Editorial Roundup: New York

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:

Coronavirus Is Advancing. All Americans Need to Shelter in Place.

The New York Times

March 24

President Trump needs to call for a two-week shelter-in-place order, now, as part of a coherent national strategy for the coronavirus to protect Americans and their livelihoods.

Once he does, and governors follow his request, there will be time to debate how soon some controls might be lifted, or how soon certain people, like those under a particular age, might be free to resume something like normal life.

There will be more time then to develop palliative treatments, and more time for the federal government to order up the test kits and ventilators needed nationwide. There will be more time to gather data about which regions, and which people, are most at risk.

But the United States has passed the point where aggressive, targeted efforts at tracking and containment, like those pursued by South Korea, have a realistic chance of success. And calls for voluntary social distancing have had mixed results, as the photos of spring breakers crammed together on the Florida beaches last week made clear.

We are not suggesting that Mr. Trump has the authority to order a national lockdown, much less advocating that he attempt to enforce one. Instead, we are urging him to use the bully pulpit to put pressure on, and provide political cover for, governors to take the hard steps that are needed.

As the president’s own health advisers warn, the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come. The nation’s slow and spotty response has allowed the virus to spread to every state. Modeling by researchers at the Imperial College London indicates that upward of two million lives could be lost to the pandemic unless America somehow manages to “flatten the curve.”

Some cities and states, and even entire nations, already have lockdowns in place. On Tuesday, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, ordered a “total ban” on leaving home for the population of 1.3 billion, for the next three weeks. He warned, “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years.”

Other countries have opted for narrower restrictions, and enforcement has varied. But patchwork approaches, like the one the United States defaulted to in the absence of a national plan, have proven inadequate.

The coronavirus can spread so quickly that to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, the restrictions need to be sweeping, they need to be uniform across jurisdictions and they need to be put in place now. It may already be too late for New York, despite the urgent efforts of state and local governments.

Everyone shares Mr. Trump’s concern for the economy. But this is not a moment for mere salesmanship, for conjuring a cheerful vision rather than facing reality. It’s a moment for providing a plan. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he’d “love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” which falls this year on April 12. Who wouldn’t? But wishing will not make it so. This crisis has not turned a corner — it hasn’t even hit yet.

Rather than raising false expectations of a rapid and full return to business as usual, the president needs to be pursuing even more drastic measures. He should announce that, within 24 hours, all nonessential businesses should be shut and residents directed to remain in their homes except for vital trips out, such as to obtain food or medical care. Provisions can be made for people to walk in outdoor public spaces, so long as they maintain a distance of at least six feet.

Two weeks from now, with more testing, we will also have a far better sense of where infections are clustered if more people confine their movements to a limited number of places.

Mr. Trump has proclaimed himself a “war president.” Why, then, won’t he rally Americans around this cause? Winning this war will require shared sacrifice, and tremendous short-term hardship for Americans. But failure would mean devastating loss of life and prolonged, widespread economic pain.

Of course, even extreme social distancing and withdrawal is no panacea. The Trump administration will need to take other steps to stop the spread of this disease.

Lines of authority and policy aims need to be clarified within the White House. Vice President Mike Pence is the official crisis czar, but Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has his own response team working on, among other things, outreach to the private sector. Certain senior aides, with business leaders whispering in their ears, are at odds with some health advisers about what restrictions are needed and how heavy the government’s hand should be. There has been much grumbling among people both inside and outside the administration that it’s hard to tell who’s running the show. That is complicating decision-making at all levels.

Federalism is integral to American government, but the administration needs to get serious about running a coordinated national response. When Mr. Trump effectively told governors, You’re on your own. Go find your own supplies in the marketplace, he at least gave states greater purchasing flexibility. But he also set up a free-for-all in which states are now bidding against one another — as well as against municipalities, the federal government and other nations — for scarce resources such as protective equipment and ventilators. This causes not only price competition but also misallocation of resources, as each state scrambles to amass its own stockpile, regardless of relative need.

This editorial board is reluctant to grant any White House more executive power, much less this one, given its track record. But in this case, there is no one else to coordinate at the national level. It is the federal government’s job to look at the big picture, tracking where needed resources are available and deciding where they should go. Systems must be set up to provide for quickly shifting equipment and workers from areas with low levels of infection toward those in dire need.

There are encouraging signs that the White House is moving in this direction, albeit belatedly. On Tuesday, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, announced that his agency would make its first use of the Defense Production Act to speed procurement of test kits, protective masks and other equipment needed to fight the virus. Later in the day, Vice President Mike Pence said that 2,000 ventilators were en route to New York State from the national emergency stockpile, with another 2,000 being dispatched on Wednesday. The state estimates it will need 30,000 of the machines.

There remains a drastic shortage of not only protective gear and other equipment but also hospital capacity in hard-hit areas. The administration should use the Defense Production Act to ramp up assembly and distribution of much-needed medical supplies where it makes sense. The president also should fully mobilize the National Guard, with an assist from active-duty military and Reserves, to tackle projects such as erecting field hospitals and setting up drive-through testing centers.

It’s time to put an end to the free-form daily task force briefings featuring the president, the vice president and a rotating cast of other officials. They are a poor use of time for most of the participants and, worse, have repeatedly served up confusing and even false information. The president should tap a respected figure, preferably someone apolitical and with experience in crisis management, to serve as the point person for these briefings. When developments merit, other officials can be brought in to address specific topics.

All this may seem like an overreaction to a health crisis that many Americans aren’t yet feeling. But though it has already wasted time and opportunities to contain the coronavirus, the United States still has a chance to apply hard lessons learned by China, Italy and other nations. A nationwide lockdown is the only tactic left to parry a viral adversary that is constantly on the move, and to buy the time for medical workers to prepare for what comes next.

Online: https://nyti.ms/3drwi1L

___

Private Industry Mobilizes Against the Coronavirus

Wall Street Journal

March 24

President Trump can’t do right by some critics no matter what he does. For three years he’s been denounced as a reckless authoritarian, and now he’s attacked for not being authoritarian enough by refusing to commandeer American industry. The truth is that private industry is responding to the coronavirus without command and control by the federal government.

Last week Mr. Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act that lets a President during a national emergency order business to manufacture products for national defense, set wage and price controls and allocate materials. On Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency used the Korean War-era law for the first time in this crisis to procure and distribute testing kits and face masks.

But Democrats want the Administration to take over much more of the private economy. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday tweeted that the federal government should “nationalize the medical supply chain” and “order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.” He has been echoed by Democratic governors and leaders in Congress.

Yet businesses across America are already chipping in where they can. Aerospace manufacturer Honeywell plans to hire 500 workers at its plant in Rhode Island, which currently produces safety goggles, to make millions of N95 face masks for medical professionals. 3M has doubled its global output of N95 masks and this week is sending 500,000 respirators to hot spots in the U.S.

Corporations including Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Goldman Sachs are donating millions of medical masks stockpiled for wildfires or a biochemical attack. Apparel manufacturers are repurposing textile mills to produce personal protective equipment. Hanes plans to manufacture masks using U.S. cotton at factories in El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Diverse supply chains can help businesses operate more flexibly during a crisis since they don’t depend on any single country for materials or workers. That’s why an America first or America only government supply order would be a mistake.

Maine-based Puritan Medical Products, one of America’s top sources for nose swabs, says it has been rushing to keep up with orders even as some workers have become sick. Directing the company to produce more coronavirus swabs won’t do any good if it can’t get more workers and could create a shortage of flu tests if it has to divert resources from other lines.

Businesses know their workforce capacities and supply chains better than the government—and how to retool them to maximize efficiency. Dozens of breweries and distillers including Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard USA are churning out hand sanitizer. General Electric plans to hire more workers to produce ventilators even while it lays off thousands in aviation. Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy is retrofitting hundreds of old ventilators for the state of California.

Ford said on Tuesday that it would start assembling plastic face shields and work with 3M and GE to make respirators and ventilators. General Motors is also exploring how to use its global automotive supply chain to make ventilators. Ford’s CEO said its ventilators could be available by June, and it isn’t obvious that a government takeover of manufacturing would speed this up.

It might make sense for the federal government to purchase supplies from manufacturers and then allocate them to hospitals and states with the highest need. But it doesn’t make sense to order manufacturers like Apple or GM to make nose swabs or chemical reagents for testing kits if they don’t have the expertise or suppliers to do so.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can also help convert vacant hotels and college dorms into make-shift hospitals, as it is doing in New York. When this pandemic is over, one of the lessons is likely to be that the government should have done more earlier to purchase and surge medical equipment to hospitals.

But dictating to businesses now will lead to bureaucratic snafus and inefficiencies. President Trump said Sunday “we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business.” That’s the right impulse. America needs to emerge from this with a private economy intact and ready to grow again, not nationalized industries subject to bureaucratic and political control.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2UyPJ00

___

We Need To Determine How Reliant We Are On Foreign Sources

The Post Journal

March 25

Sources ranging from the CIA to the Census Bureau disagree on how reliant we Americans are on drugs and medical equipment imported from China. Extend that to international agencies and the variances are even greater.

For example, some sources place China far down on the list of countries exporting drugs to the United States. We are about 15 times more dependent on Ireland, according to the International Trade Centre. We import only about $2.6 billion dollars’ worth of drugs a year from China, agrees the Census Bureau.

Other analysts say the reliance is substantially greater, especially for certain medicines such as antibiotics. As much as 45% of the penicillin we use here comes from China. Reportedly, there are no U.S. manufacturers of the basic antibiotic.

Not being able to produce a single dose of penicillin ought to be a red flag. Clearly, that needs to change.

Americans have been warned for decades that we were becoming too reliant on other countries for certain products. Steel is an example; some of that used in defense industries must be imported.

When it comes to life-saving medicines and medical equipment, buying too much from abroad can put Americans in jeopardy. We are learning that now, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It has resulted in Chinese companies curtailing exports of certain types of medical supplies, including the N-95 facemasks you have heard so much about. One can hardly blame the Chinese for conserving such products for domestic use.

That does not help Americans, however.

As soon as the epidemic is over and U.S. officials can focus on what went wrong, Congress should launch an inquiry into our dependence on foreign sources of drugs, health care supplies and medical equipment. The first step ought to be determining just how great that reliance is. Once we learn that, decisions about whether steps should be taken to keep more production here can be decided upon and implemented.

Online: https://bit.ly/3dqDFqt

___

Our health care system is about to be tested

The Post Star

March 22

In the weeks and months ahead, we expect we will be hearing a lot about the shortcomings of our health care system.

We’re not talking about the quality of care given by our health care professionals so much as who is insured, how much they pay, and if we don’t provide medical help for everyone.

We suspect we will have many questions about what needs to be fixed.

Many of us will soon have some first-hand experiences we will want to share.

Considering this is an election year, we believe the next presidential election should have a healthy discussion about health care. We need to decide once and for all what type of system we want – single payer, universal health care, Medicare for all – and make the change, even if it costs a significant amount of money, because as we have all seen this past week, pandemics are extraordinarily expensive, too.

We hope it is not true, but we expect the current crisis will reveal significant problems and gaps in our health care that will dramatically affect many of us.

The first thing to address is that many people do not have and cannot afford even cheap insurance. The result is they do not practice preventative care.

They don’t go for checkups, and if they do get sick, they avoid the doctor until it feels like they have the plague.

Many of us have grown up with a mindset of avoiding doctors and medical treatment at all costs and we brag about it religiously, especially since $30 and $40 copayments can be significant hits to our pocket books.

As the challenges to our health care system are revealed, it should not surprise us that the United States has fewer doctors and fewer hospital beds than most other developed countries.

Medical treatment, as anyone who has ever gotten an emergency room bill knows, is expensive in the United States.

But even if the U.S. embraced another type of health care system, it is unlikely it would have avoided the pandemic.

After all, Italy has universal health care and it still has been forced to lock down the country.

But having a system that everyone can use would be far more favorable than what we are seeing now, especially if preventative measures are practiced before hospitalization is necessary.

Government officials have all jumped on board making care and tests free during this crisis – at least in the short term – because it is in the best interest of keeping the most people healthy.

Those actions might give you insights about what we all need – easy affordable access to health care – and expect, because if these are the “best practices” during a pandemic, then wouldn’t it also make sense to do that the rest of the time?

As the medical community prepares for the challenges ahead, consider that Americans face higher out-of-pocket costs for medical care than almost any other country in the world.

That means many people make medical treatment decisions based on whether they can afford it.

You don’t want to hear anyone saying, “I’ll just have to save up for that penicillin.”

Research shows as many as 33 percent of Americans see costs as a barrier to getting medical care. In Switzerland, it is 22 percent, Germany 7 percent.

Twenty-five percent of Americans said they delayed treatment for a “serious condition” because of cost.

According to a Vox article online, a 2018 study found that even women with breast cancer would delay care because of the high deductibles on their insurance plans.

There is something morally wrong about that.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he would require insurers and Medicaid in New York to cover treatment and testing cost-free with an emergency declaration.

Without the free testing for coronavirus, you might see a quarter of the population balk at testing because they felt it was too expensive, leading many to walk around infecting others.

It turns out that the United States lacks hospital infrastructure as well. During the pandemic, it is expected there will be a lack of hospital beds. The problem is that the U.S. has a higher rate of hospitalization for chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and asthma that many believe could be managed without hospitalization with better preventative care.

Regular doctor visits might lead to healthier eating and more exercise that might reduce hospital admissions.

The United States also has fewer doctors than other countries, by a lot. With fewer doctors seeing more patients, getting same-day or next-day appointments is almost impossible.

So even if you were sick with the coronavirus several weeks ago, it is unlikely your doctor would have seen you in a timely manner.

Considering the technological advantages our country has, we are perplexed why every single health care provider is not automatically able to access your health records and tests with the touch of a computer button.

In the coming months, we will hear a lot about the pandemic and who is to blame.

But what we really need to be talking about is whether everyone should have access to affordable health care and how much that will cost.

That’s what the presidential campaign should be about.

The goal is to make our citizens healthier, happier and less susceptible to disease.

The system we have now is not working. We fear we are going to see that in the coming days.

Online: https://bit.ly/33NaVDW

___

News media, including The Citizen, will continue to inform through crisis

The Auburn Citizen

March 22

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order that shuts down most businesses in New York and directs people to stay home and avoid social contact goes into effect at 8 p.m. Sunday.

In the governor's words, this is the "most drastic action" the state can take to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19. We urge our readers to take this directive seriously: We are in a state of emergency throughout Cayuga County, New York state and the nation. Anyone who thinks they can take the situation lightly is a danger to themselves, their families and the community.

With the mandatory shutdown, the state has established a list of exempted employers that are considered essential services during this crisis. One of the professions on that list is news media. The governor's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, framed it well Saturday in a Tweet: "As far as 'essential services' go, the media has never been more important."

We want to assure the residents of the Cayuga County-area — and all of their out-of-town loved ones and friends who care deeply about this community — that The Citizen is committed to operating through this crisis so the public has the vital information needed to stay safe and get through this challenge, no matter how long it lasts.

We are working with safety at the forefront. Although we're exempt from the executive order, we have nearly all of our employees working from their homes. We are using our phones and email as much as possible in our reporting; when in-person interviews or photography is needed, we are being cautious to maintain a safe physical distance from the subjects being covered. Our independent contractors who deliver the newspaper and the company that prints it are also following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for social distancing.

You can count on us to continue bringing you accurate, timely information on COVID-19. We'll also continue providing the other news and information you expect from us. That includes items that may even provide some comfort and a smile or two, like comic strips, crossword puzzles and birth announcements.

Finally, we also want to say thanks to the amazing people and places that we cover. The words of support that you have shared over these past several days have helped keep us strong. And the efforts so many people are making to assist their neighbors and their communities are an inspiration.

Online: https://bit.ly/2QHlVNC

___