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Perfect storm?

cruiseships

Could the normally summer-busy port of Ketchikan sit vacant this tourist season?/Alaska Department of Labor photo

World events no one saw coming are taking the shine off the season when Alaska traditionally begins the steady, uplifting transition from the long, cold dark of winter into the season of the sun.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy today declared a public health disaster emergency in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, but the potential health crisis might pale compared to the economic crisis now looming on the horizon for the 49th state.

What no one could foresee when the sun rose in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) on Jan. 23 and everything seemed so  normal was that the planet was already hurtling toward a global economic slowdown with possibly devastating repercussions for a fragile, Alaska economy dependent on oil, tourism, fisheries and the state Permanent Fund – all now suffering the fallout from the consequences of an invisible, contagious and too-often-deadly pathogen.

A month before that sunrise, with Utqiagvik still cloaked in darkness, a new coronavirus spawned no one knows exactly where was already spreading in Wuhan, China far to the south and west. And by the time the sun peaked above the horizon on the state’s North Slope, the virus destined to be officially labeled “COVID-19” was only a week away from being declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The potential was then growing for the sort of global pandemic that erupted in 1968 when the Hong Kong Flu killed 500,000 residents of that Asian city and spread globally to bring the ultimate death count to 1 million. 

Within a month, in a world far more connected by international air travel today than four decades back, COVID-19 has escaped from China to Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, and Oman, and global death toll was rapidly rising into the thousands.

The disease remained primarily a world health crisis, but the possibility COVID-19 could spark a global economic disaster was increasing as a sense of panic began to set in. And by Feb. 25 the U.S. stock market was crashing.

“Stocks Slide for 2nd Day as US Sounds Alarms on Coronavirus,” the New York Times headlined as the Alaska Permanent Fund began to bleed billions of dollars.

Four days later, the first U.S. citizen died and the efforts of President Donald Trump to calm the nation served to do the opposite as Democrats in a highly divided and partisan country latched onto COVID-19 as a political weapon.

Democrat Presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice-president, quickly accused  Trump of labeling COVID-19 a “hoax” because of a Trump complaint at a South Carolina rally that Democrats were “politicizing the coronavirus” and a subsequent reference to the “impeachment hoax,” as Politico reported.

National media hostile to Trump were quick to pile on. “Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response,” Foreign Policy headlined above a story written by Laurie Garrett, a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist turned, in her words, “author, world health policy analyst, speaker, (and) public intellectual.”

She attacked Trump for reducing federal health spending, eliminating the National Security Council’s “global health security unit” and reducing the global health section of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to downsize the “number of countries it was working in…from 49 to merely 10.”

Though the story repeatedly mentioned the CDC, it did not mention the $6.6 billion the nation spends annually on an agency specifically set up to, as its mission statement says, work “24/7 to protect Americans from domestic and foreign threats to health, safety
and security. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or
preventable, due to human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports
communities and citizens to do the same.”

As this coronavirus has spread across the nation, as it has across other nations and as public health officials expected it would, its weaponization as a political tool has only grown.

“Biden tests role as empathetic answer to Trump during coronavirus crisis,” CNN headlined today.

After taking command of the Democratic nominating race in Tuesday’s primaries, the former vice president projected presidential-style gravitas, positioning himself as the antidote to President Donald Trump’s in-denial stewardship of the novel coronavirus crisis in a strategic pivot towards November’s election,” the story below reported. 

Alaska’s difficult position

As the crisis spreads medically, politically and most of all economically, Alaska finds itself in a troubling spot on so many fronts:

The cumulative effect of all of this might have been best summarized by state labor economist Neal Fried’s when asked Tuesday if this is “Alaska’s perfect economic storm?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?” he replied.

help blurb

State economists who sometimes disagree – Fried, Dunleavy advisor Ed King and Mouhcine Guettabi at the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) – now appear in agreement the state economy is heading into decidedly troubled seas.

“It’s going to be ugly,” King said, “but the worst part will be the overreacting.”

Avoiding that pitfall appears unlikely given that the prime demographic hit by Covid-19 is baby boomers, “America’s largest generation in the electorate,” according to the Pew Research Center.

And for the members of that generation it is hard to not be a little nervous – if not downright afraid – given the global behavior of COVID-19 to date.

deaths

Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Those spared

For people under age 40, Covid-19 acts more like the ordinary flu than an especially deadly disease, although scientists do not know exactly why.

“We know that in South Korea no one under the age of 30 has died and in Japan no one under the age of 50 has died,” a CDC spokesman said at a Tuesday media briefing. 

“Reports out of China that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients found that about 80 percent of illness…was mild and people recovered.  Fifteen to 20 percent developed serious illness.

“Let’s talk about who those people are.  So far it seems like it’s not children.  Of the 70,000 cases, only about 2 percent were in people younger than 19.  This seems to be a disease that affects adults.  And most seriously older adults.  Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age.  The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years.  People with serious underlying health conditions also are more likely to develop serious outcomes including death. ”

Italy has been hard hit because it has the oldest population in Europe. Almost a quarter of Italians are reported to be over the age 65 or older. The median age is 47.3, according to the webiste Statista.

The median age in Alaska is 34.9, according to the state Department of Labor. Epidemiologists are in general agreement that the younger a population, the lower the COVID-19 risks and the number of deaths.

As Aubree Gordon at the University of Michigan told Live Science, the overall mortality rate is always going to depend on the demographics of a population.

The demographics do not appear to have tempered concerns among younger Americans, however. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found about 40 percent of Democrats, who trend younger than Republicans, consider the latest coronavirus an “imminent threat.” Only 20 percent of Republicans shared that view.

An Axios/Survey Monkey poll found “fully 62 percent of Republicans see news reports about the seriousness of the novel coronavirus as ‘generally exaggerated,’ double the percentage of Democrats saying so (31 percent).”

In Republican-dominated Alaska, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race went off without anyone expressing any worries about COVID-19 even though the event created exactly the kind of situation against which global health authorities warn – a concentration from people around the world who might have been exposed to the coronavirus anywhere.

Alaska has yet to see a confirmed case of COVID-19, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, but 14 tests were pending as of noon today.

The state likely owes a thank you to a Chinese travel ban imposed by the U.S. government at the end of January. Alaska now attracts a small but economically significant flow of Chinese tourists who want to see the northern lights in winter.

The ban was not popular at the time with New York-based Observer Media reporting how  staff member beat the travel ban and noting “WHO has explicitly advised against such extreme measures to wall off foreign visitors.

“It was the U.S. government’s first time to impose a blanket travel ban in response to a global infectious disease outbreak. But, in retrospect, the decision wasn’t a complete surprise given today’s ‘America First’ political climate in Washington….”

Country-first travel bans have since been instituted by India, which has banned travelers from more than a half dozen countries, the latest being France and Germany; Spain, which has blocked all flights from Italy; and Vietnam, which is now prohibiting entry of people from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Italy has gone so far as to restrict travel within the country. More such travel bans are expected globally with WHO today officially declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. 

 

 

 

 

 

32 replies »

  1. Half of the folks tested from the cruise ship that tested positive were asymptomatic. What do those numbers, if applicable to the untested general population, do to these BS mortality charts?

  2. Bryan-
    Please take a peak at my earlier comment regarding the mortality figures you posted. It is exactly this type of “reporting” by the agencies that is giving the whole freaking planet a sense of unease. Those figures are not correct and the medical community know this. Could any of us go in tomorrow and take a test? No. Bogus figures put out based only on those who have been tested.

    • Bob, I agree, like the flu, who knows how many people have it? Obviously this skews the percentages. But, we do know after a month into this we have less then 50 people who have died from it. So, compared to H1N1, SARS, MERS, etc.. I am thinking this is a nothing burger, unless, this is some sort of bio-weapon.

  3. The quoted mortality figures by Hopkins, CDC, WHO, etc are pure smoke. How can you even throw out a figure when the majority of those infected and now well were never tested? Appointed bureaucrats passing these numbers off as legitimate should be ashamed. Every chart these folks are putting out should start with a big disclaimer.

  4. Less than 100 people have died in the U.S. from “coronavirus” yet MRSA cases “Nearly 120,000 Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections and 20,000 associated deaths occurred in the United States in 2017”
    (CDC. gov)
    Why no MRSA quarantine or public response?
    I’ll tell you why…
    The Corona Scare is a tactic to cover the real recession and falling oil prices (oil “futures” fell 30 percent and are going to stay down).
    The Banksters bet heavily against Elon Musk & Tesla and failed!
    Tesla just opened the first foreign auto plant in China (the country who buys the most cars).
    The Shanghai plant will pump out 250,000 electric vehicles a year (and they will never need gas).
    There are over 1 million EV’s on the road in America and growing exponentially every year.
    Peak oil came in a different way then was predicted…we are running out of need, not supply.
    Tesla just surpassed Boeing as the most expensive stock in the U.S. and the market is in free fall over all of this.
    The Blue Chips are falling fast and everyone who is invested in these stocks (like AK’s PF) will continue to see losses for years to come.
    The winds of change are blowing hard in the direction of renewable energy and the electric vehicles of the future.

    • Steve,

      The Shanghai plant will pump out 250,000 electric vehicles a year (and they will never need gas). [emph. added]

      No gas, true. Instead, in China electric vehicles burn good ol’ coal, woo-hoo!

      • Ted,
        China is turning the corner faster than you think.
        Along with the world’s largest solar farm, they also have the largest hydro dam in the world.
        “The 22.5-gigawatt (GW) Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze river was completed in 2012 after a dam-building boom throughout China.
        Its turbines generate 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
        China’s total hydropower capacity hit 350 GW last year, accounting for a fifth of total generation…”
        (Asia.nikkei.com)

      • “China Is Set To Become The World’s Renewable Energy Superpower, According To New Report…

        The report argues that the geopolitical and socio-economic consequences of the rapid growth of renewable energy could be as profound as those which accompanied the shift from biomass to fossil fuels two centuries ago”
        (Forbes.com)

      • Steve,

        Hydroelectric is great, gives more-usable service than wind or PV. Plus it helps mitigate flooding, and provides irrigation water, both extra-big factors in China’s moves.

        I live a few minutes from the Elwha River, grew up with the 2 dams & lakes, now gone. All they really needed was fish-ladders … which activists fought tooth & nail.

        For it’s size & scope, China is kinda short on good wind-sites, particularly in the regions where it’s needed. They do have some awesome photovoltaic-suited terrain, but it’s really out in the boondocks … and the powers that be are (probably justifiably) nervous about investing in & developing those hinterlands. Very high elevations – Tibet etc – could offer a meaningful edge with solar-PV.

        Alaska has great hydroelectric sites on the Susitna, Yukon and Tanana. Again, breakup-floods could one tip those decisions.

        Nuclear is where we end up. It’s just a matter of the intricate little dance we have to do ’round & about the geopolitical chessboard, for a few generations.

      • Art,
        Maybe you are unaware that America still has more electric vehicles on the road than any other country at this point (nearly 1.5 million) and growing fast as Tesla is planning to build yet another manufacturing plant on the east coast.
        I know change is tough for a Republican Toad like yourself but stay tuned as it is about to happen fast.

  5. Does the US, world want higher energy prices?

    There has been the assumption; ‘What’s not to like’?

    Internationally, high oil prices reduce 2nd-tier development, growth. We need wider growth, to keep the US growing.

    To maintain global growth, to recover from effects of the virus, the best medicine is a strong economy. One of the best ‘fuels’ for the economy, is lower-cost energy.

    We want to take stimulating measures, to keep the economy happy & perky, in the face of the health problem.

    But the problem is, we are at risk of over-juicing/goosing the engine, with these efforts to make sure it doesn’t stall.

    Like an airplane on maneuvers in the air … you have to work with the laws of flight. It can’t be horsed-around, and remain an airplane.

    So yes, there are going to be complaints that we waited too long, did too little. Then there are complaints that actions taken were unnecessary, too much.

    Where does that leave Alaska? Playing (simulating) the adult in the room. Markets & the economy ‘react’ to oil price changes. Prices down; over-reaction. Prices up; over-reaction.

    You need something longer-term than the (Covid) disturbance, that can be used to smooth-out, dampen the over-swings.

    Big topic at Trump’s meeting with oil/energy executives, was likely how to use their industry as ‘economic ballast’, without turning our producers into road-kill.

    That’s Alaska’s best hope.

  6. I just remember the Obama Admin’s “wonderfully” executed response to M.E.R.S. Gave me confidence in the whole “if you just ignore it long enough, it will go away.”
    I know, I know, this isn’t the flu… but, let us take some flu numbers and compare. I do not care what the percentages say about death to infection rates of the Corona.. We do not know what the true infection rates are. There is no question the “news” media has driven hysteria for political gain. Pathetic assholes as always. There is no question Democrats have leveraged this because “never let a good crisis go to waste. Then you have the enviro., Global Warming nuts who cheer the spread of tje virus because it is “good for the environment” as there are less planes, trains, automobiles operating. Typical, expected sick responses from the Left. If I had to travel somewhere right now, I wouldnt hesitate. I’d be enjoying the low fares.

    “Influenza has already taken the lives of 20,000 Americans this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 19 million have caught the flu, and an estimated 180,000 became so ill they landed in the hospital.

    By comparison, there are 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, and just over 31,000 confirmed cases in mainland China, where the virus first emerged. More than 3,800 cases in China are critical, and 636 people there have died from complications of coronavirus infection”.

  7. For people under age 40, Covid-19 acts more like the ordinary flu than an especially deadly disease, although scientists do not know exactly why.

    “We know that in South Korea no one under the age of 30 has died and in Japan no one under the age of 50 has died,” a CDC spokesman said at a Tuesday media briefing.

    “Reports out of China that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients found that about 80 percent of illness…was mild and people recovered. Fifteen to 20 percent developed serious illness.

    “Let’s talk about who those people are. So far it seems like it’s not children. Of the 70,000 cases, only about 2 percent were in people younger than 19. This seems to be a disease that affects adults. And most seriously older adults. Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years. People with serious underlying health conditions also are more likely to develop serious outcomes including death.”

    The above should be read on every newscast and every article about this disease. The NBA just suspended the season because 1 player has it. I get not allowing large gatherings, but I’ve played basketball without 10,000 people watching me live…put it on TV. This overreaction is just absurd. Facts do not matter. Political points must be scored. We must burn everything to the ground.

    As of this week, in the US there have now been an estimated 20,000-52,000 deaths from the flu from an estimated 34,000,000 to 49,000,000 cases. There have been 29 deaths confirmed from Covid-19 from a confirmed 938 cases. It’s simple math, the idiots driving mass panic are doing so over the wrong disease.

    • Well then,if its just old people,than why should i care.
      Cant speak for SK,but china got a handle because they physically locked down 60 million people.
      The longer the admin fumbbled the situation,the more certain the national effects will be.

      • Admin banned China travel. CDC says that prevented worse here.

        CDC says greatest risk to America is Europe travel. Admin bans it.

        That’s how it’s done. Unless of course, untreated TDS.

      • Dave:
        “President Donald Trump has announced a 30-day suspension of travel to and from Europe, following up on his ban in January on travel to and from China.

        Scientists have since praised the president for his early action, with the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting that “such restrictions may have helped slow the spread of the virus.” The president took action on Jan. 31, 40 days before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a “pandemic.”

      • Facts Dave, they still matter. If we want to address the issues we need to deal with facts. Closing schools and restaurants and theatres and sporting events isn’t dealing with the facts. There is an extremely small percentage of people in the US with this virus, the vast majority of which will not have a bad reaction to it, those that do will likely not die, and of those who do the majority will be over 60 years old with chronic health issues. Maybe we should do something to protect the extremely small percentage of people who are most vulnerable to this virus instead of panicking and buying all the hand sanitizer and ass wipe off of every shelf in every store across the nation.

        Or we can blame Trump.

      • Dave, do we really want these phony children running the country?
        “Biden said that the deadly illness revealed “severe shortcomings” of the Trump administration and accused the president of stoking fears nationwide. He also suggested that the president was racist in calling the illness a “foreign virus,” despite the fact that it originated from Wuhan, China.”

        Take this fraud here who didnt travel to Cuba or Venezuela to get treatment for his heart attack:
        “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told Jimmy Fallon during a Wednesday appearance on The Tonight Show that the coronavirus pandemic is proving to Americans that the United States needs a single-payer health care system.”

      • Ted/Bryan,

        How are those test kits coming?
        Steve-O, lockdown (or self quarantine and a bit of logic) is what stops it dead.Hand sanitizer is a very distant second to basic joy soap and water for a virus, since technically its not alive.
        Just a bit of RNA,a few proteins, surrounded by fat molecules.It doesn’t eat, it doesn’t breed,doesnt poop.So I guess you can save all the a** wipe.
        Global economic driveshaft is smoking the brakes and losing rpm fast,I guess thats just all apart of that big liberal PHD’s and there misguided attempts to derail “Merica”.
        Personally I’m not worried,I’ve got 2+ yrs worth of cash, and great health(but I do catch every flu that comes along),but it does potentially throw a wrench in my long terms plans.
        For me this will just most likely be an inconvenience,for alot of minions,and those who have means even, it will be hand to mouth.

      • Dave,

        Test kits! Test kits! Big rookie flag. Or rather, yet another Orange Man Bad fling it at the wall, maybe something will stick even-steers-try.

        Testing and getting a vaccine are related, and generally rocky in this broad family of viruses. We see it with normal flu shots from year to year, ‘updated’ semi/part-inoculations.

        Flu tests are ‘kinda’ available. Usually folks/doctors don’t bother. Cold tests? What cold test? Can’t test for it? Omg! OMG!!

        In the early phases of a new outbreak a virus can change into many ‘varieties’ as it branches out through different populations & regions. “Adaptive radiation”. This is the problem with flu-tests, why there isn’t a cold test, why this whole family of viruses is a challenge to test for, tougher to vaccinate against. They change/mutate readily, and thus become different than the bug you developed a test/vaccine to fight.

        We pour effort into ‘flu-shots’, because flu does the same thing we see with COVID-19. Cuts down the old folks. We work at it, but it’s a rear-guard action … if we could ‘actually’ do it, then the more than 20,000 Americans who have already died of flu this winter, wouldn’t have.

      • Dave/Doug,

        Have either of you been to a store lately? PANIC! The shelves are bare of toilet paper, toilet paper! There is no hand sanitizer to be found, same for any of the various bleach wipes. PANIC! The rice and bean shelves are bare or headed that way. PANIC! Thankfully there is still soap, but hardly anyone uses soap to you know wash their hands anymore. PANIC! Simply washing your hands would save thousands upon thousands of lives in the US every year. PANIC! If people had paid attention even a little over a year ago they would have been better prepared, remember that earthquake we had, sadly many didn’t learn anything from it. PANIC!

        I know but we need more testing, why exactly do we need more testing? Will more testing cure the disease? Will it lead to different treatment, how will it lead to different treatment since we do not have a cure? All more testing will do is give us a different number so we can PANIC MORE!!! Wash your hands, be prepared for disasters, wash your hands, limit your social contact, wash your hands, stop licking doorknobs, wash your hands, sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm, wash your hands…stop feeding the PANIC this isn’t the end of the world.

    • Let’s do the math, from your numbers. Assuming the worst possible combination, let’s say 52,000 deaths from 34 million cases. That’s a mortality rate of about 0.15% (actual estimate is about 0.1%). 29 deaths from 938 cases is about 3% (last actual estimate I saw was 3.4%). So by your numbers, Covid-19 has the potential to be about 30 times worse than the flu, so It’s best we try to keep it from getting around, yes?

      • Since we are taking things to the logical extreme, and since we know not all cases have been reported and/or tested we have no idea what the mortality rate is and so we know the 3-3.4% figure is obviously a gross exaggeration. This morning Ohio is saying they think they might have 100,000 cases, if only 29 people have died nationwide and just Ohio has 100,000 the mortality rate is well below 3-3.4% and even below that of the flu.

        Is it best to keep Corvid from getting around, yes just like it’s bet to keep the flu from getting around. Unless of course we want zombies then we should let all disease run rampant…

    • Steve O,
      For once I fully agree with your assessment on the Corona Scare of 2020.
      Maybe it helps to take away attention from the fact that 22 U.S. Veterans commit suicide EVERY single day in America?
      It is a wired tunnel that the media has burrowed itself into this last decade here in the U.S.A.

    • Corona mortality Rates:
      Age 0-39 = .2%
      40-49 = .4%
      50-59 = 1.3%
      60-69 = 3.6%
      70-79 = 8%
      80 plus = 14.8%

  8. Coronavirus is rapidly winding down in China. It’s past its peak and is beginning the wind-down, in South Korea. Within a short time, other regions of the world, including the US, are on-track to follow the same pattern.

    By late this month, early-mid April, most of the world – knock on wood! – will have clearly turned the corner on it, and in another month we’ll be in the later stages of mop-up.

    By Tourist Season, the cruise industry (even if shut down cold within the next few days, as is discussed) will be back in business …

    … And if ya wanna know the truth, within the first weeks of this season, the buzz could already be that it might become one of, if not The_Best_EVA!

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