INDIANAPOLIS — Fear.
That was the name of Bob Woodward’s first book on the Trump presidency. It’s been a theme of Michael Moore documentaries and a proven Madison Avenue marketing device. And fear has become an invasive pandemic element that has seeped into every family, every business, every school, and every circle of friends this spring.
When this pandemic began, with Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Trump issuing stay-at-home orders early last month, the governor explained, “It took a month for the United States to record its first 1,000 deaths, and then it took just two days to record the next 1,000. In Indiana we went from one COVID-19 case on March 6 to 1,786 today. Those are the ones we know of. Our first COVID-19 death in Indiana was two weeks ago today and we’re now at 35 Hoosiers who have passed.”
By Tuesday, it was 49. By Wednesday it was 65. At this writing it was 78
Last Tuesday, Indiana Health Commissioner Kristina Box said, “The numbers represent a very big increase in the total number of cases reported and also the number of deaths that have occurred.” The daily death toll, the health commissioner explained, reflects verified mortality going back days if not weeks. So the death toll is actually a delayed and lagging indicator.
“It’s a very sad reality that with this pandemic, the number of cases and numbers of deaths are going to continue to increase,” Dr. Box said. “I don’t want to minimize a single one of those losses. They are all someone’s spouse, grandparent, child or friend. I do not want Hoosiers to see these rising numbers (and think) the peak has arrived. We have a very long way to go before we reach the peak and I cannot say enough how important it is to continue to stay home.”
Fear now emanates from every facet of life. I went to Lowe’s and had to touch a keypad. I drove home holding my finger aloft until I could get hand sanitizer applied. A trip to the bank and interaction with the teller tube produced similar heebie-geebies.
This pandemic possesses the hallmark of Shirley Jackson’s famed 1948 short story, “The Lottery,” where a town of 300 gathers on June 27 to sacrifice one citizen to ensure the well-being of the community. Poor Tessie ends up getting stoned, and not by a bong or cannabis-infused chocolate. COVID-19 acts with a strange randomness. Some end up with sniffles; others have no symptoms but spread COVID-19’s cruel fate; and yet others are isolated in ICUs and die alone.
Dr. Tony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx warned that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will die of coronavirus even in “perfect” social distancing scenarios. A University of Washington model of Indiana puts our death toll at 2,400 by August. Indiana University’s Dr. Aaron Carroll warns that COVID-19 could storm back next fall and winter just like the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
What has ensued has been a jarring social disruption, with 75% of us in America in a shelter-in-place mode. Some 36% of us used to eat at a fast-food restaurant on any given day, and lockdown has created a run at our grocery stores.
CNBC reported that St. Louis Federal Reserve projections have 47 million jobs vanishing and a potential jobless rate of 32%. Another 67 million Americans are facing layoffs. The Department of Labor reported 6.6 million unemployment claims in its monthly report released this morning. “The speed and magnitude of the labor market’s decline is unprecedented,” Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG LLP, told the Wall Street Journal. She expected that millions more claims will be filed in the coming weeks and projects 20 million jobs will be lost.
We’ve gone from record employment to 1929 in a matter of weeks. Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 34% plunge in GDP. The Dow just went through its worst quarter ... ever. These are Great Depression style stats.
Holcomb was asked Tuesday when businesses could expect to reopen. “As I said yesterday, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end to this all,” Holcomb began. “We understand and are equally concerned about the pain that is being put upon all of us. What we’re trying to do is make sure our health care system doesn’t collapse under the weight of all the new cases. And to do that, we’ve had to change our behavior. We’ve had to socially distance ourselves.
“We could have a whiplash, or a double whammy,” Holcomb said. “I spoke with a number of governors yesterday and we all concurred, 100%, that it may be the fact that it will be harder to de-escalate than escalate. We will keep in mind, of course, the humanitarian effect this is having, the adverse economical impact this is having on ... 512,000 other small business owners.”
That peak, according to Dr. Box, won’t happen until later this month, making for the grimmest April Indiana has endured since the Super Tornado Outbreak of 1974.
So this our new, collective reality. It’s with us every day, every minute. We need to gird ourselves for unprecedented twin disruptions of pandemic and economic downturn.
As U.S. Sen. Todd Young told me earlier this week, “We’re doing what Americans do in times of crisis: Identifying ways to adapt, improvise and overcome.”
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com and the CrossroadsReport.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.