White House Watch: States Blast Ahead to ‘Phase Zero’

At last, just one more day of the infernal White House guidelines before they “fade out” and the new guidelines for re-opening take over – the guidelines lots of states are already ignoring.

Yes, 18 or 19 states are still sticking with strict stay-at-home orders but they’ll come along soon. That means there are three or four weeks of respite from the doomsayers’ constant carping on what they claim are severe shortfalls in testing. There are some who still say their states don’t have all the medical supplies they need. So tiresome.

After three or four weeks the “lamestream media” will probably start making up stories about how the infection rates seem to be increasing a little. It will be hard to tell at first. And then there will inevitably be stories of how hospitalisations and death tolls seem to be creeping up again.

As President Trump explained again today, after declaring the old obsolete guidelines will “fade out,” the progress made against the virus will continue through the summer and into the fall. “And if it does rear up a little bit in the fall or even a lot, we’ll be able to put it out. We’ll put out the embers or we’ll put out the flames,” he said.

In fact, the embers are waiting to be put out right now. In those states that re-opened early, like Georgia, the death toll and new infections have never stopped rising. The governor there decided against waiting until there were two weeks of decline in new infections, as the Task Force had specified, guaranteeing a plentiful supply of embers, flames and cautionary tales.

The Corona Virus Task Force’s Deborah Birx was on hand in the Oval office at midday with the president to explain how that works. “So if a governor feels like they haven’t met the gating criteria, some of them have made that their own first Phase One and some of them made it Phase Zero,” she said. “So we’ve been very encouraged to see how the federal guidelines have helped inform or at least provide a framework for governors, and moving forward, all the way through from what they now call either Phase Zero, all the way through Phase Three.”

That makes almost perfect sense, that although the guidelines for re-opening did not have any “Phase Zero” some governors could declare that was the phase their state was in, which means zero adherence to guidelines.

It was worth noting that for the fourth time in a week, Birx also talked about the need for a third type of virus test – an antigen test – necessary for the kind of mass screenings that will help people feel comfortable mingling again. That test will let them know who has and who has not been tested positive. She also mentioned that that test does not yet exist.

“What we had in the blueprint is really a call to action to really work on developing antigen tests, like we use for flu,” she said. “Because when you’re using an antigen test in a doctor’s office, then you can get to potentially that number.” The number is the 5 million tests a week one prestigious study said is what is needed for a full reopening.

“What I’m saying is,” she went on, “with this current test and the complication of how it has to be run, that’s not physically possible.”

So if it’s not possible, then how is it possible that the economy can be re-opening? There’s surely a good explanation on the way. As noted previously, it’s reassuring to know that the testing regime needed is finally in the “blueprint” stage, and it’s only about to be the month of May.

To review, almost midway through the second quarter of the year, businesses are beginning to re-open and the guidelines that worked to mitigate the virus spread in a lot of places are soon to be obsolete and the economy can slowly be coming back.

As Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell said, after the two-day monetary policy meeting wrapped up Wednesday, everyone can be reassured, “The second quarter’s economic data will be worse than anything we have ever seen.”

Wait, who pulled that quote? We wanted the reassuring one. “I would say that it may well be the case that the economy will need further support from all of us if the recovery is to be a strong one.”

Still not reassuring. He was talking about Congress, Treasury and the Fed going beyond the double-digit trillions already committed. “We are still putting out the fire,” Powell said. “We are still trying to win. I think we will be at that for a while.” Not quite. “It’s an extraordinary shock, unlike anything certainly that’s happened in my lifetime.”

That certainly wasn’t it. OK, here it is. Forget that other stuff. “We won’t run out of money,” he told reporters. “It’s not a limited pot. There won’t be this incentive to try to get there first and that sort of thing.”

He was drawing a contrast between the Paycheck Protection Program of the Treasury and Small Business Administration, that some say will soon be running out of money for the second time, and the Fed’s nine programmes going on 10, with the Main Street lending program for small business coming online.

Texas and Florida are two of the biggest states that will be adding themselves to the total of those scaling back on their anti-virus guidelines on Friday. They held out for strict physical distancing a whole week longer than Georgia. Neither one has yet seen 14 days of declining new cases which sort of makes their observance of Task Force advice still in the prequel stage, their “Phase Zero.”

So what stage is the whole country in, the oft-mentioned end of the beginning or the less mentioned beginning of the end?

If re-openings in many states prove to be premature and the battle against the virus turns into an endless plateau of haphazard fits and starts and restarts the new normal will be a chronically high accumulation of deaths coupled with a stubbornly high unemployment rate while everyone runs out of patience and money.

The alternative? A nationally enforced set of criteria for reopening along with a Manhattan Project-sized effort to get that antigen test.

All that and no mention of remdesivir? Hardly a wonder drug, the old anti-viral was found by the NIH – Tony Fauci’s shop, the NIHAID – to be something less than statistically significantly lifesaving, but it was better than nothing and with Covid-19, that’s saying a lot.

For Gilead Sciences shareholders, investors and traders it was a big Wednesday boost, so hopeful is everyone for anything that helps. Said Fauci, “It is a very important proof of concept,” the concept being the corona virus may have a weak point. And like AZT with HIV/AIDS one weak point can lead to others.

“We think it’s really opening the door to the fact that we now have the capability of treating,” he added. “And I can guarantee you, as more people and more companies, more investigators get involved, it’s going to get better and better.”

Promising. Not there yet.



Colin Lambert

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