May 25, 2020 - 9:00 pm
More than two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have grown desperate for good news. Last week offered plenty.
First, all 50 states have now begun to ease the lockdown restrictions that led to economic chaos. Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to allow Strip casinos and many other businesses to reboot next week as part of Nevada’s much-awaited Phase Two. Even in New York — the hardest hit of states in terms of total fatalities — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has OK’d business revivals in western parts of the state, including Buffalo. Other states that started reopening more than three weeks ago have yet to experience the setbacks that many predicted.
Furthermore, the great majority of states — including Nevada — have seen declines in recent weeks of important markers, including respiratory hospitalizations and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus. According to the ProPublica website tracking state progress, as of mid-May just four states were experiencing increased hospitalizations and only eight states had seen a bump in cases as a percentage of tests.
Meanwhile, the short-term fate of the economy remains murky. How quickly consumers become comfortable easing back into old habits is anyone’s guess, as is how quickly millions of unemployed workers get back on the job. We remain in uncharted waters, but small signs provide reason for optimism.
As Michael R. Strain of Bloomberg pointed out last week, the Nasdaq Composite Index has nearly erased its calendar-year losses “despite the worst quarter of economic growth in living memory.” Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 — while still down significantly for the year — have gone up by roughly 25 percent since their low points on March 23. This is a signal that Wall Street believes a recovery may be less painful than many anticipate.
Other developments indicate that many economic sectors have started to bounce back, albeit slowly. The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip notes that Apple in recent days has recorded a rise in map searches, an uptick in Uber requests, increased retail visits by consumers and higher sales at restaurants — all of which may signal a potential turning point, particularly when it comes to consumer behavior.
Mr. Ip also points out that oil prices — after venturing into negative territory — have doubled since April, in part because of expectations of increased motoring as the lockdowns ease.
Public health professionals warn of a “second wave.” That would no doubt set back any recovery. But if such a scenario does indeed develop, the country will be much better prepared on all levels than it was in February and March.