INDIANAPOLIS — The economic carnage of this pandemic is without historic parallel. Just this past week ArcelorMittal idled another blast furnace in East Chicago, Hoosier Park Racino at Anderson and the Tropicana Casino in Evansville furloughed a combined thousand employees, as did the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Cummins, Honda and Toyota all extended plant shutdowns through May 1.

The half million small businesses across the state find themselves on the brink of oblivion, risking hundreds of thousands of Hoosier livelihoods.

Last week Indiana endured 134,000 unemployment claims. Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne told the Northwest Indiana Times, “Prior to March of this year, the highest number of claims that were filed in a one-week period was the week ending Jan. 10, 2009, about 28,000.” That was during the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Payne continued, “The number of claims were received in a one-month period during the highest amount during our downturn is now what we may be seeing on a weekly basis. We’re also seeing an equally unprecedented number of calls. Already this week we’ve had more than 210,000 phone interactions. Last week we had 158,000.”

Folks, these are Great Depression type statistics.

Which begs these questions: How does America restart the $22 trillion economy? And while the coronavirus pandemic is stressing medical systems across the nation, the number of total positive cases in Indiana were 8,236 and deaths were 350 on Monday, this coming in a state with 6.85 million people. Nationally, Johns Hopkins University put the total cases at 1.9 million and deaths at 120,450 in a nation of 331 million people.

Our collective humanity and a safeguarding of life has brought a consensus to shut the economy down. But the number of afflicted and departed are less than 1% of the population.

Little wonder that President Trump, being the businessman he was, instinctively wants to reopen the economy. “We’re looking at two concepts,” Trump said on Fox News last week. “We’re looking at the concept where you open up sections and we’re also looking at the concept where you open up everything.” Economic advisor Larry Kudlow put the timeframe in the next “four to eight weeks.”

Two Food and Drug Administration commissioners – including Scott Gottlieb who served under President Trump – listed four goals for states to return to a normal economic footing: 1) Hospitals in a state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care. 2) A state needs to be able to test at least everyone who has symptoms. 3) The state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts. 4) There must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

The problem is that the Trump administration hasn’t invested in a systemic testing program health and economic experts say is required to reopen the economy. States like Indiana are scrambling to fill the void that should have been in the federal portfolio. “We are all kinds of Band-Aid, patching it together to get as many tests done as we can,” said State Health Commissioner Kristina Box earlier this week. “We’re really trying to remove any restrictions for people as far as testing anybody who’s symptomatic.”

On Monday, the ISDH had conducted 44,539 tests. That leaves undiagnosed the tens of thousands of asymptomatic carriers of the virus. At the Anderson nursing home where 22 residents and staffers perished, the state was unable to test all residents and employees. 

At Monday’s press conference, Box said the surge peak will hit central Indiana at the end of April and rest of state in the first week of May. “We have not seen the peak of the surge yet, but I believe it will be a lot lower,” Box said.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Monday that ramping up systemic testing will be an arduous task, because many of the necessary agents needed (in addition to the shortage of swabs) will be an impediment.

“I just have to say right at the outset: It will hit every small town, every county, whether rural or urban or not,” Osterholm told the Bemediji Pioneer. “It will not be a blue or a red virus. This is going to get worse. This is going to get much, much worse. I think most people don’t understand that. As such, what we’re doing now is just the beginning of what will likely be a 16- to maybe 20-month period of time when we’re all going to be dealing with this issue. It will be a real challenge.”

Osterholm continued, “The economy is critical, we have to have a functioning society. That means we can’t have these unemployment rates. They themselves cause serious health problems in terms of lack of access to care, in terms of mental health issues and suicides. We have a lot more we have to do. I think we’re going to ultimately find the right balance, and it shouldn’t be one where it’s a blue or a red issue.

The danger in restarting the economy too quickly is that a second economic shutdown – with compliance of the population – was articulated by Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell, who said it was crucial to “avoid a false start where we will partially reopen and that results in a spike in coronavirus cases, and then we have to go back again to square one.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari told CBS’s Face The Nation, “We’re looking around the world. As they relax the economic controls, the virus flares back up again. We could have these waves of flareups, controls, flareups and controls until we actually get a therapy or a vaccine. I think we should all be focusing on an 18-month strategy.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that an economic restart “includes building testing and surveillance systems … to give businesses and individuals confidence that they can return to work without risking infection.”

The subsequent lack of systemic testing will continue to stress the economic reopening of our economy. As President Trump prepared to set up yet another task force to reopen the economy, the Washington Post reported: “Public health experts say that among the keys to returning to normalcy are nationwide virus testing. But the administration has not fully grappled with the sheer manpower and resources required for an effort like contact tracing — and right now, there are not even enough coronavirus tests for those who need them, let alone the entire country.”

On Saturday, President Trump said he would use “facts and instincts” to make a decision on whether to recommend opening up areas of the country for working life. “I think it’s going to be the toughest decision I ever made and hopefully the most difficult I will ever have to make. I hope I’m going to make the right decision.”

Asked Monday about President Trump’s desire to reopen the economy, Gov. Eric Holcomb said, “Of course we want to remain in line not just with our state authority,  but also understanding the balance between federalism and states rights. I think the president has Hoosiers’ best interests in mind. I don’t think he wants, nor do I, to act prematurely. He’s looking at the same data we’re looking at. I spoke to Vice President Pence on Saturday about the very data that they see and it’s the same data we see. We are all in this together. We’ll continue to work with the president and his team and look for CDC guidance as this virus changes, mutates and evolves.”

Pence said on Monday, “Reopening the country, as the president is anxious to do at the earliest responsible moment, will be through a combination of facts. First would be that we are at the end of the coronavirus for most major communities. Another piece of that is we have therapeutics for Americans to take medicines if the contract the disease.”
 
Pence said in conversations with governors, “We told them what the president has directed to be produced are additional guidelines, certified by the CDC, about the best way forward.”

Holcomb said Monday that he will announce “tweaks” to his stay-at-home order this coming Friday. “Tweaks means tweaks. I’m not sold on any of them yet. It will be driven by the data. Not just our hope.”

Three hours later, Trump claimed during a marathon 2 hour and 24 minute coronavirus task force briefing, “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total. The governors know that. The president of the United States calls the shots.” 

Vice President Pence backed up Trump’s assertion, saying that at times of emergency, the powers of president are “unquestionably plenary” (New York Post). Earlier on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo teamed up with the leaders of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island to form a regional task force aimed at a gradual reopening of the economy beyond the coronavirus. Shortly after, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was working with state leaders in Washington and Oregon on a similar framework for reopening as a region.

According to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

President Trump has strong influence over several Republican governors, but it will be governors of both parties who will determine when to reopen their states. 

Consumers, too, will have a huge say. If Americans don’t feel safe in going to a restaurant, a shopping mall or MLB game, the economy will be impacted.