Autarky is a national policy of economic independence. In an attempt to contain the coronavirus, the United States closed the borders last Friday, with many other countries following in short order. This paleo-conservative experiment was short-lived as domestic restrictions, led by states and municipalities, took place by Monday. The strictest restrictions on social and economic life, dubbed as “shelter in place” orders, were instituted in New York and California. Applying these restrictions in America, successfully used in authoritarian China and civic-minded Italy, would’ve been unthinkable several weeks ago.
With commerce reduced to the essentials, such as groceries, the economy is grinding to a standstill. Of greatest concern is unemployment, which will cause a recessionary spiral. The service sector, operating on thin margins, has been greatly impacted. Low wage workers, like waiters, drivers, and cashiers, often do not have savings to bridge a gap of unemployment. Their absence from the discretionary consumer economy will deepen a recession. In a crunch, it is easier for a small business owner to cut payroll than to cut its rent. A major stimulus bill is moving through Congress. One key feature is cash payments to individuals. This will keep people fed, and allow for utilities, and at least a portion of rent or mortgage to be paid.
Reporting from Norfolk, Virginia, whose region reported 50 cases of coronavirus, large gatherings have been ended by state order. In the urbanized city of Norfolk, municipal services and public facilities like rec centers and libraries has been closed. Less restrictions were in place in suburban Virginia Beach.
On Tuesday’s Saint Patrick’s Day, many of the established restaurants were closed. Smaller restaurants and taverns were still engaged in a lively trade. By Wednesday, even these establishments transitioned to take-out fare. While grocery store cashiers and delivery providers work fearlessly, the white-collar workplace, with its cubicles and close quarters, has been shut down nationwide.
At my local Navy Base, telework or administrative leave began this week. Shipboard work, like that in construction and other blue-collar fields, is continuing as usual. Open berthing and dining onboard warships poses real risks of virus transmission; one case of coronavirus was identified on the USS Boxer. Current Health Protection Condition (HPCON) guidance to the military advises non-essential group work and training be suspended.
Public officials still encourage exercise and solitary recreation. It seemed to be the case on Friday. With an unseasonably warm Friday, young service-members gathered on the local oceanfront beach. More concerning is the Spring Break amalgamation of nationwide youth on the beaches of Florida, as reported in the Wall Street Journal and other media.
Many have wondered if laid-up cruise ships can be used for quarantining infectious patients. Remember that the coronavirus has spread rapidly through two cruise ships, likely due to shared ventilation. Two hospital ships, USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort, are built to hospital standards, and do not face this limitation.