What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage

What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage
It isn’t really about hoarding. And there isn’t an easy fix.
By Will Oremus
Apr 2 2020
https://marker.medium.com/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about-the-toilet-paper-shortage-c812e1358fe0

round the world, in countries afflicted with the coronavirus, stores are sold out of toilet paper. There have been shortages in Hong Kong, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. And we all know who to blame: hoarders and panic-buyers.

Well, not so fast.

Story after story explains the toilet paper outages as a sort of fluke of consumer irrationality. Unlike hand sanitizer, N95 masks, or hospital ventilators, they note, toilet paper serves no special function in a pandemic. Toilet paper manufacturers are cranking out the same supply as always. And it’s not like people are using the bathroom more often, right?

U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar summed up the paradox in a March 13 New York Times story: “Toilet paper is not an effective way to prevent getting the coronavirus, but they’re selling out.” The president of a paper manufacturer offered the consensus explanation: “You are not using more of it. You are just filling up your closet with it.”

Faced with this mystifying phenomenon, media outlets have turned to psychologists to explain why people are cramming their shelves with a household good that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Read the coverage and you’ll encounter all sorts of fascinating concepts, from “zero risk bias” to “anticipatory anxiety.” It’s “driven by fear” and a “herd mentality,” the BBC scolded. The libertarian Mises Institute took the opportunity to blame anti-gouging laws. The Atlantic published a short documentary harking back to the great toilet paper scare of 1973, which was driven by misinformation.

Most outlets agreed that the spike in demand would be short-lived, subsiding as soon as the hoarders were satiated.

No doubt there’s been some panic-buying, particularly once photos of empty store shelves began circulating on social media. There have also been a handful of documented cases of true hoarding. But you don’t need to assume that most consumers are greedy or irrational to understand how coronavirus would spur a surge in demand. And you can stop wondering where in the world people are storing all that Quilted Northern.

There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked in the vast majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase.

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant. It’s one that won’t fully subside even when people stop hoarding or panic-buying.

If you’re looking for where all the toilet paper went, forget about people’s attics or hall closets. Think instead of all the toilet paper that normally goes to the commercial market — those office buildings, college campuses, Starbucks, and airports that are now either mostly empty or closed. That’s the toilet paper that’s suddenly going unused.

So why can’t we just send that toilet paper to Safeway or CVS? That’s where supply chains and distribution channels come in.

Talk to anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you the toilet paper made for the commercial market is a fundamentally different product from the toilet paper you buy in the store. It comes in huge rolls, too big to fit on most home dispensers. The paper itself is thinner and more utilitarian. It comes individually wrapped and is shipped on huge pallets, rather than in brightly branded packs of six or 12.

“Not only is it not the same product, but it often doesn’t come from the same mills,” added Jim Luke, a professor of economics at Lansing Community College, who once worked as head of planning for a wholesale paper distributor. “So for instance, Procter & Gamble [which owns Charmin] is huge in the retail consumer market. But it doesn’t play in the institutional market at all.”

Georgia-Pacific, which sells to both markets, told me its commercial products also use more recycled fiber, while the retail sheets for its consumer brands Angel Soft and Quilted Northern are typically 100% virgin fiber. Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for the company, said it has seen demand rise on the retail side, while it expects a decline in the “away-from-home activity” that drives its business-to-business sales.

In theory, some of the mills that make commercial toilet paper could try to redirect some of that supply to the consumer market. People desperate for toilet paper probably wouldn’t turn up their noses at it. But the industry can’t just flip a switch. Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins.

Because toilet paper is high volume but low value, the industry runs on extreme efficiency, with mills built to work at full capacity around the clock even in normal times. That works only because demand is typically so steady. If toilet paper manufacturers spend a bunch of money now to refocus on the retail channel, they’ll face the same problem in reverse once people head back to work again.

[snip]

Rare World War II Footage Is Released by Bletchley Park, British Spy Center

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Rare World War II Footage Is Released by Bletchley Park, British Spy Center
An 11-minute silent film shows MI6 staff members at a site linked to the code-breaking facility Bletchley Park during World War II.
By Johnny Diaz
Apr 6 2020
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/europe/bletchley-park-footage.html

Like a home movie reel, the silent footage shows young people at candid moments: playing soccer and cricket, sunbathing, smiling and making faces at the camera.

Subtitles capture some of what they say: “What … what time is our party?” one man asks.

But they were not ordinary office colleagues: They were off-duty secret British communications staffers, linked to code-breakers who decrypted German ciphers and helped the Allies win World War II.

The newly revealed footage features staff members of the MI6 Section VIII — the British spy agency’s communications staff — filmed at a site associated with the famous code-breaking facility Bletchley Park.

The video, believed to be a compilation of footage recorded between 1939 and 1945, was filmed at Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire, England, the secret site where intelligence produced by the code-breakers would be sent and then shared with Allied commanders in the field, according to Bletchley Park. The facility, now a heritage site and museum, released and published some of the footage online on Friday.

“No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists,” David Kenyon, research historian at Bletchley Park, said in a statement.

Bletchley Park does not know who recorded the footage, he said. The reel was presented in its original film canister and given by an anonymous donor in the second half of 2019.

The footage does not reveal sensitive information about the work the staff performed at the time, Mr. Kenyon said. “If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away,” he said. “But for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

Peronel Craddock, the head of collections and exhibitions at Bletchley Park, said in an interview that the footage was a remarkable window into “what it was like to work as part of the Bletchley Park operation in wartime.”

“These young people were doing extraordinary work under conditions of complete secrecy,” she said. “We know of the vital importance of their work from official records, but the film gives a rare glimpse into the lighter side of their wartime life — playing sport, enjoying the outdoors and joking around with friends.”

During World War II, Bletchley Park, a sprawling estate north of London, was the home of British code-breaking, and where the British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing oversaw a staff of specialists to decrypt ciphers generated by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine.

For years, German submarines hunted Allied vessels in the Atlantic, disrupting convoys carrying vital supplies, and the cryptologists of Bletchley Park were critical in decoding messages that charted the subs. With that knowledge, Allied ships could alter their courses, keeping Britain supplied and preparing for the Allied invasion of D-Day.

Whaddon Hall, about six miles west of Bletchley Park, was used by MI6 during the war and is now private housing. “The Whaddon Hall film is a really significant addition to our collection,” Ms. Craddock added in the statement. She said that researchers at Bletchley Park had spent some time researching the places and individuals in the footage before releasing it.

To help validate the footage, Bletchley Park officials said, they showed it to Geoffrey Pidgeon, a World War II veteran who worked for the MI6 section when he was 17. The footage captured his father, Horace “Pidge” Pidgeon, who also worked at Whaddon Hall, providing radio equipment for agents in the field.

[snip]

Rare World War II Footage Is Released by Bletchley Park, British Spy Center

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Rare World War II Footage Is Released by Bletchley Park, British Spy Center
An 11-minute silent film shows MI6 staff members at a site linked to the code-breaking facility Bletchley Park during World War II.
By Johnny Diaz
Apr 6 2020
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/europe/bletchley-park-footage.html

Like a home movie reel, the silent footage shows young people at candid moments: playing soccer and cricket, sunbathing, smiling and making faces at the camera.

Subtitles capture some of what they say: “What … what time is our party?” one man asks.

But they were not ordinary office colleagues: They were off-duty secret British communications staffers, linked to code-breakers who decrypted German ciphers and helped the Allies win World War II.

The newly revealed footage features staff members of the MI6 Section VIII — the British spy agency’s communications staff — filmed at a site associated with the famous code-breaking facility Bletchley Park.

The video, believed to be a compilation of footage recorded between 1939 and 1945, was filmed at Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire, England, the secret site where intelligence produced by the code-breakers would be sent and then shared with Allied commanders in the field, according to Bletchley Park. The facility, now a heritage site and museum, released and published some of the footage online on Friday.

“No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists,” David Kenyon, research historian at Bletchley Park, said in a statement.

Bletchley Park does not know who recorded the footage, he said. The reel was presented in its original film canister and given by an anonymous donor in the second half of 2019.

The footage does not reveal sensitive information about the work the staff performed at the time, Mr. Kenyon said. “If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away,” he said. “But for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

Peronel Craddock, the head of collections and exhibitions at Bletchley Park, said in an interview that the footage was a remarkable window into “what it was like to work as part of the Bletchley Park operation in wartime.”

“These young people were doing extraordinary work under conditions of complete secrecy,” she said. “We know of the vital importance of their work from official records, but the film gives a rare glimpse into the lighter side of their wartime life — playing sport, enjoying the outdoors and joking around with friends.”

During World War II, Bletchley Park, a sprawling estate north of London, was the home of British code-breaking, and where the British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing oversaw a staff of specialists to decrypt ciphers generated by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine.

For years, German submarines hunted Allied vessels in the Atlantic, disrupting convoys carrying vital supplies, and the cryptologists of Bletchley Park were critical in decoding messages that charted the subs. With that knowledge, Allied ships could alter their courses, keeping Britain supplied and preparing for the Allied invasion of D-Day.

Whaddon Hall, about six miles west of Bletchley Park, was used by MI6 during the war and is now private housing. “The Whaddon Hall film is a really significant addition to our collection,” Ms. Craddock added in the statement. She said that researchers at Bletchley Park had spent some time researching the places and individuals in the footage before releasing it.

To help validate the footage, Bletchley Park officials said, they showed it to Geoffrey Pidgeon, a World War II veteran who worked for the MI6 section when he was 17. The footage captured his father, Horace “Pidge” Pidgeon, who also worked at Whaddon Hall, providing radio equipment for agents in the field.

[snip]

In the Fog of Coronavirus, There Are No Experts

In the Fog of Coronavirus, There Are No Experts
In a pandemic, it’s not just truth against misinformation. Every choice is an experiment.
By Ross Douthat
Apr 7 2020
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/opinion/coronavirus-science-experts.html

Since the election of Donald Trump, the American media has become invested in the idea that the modern information landscape is defined by a great struggle between truth and falsehood, facts and misinformation, the real news and the fake. In this drama, there are enemies of truth, and then there is a besieged edifice of expertise, which needs to reclaim ground — whether via better fact-checks or better Facebook regulations — that’s been lost to trolls, populists and scam artists.

This has always been a dubious and self-regarding framework, but in the coronavirus era it has become particularly useless. Not because it misdiagnoses Trump himself: Our chief executive is, indeed, bumptiously dishonest, a manure-shoveler without precedent in the modern presidency, a man with little capacity to handle even a mildly inconvenient truth. No one expects a truthful and realistic appraisal of the crisis from this president; any sensible person should look elsewhere for the truth.

But once you look elsewhere, it quickly becomes clear that no unitary and reliable edifice of truth exists. The only place you can find it is in fiction, specifically the cinematic anticipation of this outbreak, Steven Soderbergh’s film “Contagion” — in which the professional health organizations are admirable, nimble, evidence-based, with just enough rule-bending here and there to make the necessary leaps toward a vaccine. Meanwhile, the internet is terrible, embodied by a sinister blogger peddling a quack cure. Only institutions can be trusted; outsider “knowledge” leads only to the grave.

That’s the movie; the reality has been otherwise. In our actual pandemic, most of the institutions that we associate with public health expertise and trusted medical authority have failed more catastrophically than Trump has.

The worst offender was the World Health Organization, which didn’t side with “facts” and “science” in the early days of the pandemic: It followed its own political imperatives and sided with China, accepting false and propagandistic assessments and ignoring crucial evidence because it came from Taiwan and not Beijing.

Less corruptly but no less disastrously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration committed serial malpractice across the crucial month of March, botching, delaying and impeding the development of the necessary tests. Both American and international medical authorities lied to people (or, if you want to be kinder, to themselves) about the efficacy of masks. And Britain’s public health experts confidently rolled a complex plan that was supposedly smarter than a simple lockdown — except that it turned out to have missed some basic facts about the virus.

Failure and recklessness aren’t universal; plenty of public health authorities have acquitted themselves better than Boris Johnson’s advisers or the W.H.O. But there is no definite pattern of outsiders being wrong and dangerous and insiders being trustworthy and good, and indeed up until mid-March you were better off trusting the alarmists of anonymous Twitter than the official pronouncements from the custodians of public health.

In part this reflects the decadence and incapacity of Western institutions (Pacific Rim institutions proved themselves a lot more trustworthy), but in part it isn’t any institution’s fault. A pandemic is a novel circumstance and challenge, a pandemic in a globalized world even more so, and the institutional ways of acquiring information and acting on it — the bureaucratic approach to science and policy — were never going to be commensurate to the problem the coronavirus posed.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore experts and just take random posts and Twitter rants as gospel. But under conditions of fog and uncertainty, armchair epidemiology will sometimes reach truths sooner than officialdom. If one Medium post foolishly lowballs the disease’s contagiousness, another will make a cogent case for masking long before the C.D.C. did. If one nonscientist offers some dubious casualty projections, another may tease out a high-profile model’s crucial faults. And if a certain line of argument is bad — as I think, and argued last week, that the right-wing anti-lockdown argument is bad — then it has to be judged on its own merits, not just dismissed because it lacks the C.D.C.’s patina.

The official experts, under such conditions, are most trustworthy insofar as their admonitions track with nonexpert common sense. The approach that most experts are currently urging, for instance, is not some complicated high-science approach to disease management, but the most basic pre-modern method of disease control, as obvious to 15th-century Florentines as to 21st-century New Yorkers — shut things down, quarantine the sick and hope for the best.

Whereas the more specific and granular the experts get, the more the fluidity and chaos of the situation makes their pronouncements dubious. It’s good that we’re modeling the arc of the pandemic, but that doesn’t make any of the models trustworthy. It’s good that we’re trying to figure out how the disease spreads, but none of the claims so far about how you’re most likely to get it (from air, surfaces or otherwise) or who is most at risk (whether from viral load or pre-existing conditions) can be considered at all definitive. It’s good that we’re practicing social distancing, but all of the rules we’re implementing are just rough and ready guesstimates.

And you don’t want to overweight the pronouncements of official science in a situation that requires experimentation and adaptation and a certain amount of gambling. Yes, you should trust Anthony Fauci more than Donald Trump when it comes to the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine. But the exigencies of the crisis require that experiments outrun the confidence of expert conclusions and the pace of bureaucratic certainty. So if you’re a doctor on the front lines trying to keep your patients from ending up on a ventilator, Dr. Fauci’s level of caution can’t be yours, and you shouldn’t be waiting for the double-blind control trial to experiment with off-label drugs that Spanish and Chinese doctors claim are helping patients.

The same logic applies for policymakers, for whom there is never going to be a definitive, one-size-fits-all blueprint telling them how and when to reopen cities or communities. Every single reopening will be its own unique experiment, with confounding variables of climate, density, age and genetics that are nearly impossible to model, and the advice of epidemiologists will only go so far. Governors and mayors will have to act like scientists themselves, acting and re-acting, adapting and experimenting, with expert advisers at their shoulders but no sure answers till the experiment begins.

[snip]

We cannot rely on Trump. Congress must lead the way in this unprecedented crisis

We cannot rely on Trump. Congress must lead the way in this unprecedented crisis
The American people deserve and require leadership from Washington amid this horrific pandemic and economic meltdown
By Bernie Sanders
Apr 8 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/08/we-cant-rely-on-trump-in-this-unprecedented-crisis-congress-must-lead-the-way

In this unprecedented moment in American history, we need an unprecedented legislative response. President Trump is incapable of providing leadership, and instead continues to mislead the public and act out of political self-interest. So it is Congress that must lead, and it must do so now.

With anxiety growing, everyone in our country needs to know that, in the midst of this horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, their government is doing everything possible to keep them healthy and financially secure.

In other words, we need to build upon and expand the recent stimulus package with new and bolder emergency legislation which must be passed as soon as possible. Here are a few core principles that must be included in that legislation.

First, Congress must explicitly authorize that the Defense Production Act is fully utilized to demand that the private sector start delivering the equipment and products that our medical personnel desperately need in order to treat their patients. We cannot rely on Trump to do it.

Recent reporting has revealed that the Trump administration did not start ordering crucial equipment like masks until March. It is beyond comprehension that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, doctors and nurses throughout the country are putting their lives on the line because they lack an adequate supply of surgical masks, gloves and gowns. We must also produce the ventilators as well as the various kinds of testing kits that we need now and will need in the future, as well as the dwindling supply of certain prescription drugs that are essential to treat the virus. States and hospitals should not have to compete against each other. The federal government must take the lead in coordinating efforts.

Further, during this crisis, every American must be able to receive all of the healthcare they need regardless of income. Before the pandemic, 87 million people were uninsured or underinsured. That number is rapidly escalating as millions of workers are not only losing their jobs but are also losing their employer-based health insurance.

The cost of hospital treatment for the coronavirus amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. Tragically, we have already seen people who have delayed treatment due to concerns about cost. In this pandemic, lack of insurance will lead to more deaths and more Covid-19 transmissions.

As long as this pandemic continues, Medicare must be empowered to pay all of the deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for the uninsured and the underinsured. No one in America who is sick, regardless of immigration status, should be afraid to seek the medical treatment they need during this national crisis.

Obviously, Congress must not only address the pandemic crisis, it must also act with a fierce sense of urgency to effectively deal with the economic crisis as well.

In the last two weeks, a record-breaking 10 million people filed unemployment claims – more than during the entire 2008 Great Recession. Frighteningly, the St Louis Federal Reserve projects that 47 million more people may become unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32%. While such estimates may be a worst-case scenario, the reality of the pandemic has taught us that worst-case scenarios are what we must plan for. For the sake of working families all over this country, we must be prepared for all contingencies.

We cannot wait before taking the bold action that is necessary. In my view, it makes a lot more sense to prevent the collapse of our economy than figuring out how we put it back together after it crumbles. Simply stated, that means that every worker must keep receiving his or her paycheck and benefits during the crisis. In the recent emergency relief bill, Congress appropriated over $25bn in grants to the airline companies so that 2 million workers in that industry will continue to receive their full paycheck and benefits through 30 September. And that is exactly what we must do for every worker in America. This is not a radical idea. It is similar to what France, Norway, Denmark, the UK and other countries are doing.

Further, as quickly as possible, we must get money into the hands of people by immediately providing a $2,000 monthly emergency payment to every person in the country until the crisis has passed.

In addition, we must guarantee paid medical and sick leave to all workers. It has been estimated that only 12% of workers in businesses that are likely to stay open during this crisis are receiving paid sick leave benefits as a result of the second coronavirus relief package. We have got to increase this figure to 100%.

Moreover, workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis including those who work in grocery stores, warehouses, paramedics, nurses, pharmacies, domestic workers, postal workers, farm workers, public transit, truck drivers and janitors must receive $500 a week hazard pay, childcare and a safe and secure workplace.

Finally, we must put an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shut-offs, and suspend payments on rent and mortgage loans for primary residences during this crisis.

This is a frightening and devastating time for our country, and the world. Never before in our lifetimes have we had to deal with both a public health pandemic and an economic meltdown.

[snip]

The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate

The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate
By Reis Thebault, et al
Apr 7 2020
https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/coronavirus-is-infecting-killing-black-americans-an-alarmingly-high-rate-post-analysis-shows/

As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the United States, it appears to be infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate, according to a Washington Post analysis of early data from jurisdictions across the country.

The emerging stark racial disparity led the surgeon general Tuesday to acknowledge in personal terms the increased risk for African Americans amid growing demands that public-health officials release more data on the race of those who are sick, hospitalized and dying of a contagion that has killed more than 12,000 people in the United States.

A Post analysis of available data and census demographics shows that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.

In Milwaukee County, home to Wisconsin’s largest city, African Americans account for about 70 percent of the dead but just 26 percent of the population. The disparity is similar in Louisiana, where 70 percent of the people who have died were black, although African Americans make up just 32 percent of the state’s population.

In Michigan, where the state’s 845 reported deaths outrank all but New York’s and New Jersey’s, African Americans account for 33 percent of cases and roughly 40 percent of deaths, despite comprising only 14 percent of the population. The state does not offer a breakdown of race by county or city, but more than a quarter of deaths occurred in Detroit, where African Americans make up 79 percent of the population.

And in Illinois, a disparity nearly identical to Michigan’s exists at the state level, but the picture becomes far starker when looking at data just from Chicago, where black residents have died at a rate six times that of white residents. Of the city’s 118 reported deaths, nearly 70 percent were black — a share 40 points greater than the percentage of African Americans living in Chicago.

President Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time the racial disparity at the White House task force briefing Tuesday.

“We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it’s a tremendous challenge,” Trump said. “It’s terrible.” He added that Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “is looking at it very strongly.”

“Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” Trump said. “It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it, and we are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days.” 

Detailed data on the race of coronavirus patients has been reported publicly in fewer than a dozen states and several more counties.

African Americans’ higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and lung disease are well-documented, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) noted that those health problems make people more vulnerable to the new respiratory disease. But there never has been a pandemic that brought the disparities so vividly into focus.

The crisis is “shining a bright light on how unacceptable” those disparities are, Fauci said at the briefing. “There is nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give” African Americans “the best possible care to avoid complications.” 

“I’ve shared myself personally that I have high blood pressure,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who is 45, “that I have heart disease and spent a week in the [intensive care unit] due to a heart condition, that I actually have asthma and I’m prediabetic, and so I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black in America.” 

On April 7, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, discussed the lack of health equity when it comes to the impact covid-19 may have on African Americans. (Reuters)

Adams added, “It breaks my heart” to hear about higher covid-19 death rates in the black community, emphasizing that recommendations to stay at home to slow the spread are for everyone to follow.

On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and hundreds of doctors joined a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), in demanding that the federal government release daily race and ethnicity data on coronavirus testing, patients and their health outcomes.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has only released figures by age and gender.

Legislators, civic advocates and medical professionals say the information is needed to ensure that African Americans and other people of color have equal access to testing and treatment, and also to help to develop a public-health strategy to protect those who are more vulnerable.

In its letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the Lawyers’ Committee said the Trump administration’s “alarming lack of transparency and data is preventing public health officials from understanding the full impact of this pandemic on Black communities and other communities of color.” 

As pressure mounted, a CDC spokesman said Tuesday that the agency plans to include covid-19 hospitalizations by race and ethnicity in its next Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, more than six weeks after the first American died of the disease.

Health departments nationwide report coronavirus cases to the CDC using a standardized form that asks for a range of demographic information, including race and ethnicity. However, fields are often left blank and those local agencies are “under a tremendous amount of strain to collect and report case information,” said Scott Pauley, a CDC spokesman.

As the disease has spread in the United States, information on age, gender and county of residence also has been reported inconsistently and sporadically.

In some regions, lawmakers are pushing to fill the data gap on their own. Virginia reports the racial breakdown of its cases but not of its deaths. In neighboring Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday the state would begin to release data about race, a day after more than 80 members of the House of Delegates sent him a letter asking for the information.

Del. Nick Mosby, a Democrat who represents Baltimore, has pushed for the data for weeks after he started hearing from friends, colleagues and his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers about black men who were infected or were dying of covid-19.

“It was kind of frightening,” Mosby said. “I started receiving calls about people I knew personally.”

[snip]

World must combat looming debt meltdown in developing countries

World must combat looming debt meltdown in developing countries
If international community wants to avoid wave of Covid-19 defaults it needs to start rescue plan
By Joseph Stiglitz
Apr 7 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/07/world-must-combat-looming-debt-meltdown-in-developing-countries-covid-19

As it spread from one country to another, the coronavirus paid no attention to national frontiers or “big, beautiful” border walls. Nor were the ensuing economic effects contained. As has been obvious since the outset, the Covid-19 pandemic is a global problem that demands a global solution.

In the world’s advanced economies, compassion should be sufficient motivation to support a multilateral response. But global action is also a matter of self-interest. As long as the pandemic is still raging anywhere, it will pose a threat – both epidemiological and economic – everywhere.

The impact of Covid-19 on developing and emerging economies has only begun to reveal itself. There are good reasons to believe that these countries will be ravaged far more by the pandemic than the advanced economies have been. After all, people in lower-income countries tend to live in closer proximity to one another. A higher share of the population suffers from pre-existing health problems that render them more vulnerable to the disease. And these countries’ health systems are even less prepared to manage an epidemic than those of the advanced economies (which have hardly functioned smoothly).

A 30 March report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development offers an early glimpse of what lies in store for emerging and developing economies. The most successful of them rely on export-led growth, which will now collapse as the global economy contracts. Not surprisingly, global investment flows are also plummeting, as are commodity prices, indicating a tough road ahead for natural-resource exporters.

These developments are already being reflected in the yield spreads on developing countries’ sovereign debt. Many governments will find it exceedingly difficult to roll over the debts coming due this year on reasonable terms, if at all.

Moreover, developing countries have fewer and harder choices about how to confront the pandemic. When people are living hand to mouth in the absence of adequate social protections, a loss of income could mean starvation. Yet these countries cannot replicate the US response, which features (so far) a $2tn economic package that will blow up the fiscal deficit by some 10% of GDP (on top of a pre-pandemic deficit of 5%).

Following a virtual emergency summit on 26 March, G20 leaders issued a communique committing “to do whatever it takes and to use all available policy tools to minimise the economic and social damage from the pandemic, restore global growth, maintain market stability and strengthen resilience”. To that end, at least two things can be done about the dire state of affairs in emerging and developing economies.

First, full use must be made of the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights, a form of “global money” that the institution was authorised to create at its founding. The SDR is an essential ingredient in the international monetary order that John Maynard Keynes advocated during the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944. The idea is that, because all countries will obviously want to protect their own citizens and economies during crises, the international community should have a tool for assisting the neediest countries without requiring national budgets to take a hit.

A standard SDR issuance – with some 40% of the SDRs going to developing and emerging economies – would make an enormous difference. But it would be even better if advanced economies such as the US donated or lent (on concessionary terms) their SDRs to a trust fund dedicated to helping poorer countries. One might expect that the countries providing this assistance would attach conditions, in particular, that the money not go to bailing out creditors.

It is also crucial that creditor countries help by announcing a stay on developing and emerging economies’ debt service. To understand why this is so important, consider the US economy. Last month the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that there would be no foreclosures on federally insured mortgages for 60 days. In essence, this policy is part of a broader “stay” on the entire US economy as a response to the Covid-19 crisis. Workers are staying home, restaurants are staying closed and airlines are all but shut down. Why should creditors be allowed to continue racking up returns, especially when the interest rates they charge should have already created a sufficient risk cushion? Unless creditors grant such a stay, many debtors will emerge from the crisis owing more than they can possibly repay.

[snip]