President Donald Trump dismissed the idea of a new series of lockdowns should the world’s largest economy experience a second wave of coronavirus infections, which continue to level off as parts of the country reopen.
In the U.S., overall cases appear to be slowing, although some areas are seeing slight increases in hospitalizations. This week, the U.S. crossed 1.5 million this week, and the death toll passed 94,000 this week, but virtually all 50 states are moving to ease restrictions to some degree while companies are making strides toward finding a vaccine.
However, the increasingly dire state of the U.S. economy has put growing political pressure on Trump, who’s facing a highly competitive reelection bid in November. With the Senate unlikely to address the question of additional stimulus until early June, skyrocketing unemployment has the White House on the defensive.
Touring a Ford car plant in Michigan on Thursday, the president told reporters that the national push to reopen the economy would not be reversed even if there is a second wave. “We’re not going to close the country, we’re going to put out the fires,” he added.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, added to the debate on Friday, telling CNBC that states and localities should continue relaxing lockdowns, but with strong social distancing practices in place.
New York and New Jersey, the two largest clusters of COVID-19 infections in the country, are taking baby steps toward reopening. Garden State’s beaches will be open for the Memorial Day holiday weekend — but New York City’s still high infections and strained hospital capacity are keeping the city from relaxing its own restrictions. In a briefing Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said every region except the Big Apple would be open after next week.
“We said deliberately at the beginning of this, it’s going to be one standard that is data driven, there’s no politics here, and safe is safe,” Cuomo told reporters. “What’s safe for your health in New York City. I’m not going to put your life at more risk or less risk than a life in Buffalo. It doesn’t work that way.”
Meanwhile, companies are mapping out return to work strategies without the existence of a vaccine. Many tech companies are eyeing return to offices between next month and the end of 2020, but others — including Facebook (FB) — are expanding its focus on remote workers. The social network is pushing for hiring in areas of the country it hasn’t previously had a presence.
While other industries have been largely negatively affected by the pandemic, one sector that has been buoyed by it is health insurance.
Experts anticipate a strong year on savings from the halt in elective procedures and decrease in health service volumes in the second quarter. In a note Friday, Moody’s said it expects the second quarter to be strong, and mixed effects from the coronavirus recession in the longer term.
“Even if there is a second wave, unless it is far worse than this current outbreak, it would also appear to be a small earnings event for the health insurers,” according to the note.
Vaccines in focus
The global coronavirus outbreak surges in South America, marking the next wave of a pandemic that has now infected over 5 million and killed over 333,000 worldwide. The rising stakes have put a new focus on the race for a vaccine, with China emerging as a leading contender.
China-based CanSino Biologics (6185.HK), a frontrunner in the global vaccine race, released its phase 1 trial data in The Lancet journal Friday, a first in a scientific publication among the vaccine candidates. Oxford University has yet to release details of its phase 1, and Moderna (MRNA), the frontrunner in the U.S., released interim phase 1 data this week.
In Moderna’s pool of 45 patients, eight produced neutralizing antibodies — which are the key type of antibody production to be effective against a virus, according to Fauci, who said he was cautiously optimistic and Moderna’s vaccine “induced the kind of response that you would predict would be protective against the virus.”
The small pool and early release of data raised questions this week, putting pressure on Moderna’s stock.
CanSino, meanwhile, has conducted a trial on 108 patients, of which a majority produced neutralizing antibodies within 28 days. Higher doses resulted in faster production of antibodies.
Adverse effects mirror what had been seen in Moderna’s trial, including headache and fatigue, which are considered normal side effects to vaccines. Yet no severe or life-threatening side effects were seen in either trial.
CanSino has estimated its candidate will be ready for the market by September, and Moderna anticipates a late 2020 approval. But how each company will scale up to meet the demand remains an industry-wide obstacle.
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