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Monday, April 6, 2020
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Sunday, April 5, 2020 11:18 AM

INDIANAPOLIS - In 2005, President George W. Bush designated - with explicit presidential authority - Lt. Gen. Russell Honore to command Joint Task Force Katrina to coordinate the federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. This COVID-19 pandemic is an emerging catastrophe on a historic national scale. Instead of seeking to blame the Chinese, Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun, and Gov. Eric Holcomb should demand that President Trump designate a combatant command operations manager to take control of the national response. 

This deteriorating situation demands a binding national policy and firm guidance for governors and mayors, who thus far have been battling this scourge as one of 50, now competing with FEMA for scarce resources. It has turned into a state v. state procurement fight. On Thursday, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, referred to the national stockpile of medical supplies as "our stockpile" that doesn't belong to states. 

President Trump should have this operations manager federalize all national resources and facilities to attain supplies, resources, facilities to test, trace, triage and treat the swelling number of victims. Such a manager would oversee the massive production, procurement, purchasing, allocation, distribution and maintenance of federal resources. This emergency manager would mobilize the defense transportation system to move resources to crippled areas. 

As New York Gov. Cuomo said on Friday, the ventilators used in New York at the height of the surge there could then be moved west and south to Indiana, Louisiana, Florida and other emerging hot spots. This operations manager should aggressively use the Defense Production Act, with the president's authority. And this manager would address the dangerous conditions in congregate facilities such as nursing homes, retirement centers, long-term care facilities, veterans care homes and hospitals, jails and prisons. 

What we don't need are two-hour press conferences by the president and his corona virus task force, who should have better things to do. If the Trump/Pence administration fails to act in this manner, the stunning and unsettling 100,000 to 250,000 death toll could mushroom into a more dire situation.
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    INDIANAPOLIS — Fear. That was the name of Bob Woodward’s first book on the Trump presidency. It’s been a theme of Michael Moore documentaries and a proven Madison Avenue marketing device. And fear has become an invasive pandemic element that has seeped into every family, every business, every school, and every circle of friends this spring. Fear has planted itself in our collective psyche. My explicit fear is the Intensive Care Unit. After suffering a subdural hematoma last November, I ended up in the St. Vincent ICU – then one of about 1,400 in the state – for about five days. I was on one of the state’s 1,100 ventilators for about 36 hours. When I came to, I couldn’t talk with the tube going down my gullet. I remember thinking, “How in the hell did I get here?” I had no idea. And the sounds of that ICU – the chimes and what seemed like an animated woodpecker working on a hollow log – haunt me to this day. I never want to go back to the ICU. When this pandemic began, with Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Trump issuing stay-at-home orders early last month, I needed little convincing to remain holed up at our condo. Time in the ICU will do that to you. As Holcomb said on Monday, “It took a month for the United States to record its first 1,000 deaths, and then it took just two days to record the next 1,000. In Indiana we went from one COVID-19 case on March 6 to 1,786 today. Those are the ones we know of. Our first COVID-19 death in Indiana was two weeks ago today and we’re now at 35 Hoosiers who have passed.” By Tuesday, it was 49. By Wednesday it was 65. By Friday it had topped 100.

    INDIANAPOLIS  — I looked out the window and immediately thought, “I’m not supposed to be here.” It was January 2019, just four days after I returned from a trip to the more opulent parts of the Middle East – Oman and the United Arab Emirates – and I was in Havana, Cuba, passing by a giant poster emblazoned with Fidel Castro’s face and the words “Socialism or Death” written in imposing block letters. I couldn’t help but think each taxi was mandated to drive Americans by this sign as a reminder that while only 90 miles from the border of freedom, we were in a much different place.  What I saw that weekend left an indelible impression on me. I saw with my own eyes the drab and lifeless food rationing outposts where Cubans stand in line to get the small amount of chicken, rice, beans and other staples the government divvies up to them each month. I saw with my own eyes the crumbling and decaying infrastructure along the coast where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet, further torn apart by Hurricane Irma two years prior. And I heard with my own ears how Cubans are practically forbidden to eat beef and seafood, luxury items that are instead sold directly to foreign visitors for mere pennies on the dollar to shape our perceptions of the island nation. All this came back to me in vivid detail as I walked up and down the bare aisles of my local grocery store this week. Gone was the ground beef. There was no chicken to be found. Bread was only available in bun form. And toilet paper? Forget about it.
    MUNCIE  — The nation’s monthly jobs report published earlier this week was jarring. I write before its publication, but expect the unemployment rate to more than double. Monthly job losses are sure to crush the previous record of September 1945. Despite this, it is worth noting that September 1945 was surely the most welcomed month in all of human history, marking the end of World War II. We would be wise to view the unemployment rate and other short-term economic data as imperfect measures of human flourishing. Last week, Dr. Tony Fauci, a man who no longer requires introduction, predicted 100,000 to 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. This eye-popping figure accounts for the extreme measures now being taken in many parts of the nation. Business as usual would’ve likely resulted in a tenfold loss of life. Faced with these large numbers, we need to place a more personal context on this tragedy, and muse upon the potential change this will lead to in our economic lives.  At the top range, Dr. Fauci’s estimates are more than five times the annual American deaths from automobile accidents. This means that by late April, nearly every adult will know someone who has died of COVID-19, and someone in every neighborhood, school and place of work will have been sick with it. Such suffering cannot fail to have broad effect on the structure of our economy. 
    KOKOMO  — “What’s a granny worth?” My next door neighbor correctly judged that I was baiting him with the question. This discussion occurred while several neighbors were having a safe social distance happy hour outside of our homes. I’m sure it was an interesting sight as neighbors sat in lawn chairs spread out on both sides of our neighborhood street drinking a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.  After much discussion over the issue of toilet paper and sanitizer stockpiles, the talk gradually turned to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the virtual shutdown of our economy. I turned to my next door neighbor and asked the question about how much we were willing to spend to save a granny, when my neighbor across the street yelled out, “Hey, watch it, I’m a granny too!” The truth be known, we were all of the age to be either grannies or grandpas. Before we could hash out a consensus answer, the heavens opened up on us and drowned out our little neighborhood attempt at maintaining some normalcy. The question still hangs in the air. With the staggering loss of incomes, jobs, market valuations and $2 trillion stimulus bills, just what is the dollar value of a higher risk person?
    INDIANAPOLIS  — State Senator Barry Ballyhoo called last week. “How ya doin’, boy?” He asked the familiar question during this era of sequestration. “OK,” was my reply. “Well, youngster,” he said. “I was ruminatin’ about this here computer census. We done filled out our online form. ’Twasn’t any problem. But it done left me wonderin’ if anybody really cares.” “Oh, Senator, you can bet they do,” I replied. Then I repeated the many reasons Hoosiers have a stake in the census: The federal and state money distributed by formulas using population data, the drawing of political boundaries, and not incidentally, the issuance of permits by the alcohol and tobacco commission. “Yes, yes, I know all that,” he said impatiently. “But do Hoosiers care? Does it bother them last week’s figures show 55 of our 92 counties shrank in population between the census in 2010 and the estimates for 2019?”
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  • HPI Interview: Sen. Young looks beyond pandemic & social impacts


    INDIANAPOLIS  – With Indiana and the nation heading up the steep incline toward a coronavirus apex expected to crest in mid- to late-April, Howey Politics Indiana  conducted this interview with Sen. Todd Young, who finds himself in the biggest crisis he has faced since joining Congress nine years ago. “We’re doing what Americans do in times of crisis,” Young explained, “identifying ways to adapt, improvise and overcome. Unlike the 2008-09 economic crisis, which is something Americans never wanted to relive, our economy was red hot as we headed into this pandemic. We literally have a public health crisis at the same time we have an economic crisis. It’s disrupted our society. So this has impacted every facet of our lives and has inspired how Americans, and Hoosiers more specifically, have been responding.”

  • Holcomb, health leaders reveal plans for the
coming coronavirus surge


    INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana unveiled its coronavirus “surge plan” Monday afternoon, with Gov. Eric Holcomb signing several executive orders while health officials said they are doubling the number of Intensive Care Unit beds and ventilators. “Just as the world turns, coronavirus knows no geography,” Holcomb said during a virtual press conference. “There will be a beginning, a middle and an end.” Clearly, Hoosier leaders believe the beginning surge is at hand and the governor indicated he is likely to extend the stay at home order past the original April 7 date. Health Commissioner Kristina Box said the “best modeling” suggests Indiana will see its peak will arrive in mid- to late-April. She added that it could be a lower, more prolonged peak, stretching into mid-May.”

  • Study of Indiana COVID-19 cases predicts mid-April peak, 2,400 deaths by August

    INDIANAPOLIS - While Indiana officials have been tight lipped on the number of intensive care unit beds and ventilators it has, a University of Washington state-by-state projections study of COVID-19 impacts says there are 706 ICU beds and the state will need 854 ventilators. By Aug. 4, it projects 2,400 Hoosiers will die, reaching a peak of 320 deaths per day by mid-April. Indiana is projected to reach its peak of just over 30,000 cases around April 17. It says the state has 8,485 available beds, and will need 10,458, for a bed shortage of 1,973. It projects there are 706 Intensive Care Unit beds available, while the demand will be 1,582 beds, for an ICU bed shortage of 876 beds. It projects Indiana will need 854 invasive ventilators, though it does not specify how many ventilators the state has. 
  • HPI Analysis: Primary election delayed, but what about November?

    INDIANAPOLIS  – For more than two centuries, Hoosiers have participated in democracy by going to their local polling place to vote. In normal times they chat with their neighbors as they wait in line. These are not normal times. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Democratic Chairman John Zody combined in a letter earlier this month calling for expanded absentee balloting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that signalled what Gov. Eric Holcomb announced last Friday: A delayed primary until June 2.  In announcing the rescheduling of the primary, Holcomb reiterated his view stated on Thursday that the May 5 primary “needed to be pushed back to ensure the safety of county employees, poll workers and voters.” He added that he wanted to give Lawson, Hupfer and Zody “time to build a consensus.” On Wednesday, the Indiana Election Commission voted unanimously to move the primary to June 2. At its April 22 meeting, the discussion will likely turn to how the Nov. 3 election will be conducted.

  • Indiana descends from its economic peak in February into the coronavirus valley

    INDIANAPOLIS - While there’s Mount Baldy in Michigan City, Fort Wayne is known as the “Summit City” and Brown County features Browning Mountain a few miles past the Story Inn, Indiana is essentially sans prominent elevation. But February 2020 will become known as Indiana’s peak when it comes to employment. It was that month that a record number 3.29 million of us went to work. There was an estimated 105,177 unemployed and seeking jobs. On Feb. 29, the United States also recorded a fateful milestone: It’s first coronavirus death. It wouldn’t be until March 6 that the first Hoosier was reported with the virus, with just a dozen reported cases on March 12, and with an ominous pause, no new cases on Friday, March 13. Since then the cases have exploded, to 76 reported on March 22 and then 170 on Wednesday, and 338 on Thursday.
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  • Pence says U.S. pandemic is 'comparable' to Italy
    “We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.” - Vice President Pence, to CNN on Wednesday, after he was asked how severe the COVID-19 pandemic will get in the United States. The pandemic has hit Italy the hardest to date.
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  • President Trump, Gov. Holcomb address the pandemic in their own words
    The COVID-19 pandemic is becoming the story of our time. As Sen. Todd Young explained, unlike the Great Recession of 2008-09 and the Oil Shock recession of 1979-82, what we are experiencing today is a double hammer: A pandemic and a severe economic panic. The Hoosier State is poised to go from a historic low 3.1% unemployment rate to double digits in the span of a month. At least one pandemic model says 2,400 Hoosiers will die.

    Tough times shift our attention to leadership. Here are quotes from President Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb as the pandemic approached the U.S. and then impacted our nation and state.

    President Trump

    Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” – CNBC interview.

    Feb. 10: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” – New Hampshire rally.

    Feb. 24: “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock market starting to look very good to me!” – On Twitter.

    Feb. 25: “China is working very, very hard. I have spoken to President Xi, and they are working very hard. If you know anything about him, I think he will be in pretty good shape. I think that is a problem that is going to go away.”

    Feb. 26: “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” – At a White House news conference.
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