Here’s some stuff you might like.
Business: Another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past week, on top of around 10 million between the previous two weeks. Ten percent of Americans are now jobless; one in eight Oregon workers have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and it’s likely this is just the beginning. What started with restaurants and hotels is now hitting medical providers, breweries and everything in between. Local and state governments are seeing revenues plunge as income taxes, hotel taxes and other sources dry up. The pandemic, or more precisely, government’s response to the pandemic, is sucking the life from our economy and thus our society at lightning speed.
Now, at least one influential model has halved its projected deaths from the virus in less than a week. As I noted last week, Oregon’s numbers are looking better, and even hospitalizations in New York and elsewhere have gone down. It seems that the actual results on the ground are so far (thankfully) leading us away from the more dire predictions of 100,000 U.S. deaths at a minimum. Locally, St. Charles hospital in Bend has nine (9) COVID-19 cases, versus 19 a week ago. This seems like at least tentatively good news.
Now, I’m neither an epidemiologist nor an economist, but I did go to law school. What most people don’t know about law school is that it’s really just staying at a Holiday Inn Express for three years, so you [think you are] an expert on everything when you’re done [drummer: rimshot]. So, here goes. With some good news for once, smart people are saying this is not time to let up, because there is still danger ahead. That makes sense, and I don’t know of anyone who’s ready to fire up the mosh pit yet. However, the goal of the stay home order was to “flatten the curve” such that, at the peak of the mess in Oregon, the number of people who need hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators have access to those things so we are saving all the lives we can save. That is a goal that a big majority of Oregonians probably agree with, even with the attendant economic destruction. But what happens when the influential model referenced above shows that at Oregon’s projected peak on April 22, COVID-19 patients will be using 229 beds out of 2,657 beds available (less than 10%), 47 ICU beds out of 210 ICU beds available (about 22%) and only 40 ventilators needed. We just sent 160 ventilators to New York. By August 4, we’d have 172 total deaths with a max of 5 daily deaths on April 24. Based upon that model, it appears we have significant wiggle room at the peak of the disease.
Each death is unbearable, but the goal of the policy is not to prevent all deaths because that is impossible short of a vaccine, but to prevent preventable deaths by ensuring medical capacity is available to treat patients at the appropriate level of care – hospitalization, ICU, ventilator. At least one legitimate source says we have plenty of capacity at each level, statewide. So why is Oregon ordering schools closed for the year instead of talking about responsible ways to ease the restrictions enough to relieve just some of the economic suffering hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are enduring, while limiting the easing to stay within the limits of our health care system? I don’t know, but it’s time for policymakers to be looking for reasons to open things up, gradually and carefully, rather than close more things down, at least in the lesser-impacted states like Oregon.
I don’t know that it’s the right time to begin to open things back up, ever so slightly, but this plan (it’s long but good) seems reasonable. We open things up as we can be pretty sure we have the capacity to treat sick people and also the ability to track and manage infected folks and test everyone who is symptomatic, and we don’t fully open things up until there’s a vaccine That plan seems plausible and at least logically coherent. Our elected leaders should tell us how they will approach the most pressing question of their political careers: how and when we can get the economy, or parts of the economy, working again.
Let me be clear, I do not think we should sacrifice lives to open the economy. I’m saying that we should be looking closely at gradually re-opening the economy in Oregon to the extent that we can do so without significantly jeopardizing our ability to care effectively for sick people. Governor Brown’s Stay at Home Order provides a possible roadmap. That order closed certain types of retail businesses completely, while requiring other businesses to ensure social distancing is followed in order to stay open. Would it be possible to, say, allow furniture stores or museums or art galleries to re-open, subject to the social distancing rules, without jeopardizing our ability to care for sick people? Or maybe hair salons if everyone wears masks? I don’t know, but it seems that choosing currently closed businesses to re-open based upon a balance of (a) their economic and especially employment impact, and (b) the likelihood of accelerating the spread of the disease, within the acceptable limits is something that should be front and center of the state’s COVID-19 policy right now. If the Governor is not relying upon the IHME model referenced above, fine. I don’t know if it’s good or bad (and plenty of people think it’s bad), but then what is she relying upon? How many ICU beds and ventilators do her advisors think we’ll have at the peak? If there is significant over-capacity according to those models, why aren’t we talking about a strategy to gradually re-open the economy?
Given the scope of the economic meltdown, our state government has to start talking publicly and immediately about a strategy to get out of this, consistent with public health.
Law: So, why focus on what Oregon’s doing and not what the federal government is doing? Federalism. Unlike most every other country on the planet, the power of the U.S. federal government to regulate people’s everyday lives is limited, with states and local governments holding far more power in that regard. That’s why different states have different types of stay at home orders, and some have none at all. The ability of the federal government to order people to quarantine (as President Trump suggested he might do to the New York area) is highly questionable constitutionally.
Federalism has, with notable exceptions such as recalcitrant southern segregation laws, generally served Americans well because we are a really big and really diverse country. So, for example, until recently, Washingtonians were thought to possess the aptitude to pump their own gas while Oregonians were just, well, trying hard but not quite there. More importantly, in reference to COVID-19, the conditions in New York are dramatically different than the conditions in Oregon. The Constitution provides a mechanism for Oregonians to shape policies that fit our crisis, and that would not be advisable in New York or Washington. Increasingly, states are experiencing COVID-19 in dramatically different ways, and I suspect and hope that the states’ approach to re-opening will begin to diverge fairly dramatically soon. That’s probably a good thing.
Politics: OK, so enough about COVID-19 for now. It’s almost easy to forget that there’s a crowded Republican primary to replace my former boss, Greg Walden, in representing Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which includes everything east of the Cascades and a big chunk of southern Oregon. The primary is important because whoever wins it will probably win the general election and probably serve more or less as long as he (there are no women in the race) wants. There are a number of good choices for Republicans, but I am here to tell you that one of those good choices is not Jimmy Crumpacker. I’m sure Jimmy’s a nice guy, and I had no particular objection to him until I heard this interview on OPB’s Think Out Loud program. It’s devastating for Jimmy. It’s over 17 minutes long and I’d recommend listening to it in full if you enjoy listening to politicians self-immolate, but I know your time is valuable. Here are the highlights:
1:12 – Refers to Portland as “our community.” Jimmy claims to have recently moved from Portland to a “ranch” his family owns outside of Bend. I put ranch in quotes because people in eastern Oregon know we don’t have real ranches in Deschutes County. You can legally run for and serve as a member of Congress from a district in which you do not live, so long as you live in the same state as the district, but there are pretty obvious political problems with doing so.
1:40 – When asked if he’d moved to the “ranch” in order to run for Congress, he said, “It’s hard to say.”
2:00 – “Just because your physical address has changed doesn’t mean your actual being has changed.” A true, if irrelevant, statement of metaphysics.
4:00 – When asked why Second Congressional District voters should choose him, he begins, “I studied government at Georgetown University.”
8:25 – About a month ago, Jimmy said at a candidate forum, about the coronavirus, “I think this is a creation of trying to sell newspapers.” It’s not.
16:00 – About the “ranch,” Jimmy: “I love it there.” Interviewer: “You say there, you’re not there right now, you’re in Portland right now?” Jimmy (laughing): “No, no, no, I’m in Bend. It’s incredible.” He goes on to refer to the “ranch” as “there” again after being called on it.
Look, Jimmy has some good policy instincts, including what appear to be deeply held beliefs about the mismanagement of federal land leading to fires and lost jobs in rural Oregon communities. Also, he believes that subsidies are bad and government shouldn’t choose winners or losers. I think he actually believes those things, and that is why he can’t successfully run for Congress in Portland. But it’s pretty clear that wherever Jimmy’s address and/or his being are, he’s a Portlander. Oregon already has three congressional districts that include parts of Portland, and I think Second District Republicans want one of our own for this seat. If Jimmy wants to truly make Central Oregon his home – change it from “there” to “here” – he’ll have a better shot at public office in the future.
Et cetera: A limerick:
Behold the epic adventure of Jeff
Who woke early this morning and left
To Fred Meyer, you see,
In search of bleach and TP
Hallelujah, shelves weren’t yet bereft!
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Have a great weekend!