.g. billing, coding) can be done remotely
  10. Options for paying personnel in the case of a temporary shutdown
  11. What’s covered and excluded by the group’s business interruption insurance
  12. Consider Postponing Nonessential Appointments

What’s more, it is critical for practices to form a strategy that does not involve bringing patients into the office, said Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician, epidemiologist, and chief medical officer of TeleMed2U. “One thing we really have to recognize in this pandemic is that we don’t want people going and sitting in our waiting room. We don’t want people coming, and not only exposing other patients, but also further exposing staff. Forward triaging is going to be essential in this type of pandemic.”

One medical group, with multiple locations in Massachusetts, for example, announced to patients recently that it will postpone appointments for some routine and elective procedures, as we have done in my practice, as determined by the group’s physicians and clinical staff.

“Taking this step will help limit the number of people passing through our facilities, which will help slow the spread of illness (as recommended by the CDC),” noted in an email blast to patients.

  1. Overcommunication to Patients

With a situation as dynamic and unprecedented as this, constant and clear communication with patients is crucial. “said Morgan. “In order to be effective and get the word out, you have to be overcommunicating.”

Today’s practices have ways to communicate to keep people informed, including email, text messaging, social media patient portals, and even local television and radio.

One email or text message to the patient population can help direct them to the appropriate streams of information. Helping direct patients to updated information is critical.

In contrast, having the front desk field multitudes of calls from concerned patients ties up precious resources, according to Siddiqui. “Right now, practices are absolutely inundated, patients are waiting on hold, and that creates a great deal of frustration,” he said. Work out how to manage the crisis calls!

“We really need to take a page from every other industry in the United States, and that is secure SMS, email communication, and telehealth,” Siddiqui said. “Healthcare generally tends to be a laggard in this because so many people think, ‘Well, you can’t do that in healthcare,’ as opposed to thinking, ‘How can we do that in healthcare?”

  1. Take Advantage of Telemedicine

Fortunately, technology to interact with patients remotely is almost ubiquitous. Even for practices with little experience in this arena, various vendors exist that can get secure, HIPAA-compliant technologies up and running quickly. Many of the practice management electronic medical records systems already have the capacity for telemedicine including patient portals.

Various payers have issued guidance regarding reimbursement for telemedicine specific to COVID-19, and on March 6, Congress passed a law regarding Medicare coverage and payment for virtual services during a government-declared state of emergency. Some of the rules about HIPAA compliance in telemedicine have been eased for this emergency.

But even with well-established telemedicine modalities in place, it’s crunch time for applying it to COVID-19. “You need to find a way to have telemedicine available and use it, because depending on how this goes, that’s going to be clearly the safest, best way to care for a huge number of people,” said Darryl Elmouchi, MD, MBA, chief medical officer of Spectrum Health System and president of Spectrum Health Medical Group n Michigan.

 “What we recognize now, both with our past experience with telehealth for many years and specifically with this coronavirus testing we’ve done, is that it’s incredibly useful both for the clinicians and the patients,” Elmouchi said.

One possibility to consider is the tactic used by Spectrum, a large integrated healthcare system. The company mobilized its existing telemedicine program to offer free virtual screenings for anybody in Michigan showing possible symptoms of COVID-19. “We wanted to keep people out of our clinics, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers if they didn’t need to be there, and help allay fears,” he said.

Elmouchi said his company faced the problems that other physicians would also have to deal with. “It was a ton of work with a dedicated team that focused on this. The hardest part was probably trying to determine how we can staff it,” he said.

With their dedicated virtual team still seeing regularly scheduled virtual patients, the system had to reassign its traditional teams, such as urgent care, and primary care clinicians, to the virtual screening effort. “Then we had to figure out how we could operationalize it. It was a lot of work,” Elmouchi said.

Telemedicine capabilities are not just limited to screening patients, but can also be used to stay in touch with patients who may be quarantined and provide follow-up care, he noted.

Luckily in my practice we have used forms of telemedicine for many years either email or texts are the patient’s favorite mode of communication and virtual video chat only if necessary due the fact that my practice is a surgical practice. However, in these critical times I only want to see those needing urgent attention. If they report suspicious symptoms then we need to consider where to refer them. 

Therefore-

  • Identify COVID-19 Testing sites

Access to tests remains a problem in the U.S., but is improving by the week. Just consider the most recent announcement that they now have a test that can give results in 15 minutes. For practices that can attain the tests themselves, not in my practice, it will still require some creativity to administer them with as little risk as possible. In South Korea, for example, and increasingly in the U.S, healthcare organizations are instructing patients waiting to be tested to stay in their cars and have a practitioner wearing the proper PPE go out to patients to test them there. Alternatively, some practices may opt to have PPE-wearing staff members bring PPE to patients in their cars and then escort them to a designated testing area in the building-through the back door if noninfected patients are still being seen. I don’t recommend this last option because of the shortage of PPE equipment unless the patient is such a high risk and has multiple co-morbidities and needs a in depth exam. Here I suggest an in car rapid culture/test and if the need warrants to refer to the medical center better setup to manage the patient.

“Once in the office, you still need to isolate virus patients in any way you can,” Dahl said. “In fact, you may want a negative-pressure environment if possible, with the air being sucked out rather than circulating,” he said, adding that a large restroom with a ventilation system could be repurposed as a makeshift exam room. Here I am adamant! If you are going to see sick viral patients your practice should have negative pressure rooms. This protects the staff, other patients and you the practitioners.

Community testing sites are another possibility, my favorite option, given proper coordination with other healthcare organizations and community officials. Siddiqui has been working with several communities in which individual clinics and hospitals are unable to handle testing on their own, and have instead collaborated to create community-testing sites in tents on local athletic fields.

“One of our communities is looking at using the local college parking lot to do drive-through testing there,” he said. “We really need to embrace collaboration much more than we’ve ever done.”

 This is in fact what we have set up in our small town, using the local community college parking lots, etc.

Collaboration also requires sharing supplies and PPE, noted Dahl. “Don’t hoard them because of the shortage. Look at your inventory and make sure you can help whomever you may be sending patients to. “And if your office is falling short, Dahl advises checking with offices in your community that may be closing, such as dentists or plastic surgeons, for supplies you can purchase or simply have. I did this in my office, donating an SUV full of surgical gowns, facemasks and boxes of gloves to the hospital to deliver to whom needs them most.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued some guidance to healthcare providers about shortages of surgical masks and gowns, including advice about reusable cloth alternatives to gowns.

In addition, some hospitals have asked clinicians to keep their masks and provide guidance on how to conserve supplies. Our medical facility set up a Task Force to analyze, assess and allocate supplies calling on physicians and dentists, etc.

  • Preparing to Potentially Shut Down

A temporary closure may be inevitable for some practices. “Maybe the physician owners will not feel like they have a choice,” said Morgan. “They feel like they want to stay open for as long as they can; but if it’s not safe for patients or not safe for employees, maybe they’ll feel it’s better if they check out for a bit.” And remember if you are sick or one of your partners is sick or a member of your staff the stress becomes multiplied and, potential errors occur and everyone suffers!

Handling the financial ramifications of closure is a top priority as well, and will require a full understanding of what is and isn’t covered by the practice’s business interruption insurance. Practices that don’t have a line of credit should reach out to banks and the Small Business Administration immediately, according to Dahl and of course me. Practices that have lines of credit already may want to ask for an increase. Although the 2 trillion-dollar COVID-19 rescue bill may assist healthcare facilities. Meet and work with your account to review your financial liabilities, losses and needs for the future!

My other suggestion and that of many experts is to Apply for an SBA loan (CARES Act loan) to acquire working capital.

  • See: U.S. Small Business Administration, Disaster Loan Assistance
    Due to current traffic, non-peak hours are optimal 7pm – 7am EST.

Loan Application Checklist

Forecasting Cash Inflows for 13 Weeks

  • You may not have all of the information; however, don’t let that keep you from conducting this exercise. Use your best estimates, evaluate your forecast real-time (daily), and adjust the forecast as you go.
  • It may be easiest to start with the prior year’s weekly revenue and adjust accordingly. 
  • When determining cash inflows, consider any ongoing operations, accounts receivable, retained earnings, owner loans, and/or financial support from lenders (such as lines of credit or SBA above).
  • Decide how you will manage late fees/ waivers from your patients, customers and clients.

Forecasting Cash Obligations for 13 Weeks- Leverage your Networks. 

  • Watch and prepare for outside influences including landlords, local, state, and   federal actions
  • Determine where obligations may need to be reduced
  • Negotiate with Vendors and seek extensions* 
    – If this seems daunting, start with those you spend the most money. 
  • Negotiate with Credit Card Companies
    – Can you reduce your minimum payment or increase your line of credit?
  • Negotiate rent with Landlords 
    – Consider evaluating any lease agreements that include Force Majeure clauses (freeing both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties) and work with your legal counsel to evaluate options and/or circumstances that may invoke this provision.
    – If you own the building, contact your lender to evaluate term extensions, etc.
  • Develop Staffing Plan with the Assistance of Legal Counsel
    – What can you afford based on your forecast? 
    – Do you need to reduce hours, reduce staff through lay-offs or furloughs? 
    – Consider job sharing options (1 staff member M, W, 2nd staff member works T, Th)

Protecting employees’ income is challenging as well. For employees who are furloughed, consider allowing them to use their sick leave and vacation time during the shutdown-and possibly let staff “borrow” not yet accrued paid time off. I went through this discussion with my staff and ended the discussion with the assurance that if we cut back hours or let people go their jobs were secure when this was all over and that I guaranteed them financial support for rent and food, etc. for however long the shutdown lasts. Our practice sets aside a savings account for emergencies.

        Considerations for Furlough/Layoff
– If you are to keep staff, identify specific job responsibilities. 
– If your staffing plan includes remote employment, which I will discuss in the next section, you may need to determine how to utilize your staff in a remote capacity. For example, can they work on updating your practice’s website and/or before & after galleries, build out social media marketing calendars, mine your practice management system, etc. More discussion will be found in the next section where I discuss working from home.

Marketing
– Determine ROI on current efforts. What’s working/what’s not/what’s the plan moving forward?

However, there’s a risk with certain jobs in a medical practice that tend to have extremely high turnover, so physicians and administrators may be reluctant to pay people too much because they don’t know for sure those employees will come back to those jobs,” Morgan said. “On the other hand, if you have had a stable team for a very long time and feel confident that those employees are going to stay, then you may make a different decision.” Therefore, if you need to cut back staff temporarily, when things stabilize you will have able and willing staff and not need to find new employees who will need to be trained, etc.

  1. Seize Work-From- Home Opportunities

“Even if the practice isn’t seeing patients, there may be opportunities for some employees, such as billers, coders and schedulers, to continue to work from home.” Morgan noted. Particularly if a practice is behind on it’s billing, a closure or slowdown is an ideal time to catch up. This measure will keep at least some people working-perhaps including some individuals who can be cross-trained to do other tasks-and maintain some cashflow when the practice needs it most.

Other remote-friendly jobs that often fall by the wayside when practices are busy include marketing tasks such as setting up or updating Google business pages, Healthgrades’s profiles, and so on, noted Morgan.  And make sure your staff has the software and hardware to support Work-from Home strategies.

“Another thing that can be even more important, and is often overlooked, is making sure health plan directories have correct information about your practice,” she added. “These are pesky, often tedious tasks that may require repeated contact with health plans to fix things-perfect to do when the office is not busy or closed.”

For administrators and billers, if the practice is able to keep paying these employees while partially or fully closed, it can also be an excellent time to do the sort of analysis that takes a lot of focused attention and is hard to do when busy. Some examples: a detailed comparison of payer performance, analysis of referral patterns, or a review of coding accuracy. Morgan suggested. 

We had an excellent opportunity to have our staff analyze our practice and plan our future move to a new facility and start packing, etc. Make use of your employees and the opportunities that you have been putting off due to your busy practice!

As with many, HIPAA is a leading concern, though it needn’t be, according to Morgan and the notification of the relaxation of some HIPAA regulations to allow various forms of communication with our patients.

Finally, as the crisis begins to abate, practices and businesses must keep working in teams to evaluate and structure an orderly return to business as usual, gleaning best practices from colleagues whenever possible. Strategize how to re-boot your practice or any of the other businesses. Consider what the world will look like when the crisis is over and plan how to rebuild and reschedule, etc.

“I would tell practices this is not a time when anyone is competing with anyone.” Said Elmouchi. The more collaboration between practices and health systems that have larger resources the better.”

I would add that the physicians and other practitioners as well as the other businesses who were forced to close need to support your staff though these difficult times and acknowledge their importance and your gratitude for their hard work and sacrifices during this crisis. Save some time AFTER the pandemic is over and there is no possibility of health risk to have lunch or dinner or just time to celebrate surviving.

As I mentioned any small or medium business can use this set of tips to survive in this tempestuous time. As the restaurants are doing, create a pickup system, or use your employees to create a delivery system to keep as many of your employees on the job. You can also evaluate your marketing and do some strategic planning. It is the time to use your staff to plan the future together and

Engage in Team building so that when the pandemic is over you will create a more effective, efficient system to deliver what ever you goal or goals are to your patients, clients or customer want and need. Be creative and this is the time to consider process improvement. 

Use the time wisely. Over communicate with your patients, clients and customers and more important your staff including document your plans and use a decision tree for staff and referral businesses including possible Web site announcements.

Also, realizing the there are many that may need federal aid/loans, if you decide that you may need assistance apply now!! And don’t let all this stress you or your staff out! Work together with your staff and your patients and network through this pandemic crisis and for the future.

American life has been transformed in a few short weeks and the Cost to Economies and the Ethics in Decision Making in a Pandemic

Italy a country at the heart of the Corona virus outbreak in Europe — watched its number of cases and deaths due to the novel Corona virus astronomically leap once again, up 793 deaths with 6,557 newly confirmed cases recorded in just 24 hours.

Saturday’s jump marks the worst day for fatalities since the crisis began just four months ago. The country now counts 53,578 diagnosed infections, up 13.9 percent, with 4,825 deaths — the highest in the world.

More than 60 percent of the most recent deaths occurred in the northern region of Lombardy. Hospitals in the area have been reeling under a staggering caseload that has left intensive care beds scarce and respirators in extremely limited supply.

According to the Financial Times, 2,857 people were in intensive care in Lombardy on Saturday, up from 2,655 on Friday. The new increases come almost two weeks into a nationwide lock down in an attempt to stop the COVID-19 virus in its tracks there.

There were also 943 full recoveries tallied yesterday — another record for the country.

On Thursday, Italy was witness to yet another grim milestone in its fight against the deadly disease by overtaking China to become the country with the highest number of deaths.

On Friday the government banned the last types of outdoor exercise Italians were able to participate in under the lock down measures by deciding that running and bicycle rides were no longer permitted. In addition, the Italian military has also been dispatched to Milan to ensure that citizens follow the new lock down measures.

The Italian interior ministry reported that more than 223,633 people were inspected by the Italian police nationwide on Friday, with 9,888 people reported for breaking the lock down measures and 260 for false declarations about why they were outside.

Across the Atlantic, the number of cases in the United States has now exceeded 22,000 with more than 270 deaths. New York tops the list with at least 10,000 confirmed cases; Washington state follows with just over 1,500 cases, and California is in tow with more than 1,200.

Thus far, the global pandemic has infected more than 287,000 people and killed over 11,900. More than 90,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

The Associated Press and The Financial Times contributed to this report.

I found this article in the Economist discussing what the economic influence would be from the COVID-19 pandemic. The titular conceit of “28 Days Later”, as with many contagion-style horror films, is of a man waking up after a month-long coma only to find society upended by a rampaging virus. Many Americans are experiencing something similar. On March 3rd there were just 122 confirmed cases of COVID-19—the disease currently sweeping the world—and only seven deaths. By March 17th there were 7,786 confirmed cases (even these were a sure underestimate given the dearth of testing) and 118 deaths. Twenty-eight days later, on March 31st, what might America look like?

cap.gifp-a8GHW19EK4IzY.gif“We don’t know whether we’re going to look like Italy or the provinces outside Hubei” in China where the spread of COVID-19 was fairly effectively contained, says David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a health-policy think-tank. “But the likelihood is—given the slowness with which we responded to the epidemic—that we look more like Italy,” he adds. Jerome Adams, the surgeon-general, has warned of the same.

Can America’s health system cope? The structural problems that make pandemic response more difficult—lack of paid sick pay, a large uninsured population and a significant number of insured people nonetheless worried about out-of-pocket medical bills—cannot be mended overnight. Instead, public-health experts and doctors are increasingly worried about sheer capacity constraints. In China, 5% of those diagnosed needed intensive care. There are roughly 97,000 beds in intensive care units (ICUs), of which one-third are empty. Though America has relatively few total hospital beds per person compared with other countries, it ranks among the highest for ICU beds per person, with nearly three times as many as Italy.

“The real limiting factors are likely to be the ventilators or the staff,” says Greg Martin, a professor of medicine at Emory University and president-elect of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. There are roughly 50,000 physicians trained in critical care and 34,000 similarly specialized nurses and assistants. This could be insufficient in the face of hundreds of thousands of cases at peak rates of infection.

Then there is the problem of kit. In China, half of those in critical care required the use of ventilators, machines that help people breathe. There are thought to be 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators in the country, many of which are already in use. Older stocks of perhaps 100,000 devices—including CPAP machines used for those with sleep apnea—could be called upon if needed, but would provide only basic functions. Ramp-ups in ventilator production are being pondered, including through emergency powers given to the president under the Defense Production Act of 1950, but there has been little actual action yet. On a phone call with state governors, President Donald Trump urged “respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment—try getting it yourselves”, which could spark an unhelpful competition between states for scarce resources.

“Under almost any basic scenario, things look tough. Hospital beds will be completely full many times over if we don’t substantially spread the load,” warns Ashish Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard. To head that off, Mr Jha has called for an Italy-style national quarantine, lasting for at least two weeks, in which all non-essential businesses are closed and gatherings of more than five people are barred to give time for testing to become widespread. After a dismally slow start to testing, the numbers are finally heading up—although the best estimates come not from public-health agencies, but volunteer trackers using a Google sheet—to an estimated 12,535 tests conducted on March 17th. Given the expected scope of the disease, and the reported obstacles to people with symptoms actually getting tested, much more will be needed.

Most hospitals are making contingency plans. There are plans to add physical beds by cancelling elective surgeries that can be postponed, converting recovery rooms into added beds and building tents to house some patients. The Cleveland Clinic, a prominent hospital, says it has plans in place to add 1,000 beds of capacity within 72 hours if needed. Teams of doctors and nurses with other specialties could be conscripted into critical-care work, supervised by critical-care doctors who handle the trickiest cases—like respiratory distress coupled with organ failure in the kidneys or heart. If this is insufficient, recently retired doctors could be drafted into service. Some teaching hospitals are using simulation centers to prepare medical staff for the inevitable surge in cases.

Testing? Testing?

Whether it will come to all this is still unclear. Testing capacity remains constrained, limiting the information epidemiologists have to feed both their models and their willingness to speculate. Their policy recommendations—social distancing, closure of schools and large gatherings—are nevertheless clear. One team of researchers has concluded that an epidemic resembling that of Wuhan, where the novel Corona virus first broke out, would overwhelm hospitals many times over, while one resembling Guangzhou, a city that locked down in the early days of the virus, could be dealt with.

On March 16th, however, a team of scientists based at Imperial College London, who have been advising the British government, also published forecasts of the epidemic’s trajectory in America. As with Britain, the figures look grim. Without any mitigation, America would experience 2.2m deaths, they predict. Even in the case of some mitigation—isolation of the sick, social distancing for the elderly, but an otherwise normal society—American hospital and ICU capacity would be exceeded eight times over, and the country would be on track for at least 1.1m deaths. Averting this through “suppression”—isolation of sick, closing of schools and universities, social distancing for everyone—would require months until therapeutics or vaccines can be developed.

America is therefore turning towards suppression of the virus. Millions of pupils and university students have been sent home and left to take classes online. Mr. Trump has advised that people not congregate in gatherings of more than ten people. San Francisco and surrounding counties have issued a “shelter-in-place” order that requires 7m to remain in their homes unless necessary. New York City is expected to do the same for its 8m residents. In 22 states, bars and restaurants have been ordered to close their seating and only serve takeaway. The state of New York is setting up drive-through testing centers, starting in New Rochelle, a commuter town in Westchester County that was one of the early sites of a COVID-19 cluster, and is urging federal troops to build emergency, temporary hospital facilities. New Rochelle’s mayor says he is surviving the lock down there on “adrenalin, coffee and M&Ms”.

The goal is to increase general hospital capacity by a factor of two and ICU capacity by a factor of ten within two months. Elections have been postponed in a few states for the Democratic primary, which now seems a dull, distant affair. America’s devolved system means that the shuttering will happen at different rates in different places, but the trajectory is clear. “You want a single national response. But when the federal government completely fails, as it has so far, then you can get states and cities to step up,” says Mr. Jha.

The question is how long this can go on for. Unmitigated, the epidemic would not peak for at least another three months. Suppression can reduce the spread of the disease, as China’s experiment with locking down most of its population showed, but relaxing these measures will inevitably bring another surge in cases. Mr. Trump, who a few weeks ago was suggesting the virus was the latest hoax invented to damage him, is now warning that this could be the start of a months-long reorientation in American life. And while these extraordinary actions should smother the disease, they will also smother the economy.

The dismal economic forecasts will require further action from Congress. It spent the last week haggling over a bill that would make testing for the disease free, increase the flow of safety-net benefits and grant paid sick leave to more workers (though this provision appears to be hollowing out with every iteration). Even before that bill was finalized, Washington’s attention had already turned to the even bigger economic stimulus package that must come next. Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, are tripping over themselves issuing plans to send cash directly to American families.          

The total package, which could be worth $1trn or more, dwarfs the $100bn-or-so bill recently signed into law and every other stimulus package in history. The Trump administration has proposed sending $500bn in direct cash to taxpayers, $300bn to keep firms afloat, and $200bn to bail out critical industries like airlines. The typical partisan bickering from Congress and even from Mr. Trump has been muted. Every politician seems to now realize that the country faces an unprecedented crisis, first of public health and then of the economy, that will last for months. Whether this action will look sufficient 28 days later is, as with seemingly every aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic, deeply uncertain. ■

Ethicists agree on who gets treated first when hospitals are overwhelmed by Corona virus 

As a member of our Ethics Committee I thought that the decisions that physicians and staff in other countries were facing regarding who gets the ventilators was an interesting conundrum. This article contributed by Oliva Goldhill in her article, The Aging Effect, is a great introduction into the decisions that we may have to make here in the US. Pandemics bring ethical dilemmas into sharp, terrible focus. Around the world, hospitals have been unable to cope with the millions who need treatment for Corona virus. China created makeshift hospitals and denied treatment to those who needed non-Corona virus care; Italians wait an hour on the phone to get through to emergency services. Few countries will fare better: The United States has fewer than 100,000 ICU beds, and is expected to need a minimum of 200,000 to cope with Corona virus; the UK has just 8,200 ventilators and is getting an extra 3,800.

As health care systems are overwhelmed with more patients than they can feasibly treat, medical personnel are forced to decide who should get the available ventilators and ICU beds. Quartz spoke with eight ethicists, all of whom agreed that in such dire situations, those who have the best chance of surviving get priority. Despite the unanimity, all agreed that this decision is far from easy and should not be taken lightly.

Different moral theories, same answer

The decision to prioritize those with good survival odds is reinforced by several moral theories. Utilitarianism, for example, argues that morality is determined by the consequences of actions, and so we should strive to create the maximum good for the maximum number of people. “If we give scarce treatments to those who don’t stand to benefit (and have a high chance of dying anyway), then not only will they die, but those with higher likelihood of survival (but require ventilator support) will also die,” says Lydia Dugdale, professor of medicine and director of the center for clinical medical ethics at Columbia University. “It’s not fair to distribute scarce resources in a way that minimizes lives saved.”

A contrarian theory, which bases ethics on the social contract we would agree to if we didn’t know our status in society, arrives at the same conclusion. Joshua Parker, a trainee general practitioner (primary care doctor) who co-wrote an article on the ethics of Corona virus care for the Journal of Medical Ethics, points to philosopher John Rawls’ concept of a “veil of ignorance” as a way to determine the just action: “Behind the veil of ignorance, I am stripped of any knowledge of my position. I don’t know if I’ll be old, young, rich, poor, well, unwell, male or female; and I don’t know if I will catch COVID-19 or if I do, what resources I will need,” he writes in an email to Quartz. This thought experiment makes it easier to judge what’s fair for society as a whole. Alex John London, director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, agrees: “Such agents might agree that in a pandemic, when not everyone can be saved, health care systems should use their resources to save as many lives as possible—because that is the strategy that allows each person a fair chance of being able to pursue their life plan.”

Even typically diverging ethical theories are likely to point to this conclusion. Utilitarianism, which focuses on the consequences of an action, is typically opposed to deontology, which says morality is determined by the act itself. “The deontologist might well start with a justice argument: each person is individually valuable and should have an equal chance of health care,” says Anders Sandberg, a philosopher at the Future of Humanity Institute at the Oxford University. But if this is simply impossible, then the theory doesn’t hold. “As Kant said, “ought implies can,” and if one cannot do an action it cannot be obligatory.” A deontologist approach to treat everyone equally falls short when there simply isn’t enough medical equipment to treat everyone; if some will have access and some won’t, then we have to face the question of who gets preferential treatment. And so “even the most die-hard deontologist will usually agree” that it’s wrong to treat people who are unlikely to benefit while others are in need, agrees Brian D. Earp, associate director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy at Yale University and The Hastings Center.

Doctors have reckoned with the need to allocate resources in the face of overwhelming demand long before Corona virus. Dugdale points out that the New York department of health’s ventilator allocation guidelines, published in November 2015 to address the issue amid a flu epidemic, states that first-come first-serve, lottery, physician clinical judgment, and prioritizing certain patients such as health care workers were explored but found to be either too subjective or failed to save the most lives. Age was rejected as a criterion as it discriminates against the elderly, and there are plenty of cases in which an older person has better odds of survival than someone younger.

So the decision was to “utilize clinical factors only to evaluate a patient’s likelihood of survival and to determine the patient’s access to ventilator therapy.” In tie-breaking circumstances, though, they did approve treating children 17 and younger over an adult where both have an equal odds of surviving. Dugdale adds that there’s talk of applying these guidelines to address Corona virus treatment in New York.

No good answer

The dire consequences of any decision made under such extreme circumstances means that, despite agreement, the best course of action is hardly favorable. “I would say that leaving some to die without treatment is NOT ethical, but it may be necessary as there are no good options,” David Chan, philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, writes. “Saying that it is ethical ignores the tragic element, and it is better that physicians feel bad about making the best of a bad situation rather than being convinced that they have done the right thing.”

Rather, it’s simply the least bad option. Alternatives, such as a lottery system or prioritizing the sickest, are likely to lead to more deaths. “There is a good chance that we invest resources into patients who don’t survive, and we have thus doomed not just the patient we tried to save, but also the patient who was passed over for care, because the resources have been used up,” says Vanessa Bentley, philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Lives that could have been saved were lost.”

Although there’s broad agreement on the best approach, the nuances of applying this decision will always be difficult. Not only must doctors accurately assess and prioritize those with the best chance of survival, but there could also be times when the hospital doesn’t have enough equipment to help even those with equal odds. Italy has prioritized treatment for those with “the best chance of success” but adds as a second criterion those “who have more potential years of life.” This secondary factor is not so easily agreed upon but, in the face of Corona virus, it’s an ethical question doctors will have to face.

Governments are spending big to keep the world economy from getting dangerously sick

The help is targeted at companies and individuals. More will be needed

In the recent edition of the Economist Today it was noted a character in a novel by Ernest Hemingway once described bankruptcy as an experience that occurs “two ways: gradually, then suddenly”. The economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic has followed this pattern. For weeks policymakers dithered, even as forecasts for the likely economic damage worsened. But in the space of just a few days the rich world has shifted decisively. Many governments are now on a war footing, promising massive state intervention and control over economic activity.

The new phrase on politicians’ lips is “whatever it takes”—a line borrowed from Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in 2011-19. He used it in 2012 to convince investors he was serious about solving the euro-zone crisis, and prompted an economic recovery. Mr Draghi’s promise was radical enough. Politicians are now proposing something of a different magnitude: sweeping, structural changes to how their economies work.

There are unprecedented promises. On March 16th President Emmanuel Macron of France declared that “no company, whatever its size, will face the risk of bankruptcy” because of the virus. Germany pledged unlimited cash to businesses hit by it. Japan passed a hastily compiled spending package in February, but on March 10th supplemented it with another one that included over ¥430bn ($4bn) in spending and almost four times as much in cheap lending. Britain has said it will lend over £300bn (15% of GDP) to firms. America may enact a fiscal package worth well over $1trn (5% of GDP). The most conservative estimates of the total extra fiscal stimulus announced thus far put it at 2% of global GDP, more than was shoveled out in response to the global financial crisis of 2007-09.

That sinking feeling

In part this radical action is motivated by the realization that the Corona virus, first and foremost a public-health emergency, is also an economic one. The jaw-dropping bad economic data coming out of China hint at what could be in store for the rest of the world. In the first two months of 2020 all major indicators were deeply negative: industrial production fell by 13.5% year-on-year, retail sales by 20.5% and fixed-asset investment by 24.5%. GDP may have declined by as much as 10% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020. The last time China reported an economic contraction was more than four decades ago, at the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Grim numbers are starting to pile up elsewhere, not so much in the official statistics, which take time to be published, as in “real-time” economic data produced by the private sector. Across the world, attendance at restaurants has fallen by half, according to OpenTable, a booking platform. International-passenger arrivals at the five biggest American airports are down by at least 30%. Box-office receipts have crumpled (see chart 2).

The disruption to international travel will hurt trade, since over half of global air freight is carried in the bellies of passenger planes. The combination of disrupted supply chains and depressed demand from shoppers should hit trade far harder than overall GDP, if the experience of the last financial crisis is anything to go by. Already, the American Association of Port Authorities, an alliance of the ports of Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States, has warned that cargo volumes during the first quarter of 2020 could be down by 20% or more from a year earlier.

Official data are now starting to drip out. The Empire manufacturing index, a monthly survey covering New York state, in March saw its steepest drop on record, and the lowest level since 2009. In February Norway’s jobless rate was 2.3%; by March 17th it was 5.3%. State-level numbers from America suggest that unemployment there has been surging in recent days.

All this is fueling grim forecasts. In a report on March 17th Morgan Stanley, a bank, estimated that GDP in the euro area will fall by an astonishing 12% year-on-year in the second quarter of the year. The Japanese economy is forecast to contract by 2% this quarter and 2% next. Most analysts see global GDP shrinking in the first half of the year, with barely any growth over 2020 as a whole—the worst performance since the financial crisis of 2007-09.

Even that is likely to prove optimistic. On March 17th analysts at Goldman Sachs noted that they had “not yet built a full lock down scenario” into their forecasts for advanced economies outside Europe. Forecasts for America, which is at an earlier stage than Europe and Asia when it comes to the outbreak, remain Panglossian; very slow growth in China and a big recession in Europe could by itself be enough to send the world’s largest economy the same way. Steven Mnuchin, America’s treasury secretary, warned this week that the country’s unemployment rate could reach 20% unless Congress passes a stimulus package. A negotiating ploy? With shopping malls emptying, factories grinding to a halt and financial markets buckling, lawmakers may be loath to challenge the claim.

Despite stomach-churning declines in GDP in the first half of this year, and especially the second quarter, most forecasters assume that the situation will return to normal in the second half of the year, with growth accelerating in 2021 as people make up for lost time. That judgment is in part informed by China’s experience. More than 90% of its big industrial firms are officially back in business. Its stock market had been one of the world’s worst performers in early February but is now the best (or rather, least bad). There remains, however, a risk that global containment and suppression of the virus will need to continue for a year or longer. If so, global economic output could be dragged down for much longer than most people expect.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of the global financial crisis was that it paid to act decisively and to act big, convincing markets and households that policymakers were serious about countering the slump. If done right, central banks and governments can end up doing a lot less than they actually promised. A pledge to bail out banks makes it less likely savers will withdraw deposits and make a rescue necessary.

This time around, central banks sprang into action. Since February the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates by 1.5 percentage points. Other central banks have followed suit. Further deep rate cuts are not possible, though; interest rates were very low long before the virus began to spread.

Let’s get fiscal

Not all central banks are acting as boldly as they can. China has room to cut interest rates—its benchmark rate is 1.5%—but has held back in part because inflation is quite high (largely as a result of African swine fever, which hit pig stocks, raising prices). Central banks could try more creative policies. On March 19th the ECB’s governing council agreed to launch a €750bn bond-buying program, covering both sovereign and corporate debt. But the real action is now taking place on the fiscal front.

Governments are falling over each other to offer bigger and better stimulus packages. All countries are spending more on health care, both in an effort to find vaccines and cures and to increase hospital capacity. However, the bulk of the extra spending is on companies and people.

Take companies first. China, where the outbreak has slowed, is now trying to get people out and buying things. Foshan, a city in Guangdong province, has launched a subsidy program for people buying cars. Some cities have started giving out coupons that can be spent in local shops and restaurants. Nanjing this month gave out e-vouchers worth 318m yuan ($45m).

Most countries, however, are in or about to enter the worst part of the outbreak. As customers dry up, many firms will go bust without government help. Calculations by The Economist suggest that 40% of consumer spending in advanced economies is vulnerable to people shunning social situations. Firms in leisure and hospitality are especially rattled. The Moor of Rannoch hotel, in about as rural a part of Scotland as it is possible to find, says its insurer will not be paying out a penny for lost custom, since COVID-19 is a new disease and thus not covered under its policy.

One approach is to reduce firms’ fixed costs, largely rent and labor. China’s finance ministry will exempt companies from making social-security contributions for up to five months. The government has also temporarily cut the electricity price for most companies by 5% and enacted short-term value-added-tax cuts. The British government has extended a one-year business-rates holiday to all companies operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Yet for many firms, no matter how much the government helps them reduce costs, revenues are likely to fall further.

So, measures may be needed to allow firms to maintain cash flow. Many banks are offering hefty overdrafts to tide corporate clients over. To encourage banks to keep lending, Britain has promised them cheap funding and state guarantees against losses. For very small firms, many of which do not borrow at all, it is offering non-repayable cash grants of up to £25,000.

Other countries are enacting similar plans. The Japanese government is helping small firms by mobilizing its state-owned lenders to provide up to ¥1.6trn of emergency loans, much of it free of interest and collateral requirements. Small firms qualify for help if their monthly sales fall at least 15% below a normal month’s takings. Bavaria, a rich state in Germany, announced on March 16th that small and medium-sized companies with up to 250 employees could receive an immediate cash injection of between €5,000 and €30,000. The European Commission has already relaxed state-aid rules so that governments can channel help to ailing companies.

The second part of the fiscal response is about helping people, and in particular protecting them from being made unemployed or suffering a drastic drop in income if that does happen. Ugo Gentilini of the World Bank counts more than 25 countries that are using cash transfers as part of their economic response to the virus. Brazil will give informal workers, who make up roughly 40% of the labor force, 200 Reais ($38) each. Small businesses will be allowed to delay tax payments and pensioners will get year-end benefits early. Australia is instituting a one-time cash payment of A$750 ($434) to pensioners, veterans and people on low incomes.

Northern Europe has led the way on implementing policies that make it less likely firms lay off workers. Germany has relaxed the criteria for Kurzarbeit (“short-time work”), under which the state pays 60-67% of the forgone wages of employees whose hours are reduced by struggling firms. Applications are going “through the roof”, according to the federal labor agency. The use of Kurzarbeit probably halved the rise in unemployment during the recession of 2008-09. More firms are now eligible to use it, temporary workers are covered, and the government will also reimburse the social-security contributions companies make on behalf of affected workers.

Bringing home, the Danish bacon

In Denmark firms that risk losing 30% or more of their workforce will see the government pay 75% of the wages of employees who would otherwise be laid off, until June. Norway’s government has beefed up unemployment benefits, guaranteeing laid-off workers the equivalent of their full salary for the first 20 days. Freelancers whose work vanishes for more than a fortnight will get payments equivalent to 80% of their previous average income. In Sweden the state will cover half of the income of workers who have been let go, with employers asked to cover most of the rest.

So far America has passed more modest legislation. Federal funding for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, is likely to boost spending by about $30bn, assuming it remains in place until the end of December, reckons Oxford Economics, a consultancy. America also has a new paid-sick-leave policy for some 30m workers, including 10m who are self-employed, worth just over $100bn. But in that regard America is merely catching up with other rich countries, which have far more generous sick-leave policies. America also has fewer automatic economic stabilizers, such as generous unemployment insurance, than most other rich countries. As a result, its discretionary fiscal boost needs to be especially large to make a difference.

It might be. The Trump administration’s plan to funnel money directly to households, if approved by Congress, is the most significant policy. It bears some resemblance to a scheme that was introduced in February in Hong Kong, in which the government offered HK$10,000 ($1,290) directly to every permanent resident. Mr. Mnuchin is thought to favor a check of $1,000 per American—roughly equal to one week’s average wages for a private-sector worker—with the possibility of a second check later. Some $500bn-worth of direct payments could soon be in the post.

Some economists are leery about such a policy. For one thing, it would do little to prevent employers from letting people go, unlike the plans in northern Europe. Another potential problem, judging by Hong Kong’s experience, is administration of the plan: the territory’s finance secretary hopes to make the first payments in “late summer”, far too far away for people who lost work last week. Mr. Mnuchin promises that payments will happen much sooner.

Checkered past

America has done something similar before, with results that were not entirely encouraging. The government sent out checks in both 2001 and 2008 to head off a slowdown. The evidence suggests that people saved a large chunk of it. The psychological reassurance of a bit of extra cash could be significant for many Americans, but the sums involved are not especially impressive. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential contender, is not known for his smart economic policy making, but his suggestion of $2,000 per household per month until the crisis is over is probably closer to what is required.

Indeed, more fiscal stimulus will be needed across the world, especially if measures to contain the spread of the virus fall short. After the Japanese government passes the budget for next fiscal year at the end of this month, it can begin work on a supplementary budget that takes the virus into full account. Britain’s Parliament has given Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, carte blanche to offer whatever support he deems necessary, without limit.

How much further can fiscal policy realistically go? Last year the 35-odd rich countries tracked by the IMF ran combined fiscal deficits of $1.5trn (2.9% of GDP). On the not-unrealistic assumption that the average deficit rose by five percentage points of GDP, total rich-country borrowing would rise to over $4trn this year. Investors have to be willing to finance that splurge. The yield on ten-year Treasury bonds, which had fallen as low as 0.5% as fears of the virus took hold and traders sought havens, has recently risen above 1%. This is probably due to firms and investors selling even their safest assets to raise cash, but might reflect some anxiety over the scale of planned government borrowing.

Jesse Watters began “Waters’ World” on Saturday by delivering a message of positivity to his audience, saying he’s sure America can overcome the devastation from the coronovirus. “The United States of America is rolling into a recession or a depression. What we do now will determine which one it’ll be. First, we have to stop the spread. You know what to do. Wash your hands, stay clean and practice social distancing,” Watters said, reminding people of the guidelines given to keep people safe from exposure to the virus.

“If you can stay inside this week, work from home if you can. Don’t fly if you don’t have to. The virus is mostly in 10 large counties. A very high percentage in New York, California and Washington state,” he continued. “Some of these areas recognize the threat and are shutting down everything. All of them need to do that.”

Watters talked about where the country stands medically and scientifically, assuring people the “brightest” are on the case. “All the brightest scientists in America [are] working around the clock to find a vaccine. Our people are the most innovative in the world,” Watters said.

The host also addressed the president’s leadership, urging him and American industry leaders to do whatever they can. “The president should be invoking every possible law and power available to him. He should be mobilizing the military and declaring war on the coronavirus. Rally the country around the mantra ‘made in America,'” Watters said. “Every American industry should have all hands-on deck. This isn’t a time for weakness. This is a time for strength.”

“Our country’s fighting an invisible enemy within our borders,” Watters added. “We’ll dull the spike and kill it if we all work together.” Watters expressed his optimism toward an American rebound. “We’ve had to come together by staying apart. I know one thing for sure, we’ll stop it and we’ll kill it and we’ll be a better country for it. Tough times are ahead,” Watters said. “The American character shining bright, loving our families and our neighbors and working nonstop to save lives. It’s now in your hands. We have a great spirit and we shall overcome.”

Italy reported a second successive drop in daily deaths and infections from a coronavirus that has nevertheless claimed more than 6,000 lives in a month.The Mediterranean country has now seen its daily fatalities come down from a world record 793 on Saturday to 651 on Sunday and 601 on Monday.

The number of new declared infections fell from 6,557 on Saturday to 4,789 on Monday. The top medical officer for Milan’s devastated Lombardy region appeared on television smiling for the first time in many weeks. “We cannot declare victory just yet,” Giuglio Gallera said. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Coronavirus: why the US is in a mess, and How to Fix It and How Does the Virus Affect the Body? The Economy and Do We Have Enough Ventilators?

As this Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, infect and kill more people we need to look the effects of this crisis. Peter Drobac reported that flattening the curve is the next goal to this new viral pandemic.

It’s always been a question of when, and not whether, humanity would face another challenge on the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic. 

The novel coronavirus is shaping up to be that challenge, with events moving at an unnerving pace. Since emerging in Wuhan, China in late 2019, more than 125,000 cases and 4,600 deaths have been reported worldwide. Officially a pandemic, the virus is shining a harsh spotlight on the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s health systems.

At first glance, the US should be well positioned to respond to a disease outbreak. It spends more than any other country on its health system, boasts a high concentration of specialists and laboratories, and has some of the world’s most respected public health experts. Yet with coronavirus, the US is courting catastrophe.

Because of serious problems with testing, coronavirus has been silently spreading in the US for nearly two months. A Harvard epidemiologist has cautioned that up to 60% of the adult population could become infected. With a health system already operating near its capacity in the height of flu season, this would spell disaster.

Hospitals would be overwhelmed. Shortages of intensive care beds and ventilators would cause death rates to rise. And people with other medical conditions, from complicated pregnancies to heart attacks, would find it more difficult to access the care they need. During the West African Ebola outbreak, health system collapse meant there were nearly as many deaths due to other diseases as from Ebola itself.

Before we all panic, there are some bright spots. Countries in Asia have shown that it is possible to bring the coronavirus epidemic under control, and they’ve had success in different ways.

But first, it’s important to understand what has gone wrong in the US.

Caught flat-footed

When the first coronavirus case was reported in the US on January 20, 2020, alarm bells were already sounding around the world. Unprecedented control measures in China, including the effective quarantine of nearly 100 million people, slowed the spread of the virus and bought the rest of the world time. But while other countries began preparing for the epidemic, the US was caught flat-footed.

Rather than use WHO-approved test kits, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed its own coronavirus test. Regulations prohibited private and university labs from developing tests themselves. Problems with the CDC’s test, along with overly narrow testing criteria, created a massive testing bottleneck.

Fewer than 10,000 tests have been conducted in the US. Compare that with over 200,000 in South Korea. Case detection is the most fundamental part of a public health response to an outbreak. When we can’t do that, we’re operating in the dark.

Meanwhile, years of attempted budget cuts and the elimination of the federal Global Health Security office left America’s vaunted public health agencies less prepared to coordinate a response across the country’s fragmented and unequal health system. Unsteady presidential leadership has sowed confusion and misinformation.

So while 1,215 cases have been reported in 42 states, actually as of Sunday there was only the state of West Virginia that didn’t have a case of the virus, the real number is probably much higher. And with an epidemic that doubles every five days when unchecked, the US may not be far behind Italy.

Flattening the curve

So, what can the US learn from the Asian countries that have managed to blunt the spread of novel coronavirus? While no country has been able to stop the spread of the virus completely, several have managed to “flatten the curve.” What does this mean?

Flattening the epidemic curve means slowing the spread of new infections. This can ensure that not too many people are infected at the same time, giving health systems a better chance to cope. It also buys time, as researchers race to develop and test treatments and vaccines.

New cases in China have gone dropped from a flood to a trickle, at least for now, where they are only reporting 8-10 cases per day since Friday. But it required putting vast swaths of the country on total lockdown, exacting enormous economic and social pain. Italy is now following suit.

Singapore responded early, employing tried-and-tested public health measures: testing, enforced quarantine, and tracing contacts with surgical precision. The US is probably too late for this approach.

Taiwan also responded briskly, establishing a central command center, implementing targeted travel bans and proactive testing, and social distancing measures such as school closures.

South Korea may offer the best example of what could be possible in the US. Like the US, they had to play catch-up, facing a surge of infections tied to a secretive church in Daegu. The pillar of their response has been widespread, free testing, including drive-through test sites. Technology has aided the tracing of contacts, using GPS tracking. Rather than creating a total lockdown, they opted for social distancing measures targeting transmission hot spots. The number of daily new cases has dropped from a peak of 851 to fewer than 250.

Such measures would be workable in the US, but there is no time to waste. The testing bottleneck appears to be loosening, but it may be weeks before testing capacity can catch up to demand. Where possible, localities are taking matters into their own hands. 

In Seattle, one of the country’s transmission hot spots, the University of Washington launched a Korea-style drive-through test centre for its employees and students. In New Rochelle, New York, schools, churches and other gathering places in a “containment area” have been closed down. And mass gatherings are beginning to be cancelled across the country.

Efforts like this need to be scaled and spread dramatically—and quickly. Financial barriers to testing and medical care need to be eliminated, particularly for America’s large uninsured population. Hospitals and healthcare workers will need support to develop parallel care systems for coronavirus patients.

And as school closures, working from home, and transport restrictions are implemented more widely, efforts are needed to protect the most vulnerable.

The Trump administration needs to put the experts in charge and ask Congress for a blank cheque to give them the resources they need. It’s time for a war footing. 

Most importantly, everyone needs to understand that life in the time of coronavirus is different. 

A recession is unlikely but not impossible

Covid-19 infects the world economy?

As reported in Finance and Economics, if the final week of February saw financial markets jolted awake to the dangers of a COVID-19 pandemic, the first week of March has seen policymakers leaping into action. The realization that global GDP will probably shrink for part of this year, and the looming risk of a financial panic and credit-crunch, has led central banks to slash interest rates at a pace last seen in the financial crisis of 2007-09.

On March 3rd the Federal Reserve lowered its policy rate by 0.5 percentage points, two weeks before its scheduled monetary-policy meeting. Central banks in Australia, Canada and Indonesia have also cut rates. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England are expected to follow. If the money-markets are right, more Fed cuts are in store. A composite measure of the global monetary-policy rate, compiled by Morgan Stanley, a bank, is expected to fall to 0.73% by June, from 1% at the start of the year and 2% at the start of 2019.

Yet there is an uneasy feeling that a flurry of rate cuts may not be the solution to this downturn. In part that reflects the fact that they are already so low. A golden rule of crisis-fighting is that in order to be credible you should always have more ammunition available. In 2008-10 the global composite policy rate fell by three percentage points. Today, outside America, rich-world interest rates are close to, at, or below zero. Even the Fed has limited scope to cut much further—one reason, perhaps, why share prices failed to revive in the hours after its latest move.

The tension also stems from the peculiarity of the shock that the economy faces—one that involves demand, supply and confidence effects. The duration of the disruption mainly depends on the severity of the outbreak and the public-health measures undertaken to contain it. Given those uncertainties, policymakers know that while interest-rate cuts are an option, they also need fiscal and financial measures to help business and individuals withstand a temporary but excruciating cash crunch.

One way the virus hurts the economy is by disrupting the supply of labour, goods and services. People fall ill. Schools close, forcing parents to stay at home. Quarantines might force workplaces to shut entirely. This is accompanied by sizable demand effects. Some are unavoidable: sick people go out less and buy fewer goods. Public-health measures, too, restrict economic activity. Putting more money into consumers’ hands will do little to offset this drag, unlike your garden-variety downturn. Activity will resume only once the outbreak runs its course.

Then there are nasty spillovers. Both companies and households will face a cash crunch. Consider a sample of 2,000-odd listed American firms. Imagine that their revenues dried up for three months but that they had to continue to pay their fixed costs, because they expected a sharp recovery. A quarter would not have enough spare cash to tide them over, and would have to try to borrow or retrench. Some might go bust. Researchers at the Bank for International Settlements, a club of central banks, find that over 12% of firms in the rich world generate too little income to cover their interest payments.

Many workers do not have big safety buffers either. They risk losing their incomes and their jobs while still having to make mortgage repayments and buy essential goods. More than one in ten American adults would be unable to meet a $400 unexpected expense, equivalent to about two days’ work at average earnings, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. Fearing a hit to their pockets, people could start to hoard cash rather than spend, further worsening firms’ positions.

Modeling the resulting hit to economic activity is no easy task. In China, which is a month ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the outbreak, a survey of purchasing managers shows that manufacturing output in February sank to its lowest levels since factory bosses were first surveyed in 2004. It seems likely that GDP will contract in the first quarter for the first time since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

Forecasters are penciling in sharp falls in output elsewhere (see chart 1). Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckons global GDP will shrink at an annualized rate of 2.5% in the first quarter. With luck the slump will end once the virus stops spreading. But even if that happens the speed and size of the economic bounce-back also depends on the extent to which those costly spillovers are avoided.

That is why central bankers and finance ministries are turning to more targeted interventions (see chart 2). These fall into three broad categories: policies to ensure that credit flows smoothly through banks and money markets; measures to help companies bear fixed costs, such as rent and tax bills; and measures to protect workers by subsidizing wage costs.

Start with credit flows. Central banks and financial regulators have tried to ensure that markets do not seize up, but instead continue to provide funds to those who need them. On March 2nd the Bank of Japan conducted ¥500bn ($4.6bn) of repo operations to ensure enough liquidity in the system. The People’s Bank of China has offered 800bn yuan ($115bn, or 0.8% of GDP) in credit to banks so long as they use it to make loans to companies badly hit by the virus. Banks have been asked to go easy on firms whose loans are coming due.

Governments are also helping firms with their costs, the second kind of intervention. Singapore plans corporate-tax breaks, and rental and tax rebates for commercial property. Korea will give cash to small firms struggling to pay wages. Italy will offer tax credits to firms that experience a 25% drop in turnover. In China the government has told state landlords to cut rents and given private-sector landlords subsidies to follow suit.

The final set of measures is meant to protect workers by preventing lay-offs and keeping incomes stable. China’s government has enacted a temporary cut to social-security contributions. Japan will subsidize wages of people who are forced to take time off to care for children or for sick relatives. Singapore has announced cash grants for employers of affected workers.

Today these policies are being sporadically announced, and their implementation is uncertain. As the virus spreads, expect more interest-rate cuts—but also the systematic deployment of a more complex cocktail of economic remedies. ■

As the Pandemic Spreads, Will There Be Enough Ventilators?

Patti Neighmond noted that as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads across the United States, there are continuing concerns among hospitals, public health experts and government leaders that hospital intensive care units would be hard-pressed to handle a surge in seriously ill patients.

A key limiting factor to being able to provide good care, they say, is the number of ventilation machines — ventilators — a hospital has on hand to help the most seriously ill patients breathe.

“The coronavirus, like many respiratory viruses, can cause inflammation in the lungs,” explains Dr. William Graham Carlos a pulmonary critical care specialist at Indiana University School of Medicine “And when the lungs become inflamed, the membranes that transfer oxygen from the air into the blood become blocked.”

When patients develop this type of viral pneumonia, they often require bedside ventilators which, Carlos says “can supply higher levels of oxygen and also help push air into the lungs to open them up, and afford more opportunity to get oxygen into the patient.”

Ventilators are generally a temporary bridge to recovery — many patients in critical care who need them do get better. These machines can be crucial to sustaining life in certain emergency situations. And if there is a surge in seriously ill patients, as COVID-19 spreads, ventilators could be in short supply, from hospital to hospital or nationally.

And if there’s an increase in very sick patients on a scale like what happened in China, Dr. Eric Toner says, the U.S. is not prepared. Toner studies hospital preparedness for pandemics at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“We are not prepared, nor is any place prepared for a Wuhan-like outbreak,” Toner tells NPR, “and we would see the same sort of bad outcomes that they saw in Wuhan — with a very high case fatality rate, due largely to people not being able to access the needed intensive care.”

Toner says all hospitals have some lifesaving ventilators, but that number is proportional to the number of hospital beds in the institution. An average-sized hospital with 150 beds, for example, might have 20 ventilators. If more were needed, hospitals that need them could rent them, he says — at least for now. But if there’s a surge of need in a particular community — patients with serious pneumonia from COVID-19 or pneumonia related to flu, for example — all hospitals in the area would be competing to rent from the same place. “So that’s a very finite resource” he says.

The latest study available estimates there are about 62,000 ventilators in hospitals nationwide. That figure is seven years old — so the actual number could be higher.

There are also some machines in federally stockpiled emergency supplies, though the exact number isn’t public.

“There is a strategic national stockpile of ventilators, but the numbers are classified,” says Toner. It’s been “publicly stated,” he says, that there are about 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile. “That number might be a bit outdated, but it’s probably about right,” he says. Other estimates range from 4,000 to somewhat less than 10,000.

You Have A Fever And A Dry Cough. Now What?

While any extra ventilators would be an important addition, Toner says it likely wouldn’t be enough to sustain the entire country through an experience like that seen in Wuhan, China.

If there’s not enough capacity at one hospital, it may be possible to transfer patients to another, he says.

“Not every community is going to be hit simultaneously; some cities will be badly affected while others are not so badly affected and then the wave of disease will move on.” So, in some cases, Toner says, it seems likely that patients could be transferred from an area where ventilators are scarce to an area where the supply is adequate.

But if hospitals continue to be overwhelmed, he says, at that point, “tough decisions would have to be made about who gets access to a ventilator and who does not.”

All health care providers and hospitals are now working overtime to try to prevent that sort of scenario.

Dr. Craig Coopersmith with Emory University School of Medicine, and a spokesperson for the Society of Critical Care Medicine, says he sees signs all across America that medical communities are working together to prepare.

Evergreen Hospital in Washington State, for example, which treated some of the first U.S. COVID-19 patients in late February, this week posted online its own “Lessons for Hospitals.” There has been a lot of ongoing communication, Coopersmith says, between hospitals, professional societies and individuals — in person, by phone and via shared Listservs and social media.

“In multiple ways, people are linking with each other to say ‘I’m not going to do this in isolation; tell me how you’re doing this, let me tell you how I’m doing this and let’s share lessons with each other,’ ” Coopersmith says.

The pandemic, he adds, is “remarkably challenging. But he sees the health care system’s response to it as remarkably heartening, “with everyone working together to ensure what’s best for patients, caregivers and the community.”

What does the coronavirus do to your body? Everything to know about the infection process

A visual guide of coronavirus infection, symptoms of COVID-19 and the effects of the virus inside the body, in graphics

Javier Zarracina and Adrianna Rodriquez reported that as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the U.S. – canceling major events, closing schools, upending the stock market and disrupting travel and normal life – Americans are taking precautions against the new coronavirus that causes the disease sickening and killing thousands worldwide.

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise the public be watchful for fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, symptoms that follow contraction of the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.

From infection, it takes approximately five to 12 days for symptoms to appear. Here’s a step-by-step look at what happens inside the body when it takes hold. 

Coronavirus infection

According to the CDC, the virus can spread person-to-person within 6 feet through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

It’s also possible for the virus to remain on a surface or object, be transferred by touch and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes.

Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, senior physician in the Infectious Diseases Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, said there’s still a lot to learn but experts suspect the virus may act similarly to SARS-CoVfrom 13 years ago.

“It’s a respiratory virus and thus it enters through the respiratory tract, we think primarily through the nose,” he said. “But it might be able to get in through the eyes and mouth because that’s how other respiratory viruses behave.”

When the virus enters the body, it begins to attack.

Fever, cough and other COVID-19 symptoms 

It can take two to 14 days for a person to develop symptoms after initial exposure to the virus, Hirsch said. The average is about five days.

Once inside the body, it begins infecting epithelial cells in the lining of the lung. A protein on the receptors of the virus can attach to a host cell’s receptors and penetrate the cell. Inside the host cell, the virus begins to replicate until it kills the cell. 

This first takes place in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, larynx and bronchi.

The patient begins to experience mild version of symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and headache and muscle pain and tiredness, comparable to the flu.

Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, however it’s relatively uncommon. 

Symptoms become more severe once the infection starts making its way to the lower respiratory tract.

Pneumonia and autoimmune disease

The WHO reported last month about 80% of patients have a mild to moderate disease from infection. A case of “mild” COVID-19 includes a fever and cough more severe than the seasonal flu but does not require hospitalization.

Those milder cases are because the body’s immune response is able to contain the virus in the upper respiratory tract, Hirsch says. Younger patients have a more vigorous immune response compared to older patients.

Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, however it’s relatively uncommon. 

Symptoms become more severe once the infection starts making its way to the lower respiratory tract.

Pneumonia and autoimmune disease

The WHO reported last month about 80% of patients have a mild to moderate disease from infection. A case of “mild” COVID-19 includes a fever and cough more severe than the seasonal flu but does not require hospitalization.

Those milder cases are because the body’s immune response is able to contain the virus in the upper respiratory tract, Hirsch says. Younger patients have a more vigorous immune response compared to older patients.

The 13.8% of severe cases and 6.1% critical cases are due to the virus trekking down the windpipe and entering the lower respiratory tract, where it seems to prefer growing.

“The lungs are the major target,” Hirsch said.

As the virus continues to replicate and journeys further down the windpipe and into the lung, it can cause more respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia, according to Dr. Raphael Viscidi, infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Pneumonia is characterized by shortness of breath combined with a cough and affects tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, Viscidi said. The alveoli are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.

When pneumonia occurs, the thin layer of alveolar cells is damaged by the virus. The body reacts by sending immune cells to the lung to fight it off. 

“And that results in the linings becoming thicker than normal,” he said. “As they thicken more and more, they essentially choke off the little air pocket, which is what you need to get the oxygen to your blood.” 

“So it’s basically a war between the host response and the virus,” Hirsch said. “Depending who wins this war we have either good outcomes where patients recover or bad outcomes where they don’t.”

Restricting oxygen to the bloodstream deprives other major organs of oxygen including the liver, kidney and brain. 

In a small number of severe cases that can develop into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which requires a patient be placed on a ventilator to supply oxygen. 

However, if too much of the lung is damaged and not enough oxygen is supplied to the rest of the body, respiratory failure could lead to organ failure and death. 

Viscidi stresses that outcome is uncommon for the majority of patients infected with coronavirus. Those most at risk to severe developments are older than 70 and have weak immune responses. Others at risk include people with pulmonary abnormalities, chronic disease or compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients who have gone through chemotherapy treatment. 

Viscidi urges to public to think of the coronavirus like the flu because it goes through the same process within the body. Many people contract the flu and recover with no complications. 

“People should remember that they’re as healthy as they feel,” he said. “And shouldn’t go around feeling as unhealthy as they fear.” 

Coronavirus Disease 2019: Myth vs. Fact 

There’s a lot of information circulating about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID), so it’s important to know what’s true and what’s not. Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, helps clarify information to help keep you and your family healthy and safe.

TRUE or FALSE? A vaccine to cure COVID-19 is available.

FALSE.

True: There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus right now. Scientists have already begun working on one, but developing a vaccine that is safe and effective in human beings will take many months.

TRUE or FALSE? You can protect yourself from COVID-19 by swallowing or gargling with bleach, taking acetic acid or steroids, or using essential oils, salt water, ethanol or other substances.

FALSE.

True: None of these recommendations protects you from getting COVID-19, and some of these practices may be dangerous. The best ways to protect yourself from this coronavirus (and other viruses) include:

Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and hot water.

Avoiding close contact with people who are sick, sneezing or coughing.

In addition, you can avoid spreading your own germs by coughing into the crook of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.

TRUE or FALSE? The new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.

FALSE.

True: Viruses can change over time. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. This is likely how the new coronavirus came to be.

TRUE or FALSE? Ordering or buying products shipped from China will make a person sick.

FALSE.

True: Researchers are studying the new coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. As of this writing, scientists note that most viruses like this one do not stay alive for very long on surfaces, so it is not likely you would get COVID-19 from a package that was in transit for days or weeks. The illness is most likely transmitted by droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough, but more information is emerging daily.

TRUE or FALSE? A face mask will protect you from COVID-19.

FALSE.

True: Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators (such as the N95) can protect health care workers as they care for infected patients.

For the general public without respiratory illness, wearing lightweight disposable surgical masks is not recommended. Because they don’t fit tightly, they may allow tiny infected droplets to get into the nose, mouth or eyes. Also, people with the virus on their hands who touch their face under a mask might become infected.

People with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others. Bear in mind that stocking up on masks makes fewer available for sick patients and health care workers who need them.

We all have to utilize the best actions to get through this pandemic with good hygiene, cleaning surfaces and social distancing. Remember, we have no vaccines, not antiviral agents proven to work. Therefore, we need to our immune systems and the health care system to flatten the outbreak curve. We need to take the police out of the equation and decision making and support our health care, our workers who will lose their jobs due to this pandemic and the economy. Now!!