June 24, 2020 / 9:20 PM / 11 days ago

Breakingviews - Chaotic U.S. virus tactics augur sickly economy

George Washington is seen with printed medical mask on the one Dollar banknotes in this illustration taken, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Chaotic U.S. tactics to contain the coronavirus pandemic are bad for business. The world’s largest economy botched its coronavirus response from the start, with President Donald Trump repeatedly dismissing the seriousness of the outbreak. Now, with more than 35,000 daily infections reported on Tuesday, the United States is back up to mid-April levels and the European Union is considering a ban on American travelers.

States usually look to Washington, D.C. for leadership, but the White House has distanced itself from the task. In fact, Trump has twice in the past few days defied his government’s guidelines by holding rallies in Arizona and Oklahoma, where Covid-19 cases are rising.

That has left public health largely under local jurisdiction, creating divergent policies in handling the pandemic, particularly as health measures become politicized. Almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans said they always wore a mask outside the home, according to a recent poll by Gallup and the Knight Foundation. Only 30% of states mandate such coverings in public. Meanwhile, anyone traveling from virus-hit parts of the Union to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut now ought to self-quarantine for 14 days, the three states said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Flouting guidelines on face coverings and social distancing contributed to a spike in cases in about half of U.S. states after businesses reopened starting in May. Texas’s daily reported cases hit a record of more than 5,000 on Tuesday, while Florida’s exceeded 5,500. Yet governors of both states have resisted calls to require masks to be worn in public, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis saying that you can “catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Yet they may be forced to shut down businesses again if they can’t control the outbreak. Texas Governor Greg Abbott this week urged residents to stay at home, while Arizona faces calls to reinstate a lockdown as cases rose fivefold since mid-May. Even with mask rules, states like California, where infections have also spiked, have found enforcement challenging.

Politicians were already facing painful economic damage from the virus. Florida’s unemployment rate in May hit 14.5% while Texas was at 13%. Commercial Chapter 11 filings were up almost 50% in May compared to a year ago, according to legal-services firm Epiq Global. With repeated waves making a return to lockdowns more likely, the U.S. economy could get more sickly yet.

Breakingviews

Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.


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