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Canceling Everything Was the Easy Part

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Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump are political allies, but the Florida governor still wasted weeks playing a deadly game of chicken with the president. Neither man wanted to be the one to tell residents of the third-most-populous state to stay home. Doing so was DeSantis’s job all along, but he was still insisting earlier this week that he would only act if the president told him to. Never mind that Florida has a large elderly population; that the state’s case count had soared past 7,000; or that the White House’s medical experts had been trying to signal the governor to issue an order. Yesterday, after needlessly jeopardizing his own citizens, DeSantis finally made the choice that more than 30 other governors had made, in some cases, weeks before.

He wasn’t the only holdout; Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, belatedly issued his own order yesterday, insisting he had only just learned that “this virus is now transmitting before people see signs.” In hindsight, the length of time that he, DeSantis, and others dithered over the stay-at-home orders will look all the more reckless, because the decisions public officials—and especially governors—will have to make are only going to get harder. The choices these officials face will in some cases pit citizens against each other. In many cases, there will be no correct answer, just choices among miserable options.

[Lawrence Gostin and Sarah Wetter: Why there’s no national lockdown]

Quick, decide: If 20 percent of a city’s police department is infected or quarantined because of the coronavirus, how should the remaining officers decide which problems to take on? Already, some police departments are closing buildings to the public. No more walk-ins. Others are focused on only providing essential services, such as investigating violent crimes, and leaving the investigation of non-violent or property crimes for another day. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who on Monday begged criminals to “chill,” has been roundly mocked. “Until the coronavirus is resolved,” Turner said, “criminals take a break. Okay. Stay home. Stay home and don’t commit any crimes.” But he was only saying out loud what mayors and police chiefs around the country know: that their ability to protect public safety may be substantially diminished. In a society that can no longer satisfy all public safety demands, where do you place a phone call about a marital argument that could escalate against the possibility that a police officer will be infected? Should a late-night dispatcher be left to determine which calls to ignore, or should someone higher up the chain—someone accountable to the public—establish a basic policy?

Also decide: Which patients should doctors and nurses prioritize for life-saving efforts if hospitals simply become overwhelmed? Who wants to write that policy? Across the United States, today, states are revising their triage standards in anticipation of seeing more COVID-19 patients than a limited number of health-care workers adequately treat with the supplies they have in hand. This is not only an ethical dilemma that can be left to individual doctors and hospitals; governors and legislators must determine what sort of liability protection hospitals should get if such triage standards have to be applied and patients are denied care. Public officials should and inevitably will be drawn into arguments about what those standards should be. Focus on the otherwise healthy patients who are most likely to recover—the general standard enshrined in state plans examined by The New York Times—is an easy thing to say. But a patient’s health status often aligns with economic and social status. Racial disparities abound. Older people and those with disabilities are rightfully concerned that triage standards may exclude them. As doctors confront one wrenching decision after the next, will governors help establish moral and legal norms—or look the other way?

[Yascha Mounk: The extraordinary decisions facing Italian doctors]

Then, decide: Should schools even try to open anytime soon? As for schools and educational standards, one can only hope that the kids return to classrooms in the late summer or fall. But, the progression of the pandemic is still unpredictable. Even if New York City hits its peak later this month, the virus will keep spreading across the nation in waves and could well resurge in areas after seeming to subside. The United States has a high volume of cases unevenly distributed across a vast geographic area. Schools in many states begin in mid-August; many school and university facilities are being retrofitted for use as makeshift hospitals or for other pressing public needs; colleges and universities that have students from many states may be unwilling to open for fear that post-peak state students will mix with those from states still with strong community spread. If you were a principal or a superintendent or a university president, what would you do?

On these and other ugly questions, recent experience suggests that the White House is unlikely to do anything more than provide broad guidance to states—and then leave the hard part to them. That’s no way to fight a 50-state disaster, but federalism is a convenient way for a president to let somebody else take the blame.

Soon enough, the painful decisions that governors made to keep residents inside—and shut down major sectors of their economies—will seem obviously correct, especially as evidence mounts that social distancing is working to flatten the curve. But that makes the curve longer and the need for people to stay inside all the more pressing as time goes on.

[Read: How the pandemic will end]

And then one day, after we’ve figured out a way to manage life with the virus through testing and tracking, treatments and other efforts, we will finally have a vaccine ready for mass distribution—if we are lucky—sometime in 2021. Vaccines will be sent to the states with some guidance about priorities. But the vaccine will be distributed in waves; we don’t need to wait for full manufacturing to start getting it into people’s arms. Everyone will be clamoring for it. Medical professionals and first responders will go to the front of the line, as they should. But who goes next? Elderly people, who are more vulnerable, or healthy young people, who are more mobile, more likely to be infected without symptoms, and more likely to be working in jobs requiring contact with others? Those in urban areas, who are more likely to be exposed by casual transmission, or people all across a state? You or me? Decide quickly.

For all these questions, the best answer will feel like a pyrrhic victory. The only wrong answer is to take action too late.

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JimB
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Four Measurable Ways the Coronavirus Is Changing the Planet

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From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.

Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.

With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.

“It’s very literally reflecting a slowdown of our lives,” Koelemeijer told me over Skype.

Koelemeijer said she briefly geeked out over the recent data before reality set in. At first glance, this is indeed a fascinating observation, the kind of factoid that might appear on the underside of a Snapple cap. The “wow” moment is short-lived, of course, because the explanation is not a quirk of nature or some other benign eccentricity, but a catastrophic virus that has sickened and killed thousands, crumpled economies, and plunged public life into a fearful limbo with no easily discernible end.

But the response to the pandemic has unwittingly produced some other large-scale, though less conspicuous, effects. In a bittersweet twist, the surreal slowdown of life as we know it has presented researchers with a rare opportunity to study the modern world under some truly bizarre conditions, and they’re scrambling to collect as much data as they can. Here are four ways the pandemic is being felt across land, air, and sea.

There’s less rumbling on the surface

Seismologists around the world have noticed the same effect Koelemeijer detected in London, and at more traditional stations than a fireplace.

The trend started with Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, in Brussels. Seismic stations are usually found well outside metropolitan areas, away from vibrations that could obscure subtle tremors within Earth’s interior, but the Brussels station was established more than a century ago, before a city grew around it. Today, it provides a fascinating glimpse of the ebb and flow of a bustling city; Lecocq has found that when it snows, anthropogenic seismic activity decreases, and on the day of a road race, it spikes. Lecocq checked seismic data the day before Belgium began a nationwide lockdown, and then the following morning. The drop in activity, he said, was “immediate.” Right now, daytime in Brussels resembles Christmas Day.

Lecocq shared his approach online, and seismologists in the United States, France, New Zealand, and elsewhere are now seeing the effects of their country’s own social-distancing measures on seismic activity. For seismologists who study seismic signals from Earth’s interior—rather than other sources, including people, animals, even storms—quarantines seem to have made it easier to listen. “Normally we wouldn’t pick up a 5.5 [magnitude earthquake] from the other side of the world, because it would be too noisy, but with less noise, they’re now able to pick up 5.5’s with much nicer signals during the day,” Koelemeijer said.

There’s Less Air Pollution

As cities and, in some cases, entire nations weather the pandemic under lockdown, Earth-observing satellites have detected a significant decrease in the concentration of a common air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, which enters the atmosphere through emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and power plants. The drop, observed in China and Europe, coincided with stringent social-distancing measures on the ground. Air pollution can seriously damage human health, and the World Health Organization estimates that conditions stemming from exposure to ambient pollution—including stroke, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses—kill about 4.2 million people a year.

[Read: 5 big trends that increased Earth’s carbon pollution]

The cleaner air could lead to a brief respite in parts of the world with severe air pollution even as they battle the coronavirus. According to an analysis by Marshall Burke, a professor in Stanford’s Earth-system science department, a pandemic-related reduction in particulate matter in the atmosphere—the deadliest form of air pollution—likely saved the lives of 4,000 young children and 73,000 elderly adults in China over two months this year.

“There’s a quantifiable temporary benefit,” Joseph Majkut, the director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, in Washington, D.C., told me, referring to Burke’s analysis. But—and it’s an important “but”—“as we go about our recovery, I think we’ll go back to business as usual,” he said. A drop in emissions this year, including carbon dioxide, the pollutant that causes global warming, won’t make a dent in the long-term effort to manage the climate crisis. “We’re not solving climate change by having a global pandemic,” Majkut said.

City Soundscapes Are Changing

With so many people staying home—and public-transit agencies cutting service as a result—there’s significantly less noise from cars, buses, trains, and other transportation. Erica Walker, a public-health researcher at Boston University, has taken a decibel meter with her on her socially distanced walks, and she has been stunned by the measurements. “It’s a lot quieter,” she told me.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the acoustic environment in Kenmore Square, a busy intersection near campus, is usually about 90 decibels during rush hour. Yesterday, Walker’s rush-hour readings were just under 68 decibels. (For comparison, a subway train rumbling past nearby registers at 95 decibels—the level at which chronic exposure could result in impaired hearing—and the sound of normal conversation is 60 to 70 decibels.) In some spots in the Fenway Park area, where Walker has studied noise pollution for several years through her program Noise and the City, her latest data show reductions close to 30 decibels. “It’s unbelievably a huge difference,” Walker said.

[Read: Why everything is getting louder]

City dwellers might now be hearing sounds that can get muffled by the usual drone. Rebecca Franks, an American who lives in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, made this observation 48 days into the city’s quarantine last month: “I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan, because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people,” Franks wrote on Facebook. “All day long now I hear birds singing. It stops me in my tracks to hear the sound of their wings.” Sylvia Poggioli, an NPR correspondent in Italy, reported that the streets of Rome are so empty, “you can actually hear the squeak of rusty door hinges,” and “the chirping of birds, an early sign of spring, is almost too loud.”

A quick search for the phrase birds are louder on Twitter reveals that many other people have been wondering the same thing I have lately: Are the birds chirping more fiercely these days, or am I losing my mind? With spring migration in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, there are certainly more birds around. But the reduction in noise pollution—and, in some places, its total absence—might make it easier to notice the usual trilling and squawking.

Quieter conditions, perhaps for several months, might seem like a good thing; it’s well established that noise pollution can negatively affect our health, contributing to stress-related ailments, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, and other problems. Any potential benefits are difficult to predict without more research, Walker said, and based on recent activity in the Noise and the City’s app, where Bostonians can record neighborhood sounds and provide their own descriptions, people might respond to newfound quiet in different ways. For some residents, the new soundscape reminds them of the peacefulness of their childhood decades ago, when the city was less built up. For others, it’s another source of pandemic-related stress—eerie, like the calm before a storm.

The Oceans Are Probably Quieter, Too

For other species, less noise pollution is no doubt welcome. Michelle Fournet, a marine ecologist at Cornell who studies acoustic environments, is hoping to position underwater microphones off the coast of Alaska and Florida, where she has studied humpback whales and other marine life, to investigate how the waters have changed in the absence of noise from cruise ships as the industry suspends operations worldwide.

“Just pulling those cruise ships out of the water is going to reduce the amount of global ocean noise almost instantaneously,” Fournet told me. “We’re experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise that probably hasn’t been experienced in decades.”

[Read: It’s tough being a right whale these days]

Research has shown that ambient noise from ships and other maritime traffic can increase stress-hormone levels in marine creatures, which can affect their reproductive success. Whales have even shown they can adapt to the din, pausing their singing when cargo ships are near and resuming when they move away.

The unexpected ecological moment brought on by the pandemic reminds Fournet of an accidental experiment that unfolded in the days after 9/11, when ship traffic in North American waters ground to a halt. Researchers working in Canada’s Bay of Fundy—already making recordings and taking samples before the terrorist attacks—eventually found that over the course of just a few days, when the noisy waters calmed, right whales in the bay experienced a drop in their stress-level hormones.

Fournet is thinking now of North Pacific humpback whales, who have begun to move northward this month and will soon be swimming with newborn calves in southeast Alaska, a region also popular with cruise ships for views of local wildlife. “This will be the quietest entry that humpback whales have had in southeastern Alaska in decades,” Fournet said. “Nature is taking a breath when the rest of us are holding ours.”

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JimB
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The Coronavirus’s Unique Threat to the South

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Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.

In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.

Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?

The world is about to find out. So far, about one in 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 has occurred in the four-state arc of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, according to data assembled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer collaboration incubated at The Atlantic. New Orleans is on pace to become the next global epicenter of the pandemic. The virus has a foothold in southwestern Georgia, and threatens to overwhelm hospitals in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The coronavirus is advancing quickly across the American South. And in the American South, significant numbers of younger people are battling health conditions that make coronavirus outbreaks more perilous.

Read: [The interminable body count]

The numbers emerging seem to indicate that more young people in the South are dying from COVID-19. Although the majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Louisiana are still among victims over 70 years old, 43 percent of all reported deaths have been people under 70. In Georgia, people under 70 make up 49 percent of reported deaths. By comparison, people under 70 account for only 20 percent of deaths in Colorado. “Under 70” is a broad category, not really useful for understanding what’s going on. But digging deeper reveals more concerning numbers. In Louisiana, people from the ages of 40 to 59 account for 22 percent of all deaths. The same age range in Georgia accounts for 17 percent of all deaths. By comparison, the same age group accounts for only about 10 percent of all deaths in Colorado, and 6 percent of all deaths in Washington State. These statistics suggest that middle-aged and working-age adults in the two southern states are at much greater risk than their counterparts elsewhere; for some reason, they are more likely to die from COVID-19.

All data in this stage of the pandemic are provisional and incomplete, and all conclusions are subject to change. But a review of the international evidence shows that, as far as we know, the outbreaks currently expanding in the American South are unique—and mainly because of how many people in their working prime are dying. Spain’s official accounting of the pandemic last week showed that deaths among people under 70 years old make up only about 12 percent of total deaths in the country. Case-fatality rates around the world are notoriously tricky because they are based in part on the extent of testing, but a recent study of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, found a case-fatality rate of 0.5 percent among adults from the ages of 30 to 59. The current estimate of fatality rates in the same age range in Louisiana is about four times that.

Read: [The official coronavirus numbers are wrong, and everyone knows it.]

[A recent analysis] from the Kaiser Family Foundation might shed some light on what’s going on here. The paper, drawing on the CDC guidelines, identifies people who may be at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. Kaiser’s at-risk group includes all people over 60 years old and all adults younger than 60 who also have heart disease, cancer, lung disease, or diabetes. In each state, older people are the majority of the people considered to be at risk of complications. But the Deep South and mid-South form a solid bloc of states where younger adults are much more at risk. In Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi, relatively young people make up over a quarter of the vulnerable population. Compare that with the coronavirus’s beachhead in Washington State, where younger adults make up only about 19 percent of the risk group.

Tricia Neuman, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, says this analysis points to the underlying issues that might complicate or worsen the pandemic in the South. “Due to high rates of conditions like lung disease and heart disease and obesity, the people living in these states are at risk if they get the virus,” Neuman told me. These aren’t “people who are sick, but these are people who have underlying comorbidities that put them at higher risk of serious illness if they get infected.”

The KFF analysis doesn’t include potential complications from hypertension—which is also suspected to be driving coronavirus-linked hospitalizations—but the data are predictable on that front. If you define Oklahoma as part of the South, southern states fill out the entirety of the top ten states in percentage of population diagnosed with hypertension by a doctor. Southerners are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than other Americans—even as Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic disease than citizens of other countries with comparable wealth. According to Neuman, these estimates don’t include people with cancer or who are immunocompromised -- groups that are also at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19. And cancer mortality rates are highest in southern states.

These differences are not innate to southerners; they are the result of policy. Health disparities tend to track both race and poverty, and the states in the old domain of Jim Crow have pursued policies that ensure those disparities endure. The South is the poorest region in the country. The poor, black, Latino, or rural residents who make up large shares of southern populations tend to lack access to high-quality doctors and care. According to the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana all spend less than $25 per person on public health a year, compared to $84 per person in New York. Nine of the 14 states that have refused to expand Medicaid to poor residents under the Affordable Care Act are in the South. And many of those states are led by Republican leaders who have imitated President Donald Trump’s dallying and flip-flopping, and now find themselves flat-footed.

The slow response from those governors will be even more ruinous in a region with so many challenges. Chronic disease and the apparent increased risk for younger people from COVID-19 are only part of the story in the South. Other factors could complicate its pandemic response. Advocates have drawn attention to the extreme vulnerability of people in prison to the coronavirus—and the South incarcerates a larger proportion of its population than anywhere else in the United States. A federal prison in Louisiana has already seen a spike in COVID-19 cases this week. Also, a global fear in this pandemic is that it will sicken health professionals and doctors, and leave them unable to contend with waves of hospitalizations. Southern states have some of the lowest ratios of active physicians to patients in the country.

In all, the South seems likely to be a new kind of battleground, one in which distancing and isolation are going to be especially important in stopping the virus. Centuries of policy gave the pandemic a head start—and younger targets—in the South. Now there are mere days to change course.

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JimB
15 hours ago
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Reopening the Economy Is Pointless When Cities Are Under Siege

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President Donald Trump’s promise to begin reopening the economy in the coming weeks faces an immovable obstacle: The big cities that drive America’s economic growth and innovation are the same places straining under the heaviest burden of the coronavirus outbreak.

The counties confronting the largest number of cases are primarily large urban centers that account for a disproportionate share of America’s gross domestic product and jobs, according to a new analysis conducted for The Atlantic by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. As of Tuesday morning, the 50 counties with the most cases accounted for more than one-third of the nation’s economic output and nearly one-third of its jobs, Brookings found.

That dynamic underscores the implausibility of Trump’s repeated claim that jobs and growth will come back “very quickly” once the worst of the outbreak passes. So long as these regions are largely sidelined, the national economy will remain mostly stalled too, no matter what happens in smaller places now facing less-urgent threats.

“The U.S. recovery is dependent on the recovery of these places,” Mark Muro, the MPP’s research director, told me flatly. “If we want to have a discussion about when to restart the nation’s economy, we better check in with the nation’s major economic hubs … because they are literally, at this point, the most paralyzed, contending with the greatest number of life-and-death cases and the greatest stress on their core systems, starting with public health.”

In interviews with me this week, the mayors of several of those big cities told me that it will take much longer than a few weeks to restart their economy—and that even when economic activity resumes, the process will be gradual and halting.

In other words, they counsel, Americans shouldn’t expect the equivalent of a V-E or V-J Day when the virus is vanquished and life goes back to normal, as if turning on a light switch. Instead, the mayors envision something more like a dimmer switch that gradually grows brighter.

[Read: How the coronavirus became an American catastrophe]

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told me that he believes the city’s shelter-in-place order will need to remain in force at least through mid-May, two months after he issued it. “Easily, the worst thing you can do is kind of crush people’s hopes by setting up early expectations [of lifting restrictions], when we are going to be in this for a long haul,” he said. “The best thing” people can do is understand that the outbreak “won’t come in one fell swoop and one wave—and prepare for that.” That means that any easing of restrictions on economic and social activity later this year will be gradual, Garcetti said.

Or as Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson put it: “No one can be sure, but I have a hard time imagining that there will be a day when everything goes back to normal: just one day everyone is sheltering in place, businesses are closed; the next day, it’s all over.” His city is operating under strict shelter-at-home regulations. “What I can more easily envision is a gradual unwinding of the most restrictive emergency orders or regulations and a ratcheting back to normal.”

And even that gradual process, Johnson told me, is unlikely to start as soon as the president hopes.

“I’m not certain by any stretch that we will be out of the woods by April 30,” he said. “I think that’s for public-health experts to prognosticate about, and it’s going to be up to the virus to determine when we are out of that.”

Two intersecting trends explain why these large metropolitan centers are positioned to play such a pivotal role in the pace and extent of any economic recovery from the outbreak.

One is long term: As the nation transitions deeper into an information-based economy, skilled workers, venture-capital investment, scientific research, and new-business formation are all concentrating more heavily in the nation’s biggest urban areas. Those regions include many cities, from Seattle to New York, that appeared to face terminal decline during the final decades of the 20th century. As Muro and his colleagues have repeatedly documented, those areas now account for a growing share of the nation’s total economic output and jobs.

“Sure, there are important [economic] clusters everywhere,” Muro said. “But ultimately, if we’ve learned one thing in this decade,” it’s that the American economy is now powered by “the intense concentration of advanced economic activity” in the biggest cities, “and the multiplying effect of that concentration” on productivity.

The other trend is near term: The coronavirus outbreak is most intense in those same urban centers. While epidemiologists are somewhat divided on whether the virus will reach heavily into small-town and rural areas, Deborah Birx, the administrator’s outbreak coordinator, said on Meet the Press this week that “every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York.”

To understand the effect of these intersecting dynamics, Brookings, at The Atlantic’s request, analyzed the economic impact of the hardest-hit counties. It tracked the incidence of disease by county as of Tuesday morning, according to a database updated several times daily by The New York Times. Then, Brookings used federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data to calculate counties’ contribution to the nation’s total economic output and job pool. The results dramatically underscore how heavily the burden of disease has fallen on the big communities that drive America’s economy.

[Read: Red and blue America aren’t experiencing the same pandemic]

While there are about 3,100 counties in America, the 15 counties buckling under the largest number of coronavirus cases account for just over 16 percent of the nation’s economic output, and nearly 13 percent of its jobs, or nearly 26 million jobs in all, Brookings found. That list includes New York City and the surrounding suburban counties of Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk in New York State; Bergen in New Jersey; and Fairfield in Connecticut, as well as the counties centered on Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Miami. These counties alone generate $3.3 trillion of the nation’s $20 trillion economic output.

The impact grows from there. The 50 counties with the most cases account for 36 percent of the nation’s total output and 30 percent of its jobs—some 60 million positions. That list brings in the counties centered on other major cities—including Boston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego—as well as Macomb and Oakland Counties, two suburbs of Detroit, and Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley.

The 100 counties facing the most cases generate 51 percent of the nation’s total output and 44 percent of all its jobs—more than 88 million. That longer list includes Washington, D.C., and the counties centered on St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Charlotte, North Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; and Columbus, Ohio, as well as the suburbs of major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

The distribution of the caseload also helps explain the continuing political divergence around the outbreak. The Brookings analysis found that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won more than three-fifths of the vote in the 100 counties facing the most cases. (Those 100 counties accounted for more than three-fourths of all U.S. cases as of Tuesday morning.) That illuminates the continuing partisan divide: Though Americans in all political camps have displayed increasing concern about the coronavirus in public polling, in surveys released over the past few days, self-identified Republicans were still much more likely than Democrats to say that Americans are overreacting to the virus, and less likely to say that it has changed their life in a major way.

One irony, as Muro and others have noted, is that many of the same traits that have elevated these cities to the very top of the country’s economic ladder have increased their exposure to the virus. The highest-flying cities are almost universally among the nation’s most globally connected—the most likely not only to receive foreign visitors but to have residents who travel internationally. “Everything that makes them powerful and irreplaceable also exposes them to the vicissitudes of a globally connected economy where viruses can be both technological and human,” Muro said.

For the mayors I spoke with, the road to restarting economic activity is murky. While Trump keeps identifying dates for possible restarts—first Easter, now April 30—they uniformly resist definitive proclamations, arguing that the pace of reopening will depend on the course of the outbreak. “The truth is we just don’t know … and we should be okay with telling the public that,” Johnson said.

Any restart will inevitably vary industry by industry, several of the mayors told me. Garcetti is optimistic that the entertainment industry, for one, may resume activity sooner than most others. “I see them as a place that has the resources, the family-like, club-like [dynamic] that people know who they are working with [that] they may have the ability to get back on their feet faster than others,” he said.

Garcetti is less confident that tourism, another key industry for L.A., will recover quickly even after the restrictions are lifted—which he worries will mean continued hardship for the many low-paid workers in that sector. In Miami, also heavily dependent on tourism, Mayor Francis Suarez shares those concerns. But if anything, he told me, he’s facing pressure from workers in the tourism industry to tighten restrictions.

“A lot of employees are calling me complaining that they are being forced to go to work and being exposed to health risks,” he said. “It’s a little counterintuitive: You would think that people who live paycheck to paycheck would be desperate to get back to work, and what I’m seeing is exactly the opposite.”

One potential source of protection for some cities is that a significant portion of their workers are white-collar professionals who are working remotely and still receiving paychecks that generate tax receipts. That’s the case in Columbus, a growing center of finance, education, and medicine. There, retail, manufacturing, and logistics are disrupted, “but many of our largest employers have folks working,” Mayor Andrew Ginther told me. “They are working remotely and are continuing to pay income-tax revenues.”

[Read: What you need to know about the coronavirus]

But overall, all of the mayors I spoke with are preparing for a lengthy siege that may include a subsequent wave (or waves) of disease later this year. “The last thing we ought to do right now is to take our foot off the gas in terms of stay-at-home orders,” Ginther said.

The mayors also said they are relying heavily on local public-health and hospital officials to make decisions in the absence of stronger guidance from the federal government. Garcetti seemed to speak for all of them when he told me, “To me, it’s a very lonely place,” especially when deciding “when we turn the spigot on and how we do that.”

One of the toughest decisions looming for local leaders will be when to permit the resumption of the large-scale sporting events that contribute so much to both the economy and the identity of their city. The coronavirus has already forced the suspension of professional basketball and hockey, and a delay in starting Major League Baseball. None of the mayors I spoke with said they could commit, at this point, to allowing even college and professional football games to go on in the stadiums within their jurisdictions. Those seasons are due to begin in late summer.

Johnson offered an “educated guess” that bans on major sporting events will be “one of the last restrictions to go … Those seem to be the most likely way you could undo what good you’ve done—allowing people to go back into a confined space with 50,000 people in it.”

Garcetti was even more dubious that Los Angeles would host baseball or football games this fall unless somehow scientists develop either a vaccine or a foolproof testing system by then. “My strong sense is that we will see a second spike of this in October, November, December … And if that’s the scenario, I can’t imagine that public-health professionals are going to say, ‘Let’s put tens of thousands of people back together in a stadium,’” Garcetti said.

Trump would likely view starting the National Football League schedule on time this fall as a powerful symbol of the country returning to normalcy just a few weeks before the election. And the many political conservatives among the league’s owners would likely be inclined to support him, as one former league executive—who talked to me on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly—told me this week. But depending on the outbreak’s course, that could steer the NFL into direct confrontation with the mostly Democratic leaders in the jurisdictions where their stadiums are located.

That potential collision marks just one of the many ways in which the nation’s economic (and even spiritual) recovery will be determined above all by what happens in the big cities now bracing for the most furious onslaught of the disease.

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Zoom apologizes over security and privacy issues and freezes new features

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"However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community's – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry..."

What you need to know

  • Zoom has apologized to users after a swathe of privacy and security features were uncovered in its service.
  • It is going to freeze new features for 90 days whilst it focuses on fixing these issues.
  • Zoom says that its user figures have rocketed to more than 200 million people daily in March.

In a blog post, Zoom CEO Eric S. Yuan has apologized to its users for falling short of the community, and its own privacy expectations, vowing to freeze all new features for 90 days whilst it works on fixing issues.

In the statement he said:

For the past several weeks, supporting this influx of users has been a tremendous undertaking and our sole focus. We have strived to provide you with uninterrupted service and the same user-friendly experience that has made Zoom the video-conferencing platform of choice for enterprises around the world, while also ensuring platform safety, privacy, and security. However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community's – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry, and I want to share what we are doing about it.

By way of background, he notes that Zoom was built primarily for enterprise customers who have their own full IT support, and that "thousands of enterprises" have done "exhaustive security reviews of our user, network, and data center layers and confidently selected Zoom for complete deployment."

Zoom does however admit:

However, we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.

Zoom says that consumer use cases have "helped us uncover unforeseen issues with our platform", and that "dedicated journalists and security researchers have also helped to identify pre-existing ones." It says it takes these issues "extremely seriously" and is looking into "each and every one of them as expeditiously as we can."

It refers users to training it has offered regarding using Zoom, and also identified what it has done regarding several issues recently raised. It has also published a separate post explaining end-to-end encryption on its service, again apologizing for confusion:

While we never intended to deceive any of our customers, we recognize that there is a discrepancy between the commonly accepted definition of end-to-end encryption and how we were using it. This blog is intended to rectify that discrepancy and clarify exactly how we encrypt the content that moves across our network.

In response, Zoom has stated it will freeze new features immediately for a period of 90 days, rededicating resources to "better identify, address, and fix issues proactively." CEO Eric S. Yuan will also hold weekly webinars on Wednesdays at 10 am PT to provide updates on this to the community.

You can read the full post, including more detail on measures Zoom is taking regarding security here.

In recent days concerns have been raised over Zoom bugs on macOS regarding the installation process, Facebook data sharing and a company directory feature that exposed the personal data of thousands.

It's been a rocky few weeks for Zoom, it can however now be praised for admitting its failings and taking the necessary steps to make it right.

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What did Donald Trump do today?He changed his tone but not his actions.After hav...

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What did Donald Trump do today?

He changed his tone but not his actions.

After having spent months openly mocking Americans who were concerned about the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak, Trump has been trying—with some success—to get credit for his changed "tone" on the virus that is now expected to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans in the most optimistic scenario.

But it's not at all clear that Trump actually understands what he's facing. Asked why he hasn't imposed a nationwide shelter-in-place order—something assumed by the model that has only 100,000-240,000 Americans dying—Trump hesitated, and then said this:

You have to give a little bit of flexibility ... a state in the Midwest, Alaska, that doesn't have a problem? It's awfully tough to say 'Close it down,' so we have to have a little bit of flexibility.

In reality, Alaska does have a stay-at-home order in place.

More importantly, there is no state that doesn't have a COVID-19 problem.

Some rural states still have essentially zero testing capacity even now, which means the real infection rate is almost impossible to know. But every community in every part of the United States is vulnerable to uncontrolled outbreaks that will overwhelm hospitals—especially in rural areas with limited intensive care facilities.

Because of the long incubation period of this virus, stay-at-home orders limiting non-essential movement only work if they're done early before an outbreak is a "problem." Waiting until cases are growing out of control is weeks too late to act.

Why should I care about this?

  • People who can't make difficult or unpopular decisions shouldn't be president.
  • This is way too late in the game for Trump to still be confused about the basic facts of this crisis.
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