Five COVID Comments

By Doc Wallace | Jun 04, 2020

On some future golden morning, we will all look back on this plague with thankfulness for its end, and with clarity on its history and effects upon us that can only come with the advantage of perfect retrospect. Until then, we can only analyze our situation as current actors in this drama. That is a challenging task. As my father used to say, “It’s tough to tell the time when you’re the hands on the clock.” As but one of those hands on the clock, here are five COVID comments.

The elephant in the room is the 2020 election. Essentially, the virus has provided a kind of referendum on the choice for President. If the country survives and returns to economic order in the “new normal,” Trump will get a second term. If the virus prevails, supported by a “second wave” and the economy tanks, Biden wins the day. The liberal media will do all possible to push the latter position. It was, therefore, mind boggling to recently see an interview on CNN with the Purdue University president who said, “There should be no hindsight recrimination on the plans and procedures of the administration to defeat the virus.” The look of stunned disappointment on the interviewer’s face that the “bad-Trump” meme didn’t get support was palpable.

Hartstone heartbreak. Last night, my wife and I threw caution to the wind and, with Gov. Mills’ approval, decided to dine in at one of our favorite restaurants, the Hartstone Inn. We did this knowing there are those out there who, having internalized all the fear mongering, would not attend a restaurant if they were paid to go. Although we had a superb meal and great servers, we were stunned to see only one other dinner party in the entire place. Our hostess told us that, because of Mills’ 14-day quarantine requirement, the inn was empty. A business cannot be turned on and off like a water faucet. Maine’s excessive restrictions on businesses will destroy an entire tourist season, and the impact upon Mainers who depend on this industry will be devastating.

False dichotomy. There is a position out there that one must choose between economy (reopen) or health (stay locked down). This view is both simplistic and unfair. While 40% of all those who earn less than $40,000 per year are out of work, there is a group of people whom Michael Lind calls the “overclass” — scientists, doctors, political figures, consultants who call the shots for average folk. They ignore the fact that annually 127,000 people die on average from drug overdose and suicide. Most certainly this number will increase with an extended lockdown. Plain and simple, the economy must, with appropriate safety procedures, reopen or else the cure will, indeed, be worse than the problem.

Gideon’s gaffes. Someone has to tell Sarah Gideon to stop her negative campaign of dark money ads that are shamelessly untrue about Sen. Collins, and grossly hypocritical in that they claim Collins benefits from the very pharmaceutical companies that fund Gideon’s ads. One such ad says the “Legislature is hard at work addressing health concerns.”  If this off-duty Legislature is hard at work, I would like to see what slacking off is. Meanwhile, Collins has, indeed, been delivering for Maine: $2B for her authored PPP helping 26K small businesses and supporting 200K jobs; $333M to health care providers; $69M to expand COVID testing; $20M for commercial fishermen; $1.2B to support state and local governments replace lost revenues. Furthermore, can Sen. Collins, just named by the Lugar Institute at Georgetown University for the seventh year in a row, as the “most bipartisan senator in Congress” really be called a radical Republican? The Gideon gaffes must end.

Socialism preview. The mind-numbing trillions of dollars of aid to people and businesses has given us an eye-popping look at what socialism would look like if the Biden-Sanders-Cortez concept of government were to prevail. Workers who earn more staying at home than working would only be the tip of the socialism iceberg. However, with a limited work force and reduced revenue-generating businesses, Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money,” cries loudly to us.

Only time will tell whether these comments are prescient, but this has been my effort at analysis as one of “the hands on the clock.”

Another View is a Maine Press Association award-winning column written by Midcoast conservative citizens/writers Jan Dolcater, Ken Frederic, Paul Ackerman, Doc Wallace and Dale Landrith Sr.


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Comments (4)
Posted by: Karla Schwarze | Jun 09, 2020 13:54

a correction to my last comment for clarity...the assumption in the scenario is @ 1/3 the normal rate of visitors (37M) or 12M visitors.



Posted by: Karla Schwarze | Jun 09, 2020 10:02

Thanks, Ralph.  I appreciate your comments. I avoided putting a lot of numbers into my comment because, while I like them as a number nerd, they tend to make people's eyes glaze over.  And you're right, while the numbers start with solid figures from the tourist bureau, the next steps use assumed numbers in different scenarios to see what the results are, so the 50k changes depending on the scenario.  Changing the numbers is like putting weights on a scale with one side being tourism and the other being public health.  I can't find one reasonable scenario that gives good results on both sides.  With apologies for length and excess numerical content , here's the first scenario I ran:

 

INPUTS:  We get @37M tourists/year.  12M are overnighters, mostly from the Mid-Atlantic(51%) and NE(36%).  Numbers drop due to the epidemic for multiple reasons.  (restrictions, reluctance to travel with high virus # and lack of $ in the customer base, etc.)  Let's say we get 0 daytrippers and 1/3 of the overnighters.  That's 12M visitors in 2020, from areas with much higher rates than our 1%.  (NJ-22%, DE-6%,PA-6%,DC-15%,NYC-3%...lots of variance in there, with some counties showing 22-26%, and NYC's large antibody testing push showing a 20% rate)

So what % of these visitors would have the virus?  5% seemed reasonable to me and that's produces a number of 600,000 people with the virus coming to Maine this summer.  But it's just a guess, and we can purposely make that a very conservative guess if we want, so let's use 1% instead.

 

RESULT:   This is still no good for the tourist business.  Numbers are down by 2/3 and some of these businesses are not going to survive that.  If this happens with all restrictions removed, then the businesses don't get the forgivable loans or self-employment UI as well, which hurts them even more.  On the public health side, it's looking very bad as well.  1% of 12M is 120,000 people with the virus coming to Maine.  So, as you pointed out in your comment on the protesters, we have to look at movement and gathering because they're much more dangerous than stationary people distancing.

So - 12M tourists divided by 4 tourist months = 3M/month or 100,000/day.  There are 4 major access points - BGR, PWM, US1 and I95, so 25,000 per day passing through each airport or driving down each road.  250 of those people going through each of those 4 spots every day has the virus.  (I am going to ignore any grouping that happens outside of Maine on the way, resulting in a >1% infection rate by the time they get here, and just narrow this to Maine only.)  So daily, you have 25k people, of whom 250 have the virus, in 4 access points, all using the same doors, indoor spaces, together in airplanes, sharing restrooms and fast food counters and trashcans, and this happens every day for 120 days.   It's a nightmare scenario for anyone in charge of public health.

Nobody wins in this scenario. We can try assuming more visitors would come, but that just makes the public health numbers more dismal, or we can try assuming more restrictions, but that just completely kills the business numbers.  This has already been a very long comment, and I don't want to expand the topic to include Maine protesters, national numbers, etc.  But the protest impact on public health in Maine is so much smaller than what we're looking at with tourism.  The # of people is much smaller, the incidence of gathering is much less, travel distances, etc.  There will likely be some impact from it, but it's more akin to other incidents we've been routinely ignoring.  I think of those as "dangerous background noise" -  for example, our local hardware store employees do not wear masks, nor do most of the customers.  That's maybe 100 people/day or 3k people per month in one store.  How many stores in Maine are like this?  Add all those up, add in the recent protests, as well as the earlier protests against the restrictions, add in the smaller numbers of locals,snowbirds and tourists already here and not following safety guidelines...these things are also posing a risk, although it's hard to quantify...so, dangerous background noise.

But the real topic is what to do about tourism, and what the numbers are telling me is that we are making a mistake in the way we (the public) have approached this by focusing on a single choice between opening it up and restricting it.  Changing ether of those things does not solve the problem, no matter which numbers you run through the calculations, it's always a loser.  We need to be smarter about this and start shouting about different things -  things that WILL help tourism without putting public health in jeopardy and things that will protect public health without harming the tourist industry.   Nothing good will come of everyone locking themselves into one of these two positions and failing to see that neither works.



Posted by: RALPH WALLACE | Jun 08, 2020 09:43

Karla;  Thank you for your thoughtful response to the "Hartstone Heartbreak" paragraph in my recent "AV" column. In argument and writing,  it is far above the pay grade of the troll comments that usually appear here. I have a little trouble with your fulcrum argument that Maine was destined to have 50K infected tourists arriving each month. Using that logic, the entire country is massively doomed - based upon the thousands of BLM protesters thronging together in the streets. Time will tell. Meanwhile Mills' lockdown (currently under review) will essentially kill the tourist industry this summer - perhaps not a problem for you and me, but a livelihood wrecker for many Mainers.



Posted by: Karla Schwarze | Jun 06, 2020 16:41

As a fellow actor in this drama, I have a comment on the "Hartstone Heartbreak" paragraph.  I disagree strongly with the idea that restrictions on tourist business, especially lodging, are excessive and that it is Mills' restrictions that are going to damage the tourist industry.  It is covid19 that is damaging the tourist industry.  In a normal year, if tourist numbers were down 10 or 15 percent, you'd be hearing all kinds of stories about troubled tourist businesses.  We are in the middle of a global pandemic.  How could tourist numbers not be down by at least that much, even if we had shut nothing down and posed no restrictions?  You mentioned one reason - people are reluctant to go out because they don't want to catch the virus.  In addition, we seem to have forgotten we're not the only ones with economic woes.  People don't have the disposable income they'd normally have.  Business is going to be very slack nearly everywhere and that's going to go on for a while, and longer if we don't manage the virus numbers very well.  As soon as this virus hit it was clear that no matter what happened, it was not going to be a good tourist season.   So the decision is between keeping everything wide open, with the result that the lodging industry is still going to be hit hard economically and we also have more illness and death for Mainers, or shut things down and get the benefits to be had on the health side.  In the end, what was done was a compromise to open up in any safe way possible so that business owners had the opportunity to make what they could without putting health and lives in jeopardy in Maine.

 

If you look at the data for the tourist industry and the data for covid19, it becomes clear very quickly that posing no restrictions was not an option any responsible person could take.  Just a quick look at normal tourist numbers and % of people infected in the region shows that, even with people reluctant to travel, we'd be looking at 1 million people per month coming into the state, and at a 5% infection rate that would be 50,000 people with covid19 every month coming into Maine.  It's not alarming to me that we have a 14 day quarantine.  What's alarming to me is that it's not enforced.  And yes, I'm just as sad for Hartstone and every other business in Maine getting walloped by this virus, and angry that there were things that, if they had been done right at the start, would have helped everyone get through this quite a bit better.



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