The Morning Dispatch: Getting Busy Flattening the Corona Curve

Plus, some quick notes on why your governor can close the bars.

Happy Tuesday, and happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you hadn’t guessed by now, your Morning Dispatchers—Declan Patrick Garvey, Andrew Jacob Egger, Stephen Forester Hayes—have a little bit of Irish in ‘em. Reader Suzanne from Zionsville, Indiana, submits A Biologist’s St. Patrick’s Day Song for this most unconventional of celebrations.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Monday night, there are now 4,661 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (a 23.5 percent increase over yesterday) and 85 deaths (a 23.2 percent increase over yesterday).

  • The White House released even stricter public health guidance in an effort to curb these numbers as much as possible: Americans should avoid gathering in groups larger than 10; they should work from home whenever possible; they should avoid non-essential travel and public places like bars and restaurants.

  • Despite a judge’s ruling, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Health Director Dr. Amy Acton announced that the primary elections scheduled for today will no longer be held due to the health emergency posed by the coronavirus. Illinois, Florida, and Arizona are still slated to go to the polls.

  • The Health and Human Services Department suffered a cyber-attack “aimed at undermining the response to the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Bloomberg News. The administration has yet to identify which foreign state carried out the attack.

  • Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton are advocating for direct cash transfers to Americans—Romney’s proposal calls for $1,000 checks—in an effort to stave off the worst of the coronavirus-inspired economic downturn.

  • Stocks plunged yet again on Monday—the Dow dropped almost 3,000 points—but futures indicate today will look a little rosier.

  • The Senate passed a stopgap extension of FISA surveillance in order to focus on the coronavirus. The 75-day extension passed by voice vote and now needs to be approved by the House. 

  • In the interest of protecting classified information and preserving national security, the Justice Department dropped charges against two Russian companies accused of interference in the 2016 election by Robert Mueller. 

  • The House passed a revised version of its coronavirus emergency package; the Senate is expected to take it up as early as today. 

Flattening The Curve: It’s Not Just About The Beds

Since we first started heavily covering the coronavirus outbreak a few weeks back, one of the things we’ve focused on has been the now-ubiquitous concept of “flattening the curve”—the strategy of minimizing the virus’s danger by slowing the rate of infections to ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed by a sudden wave of patients. Generally, the curve is thought of in terms of keeping serious infections below the inflection point of maximum U.S. hospital capacity—ensuring there are enough beds, ventilators, and the like to go around.

But it’s a mistake to think of the capacity problem purely along the lines of a static capacity breakpoint, as we’re already beginning to see as the virus continues to spread. The current state of treatment in U.S. areas that are already more heavily hit, such as Washington State and New York, show that it also makes a big difference how far short of that line a given hospital system can stay—and that, on the other hand, all is not lost if demand exceeds capacity in some areas, provided there are still less affected areas in the region to pick up the slack.

Wondering How These Quarantines Are Legal?

David French and Sarah Isgur joined forces Monday to answer the flurry of legal questions surrounding the mandated closures around the country in their legal podcast, Advisory Opinions. You can also read more about the legal stuff here [NEED LINK] with some thoughts and excerpts below:

Are all these state closure orders evidence that the president is failing?

The closures are coming from governors because the governors have the relevant legal authority. Think of it like this: Just as the president and the federal government act at the peak of their powers when national security is threatened, America’s governors are often at the peak of their power when public health is at stake.

Can the government really order churches to close without violating the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?

If a state closure order targeted churches—and churches only—it would almost certainly be unconstitutional. But the state closure orders in response to COVID-19 represent classic examples of a “neutral law of general applicability” that are presumptively lawful. If restaurants and bars and movie theaters are closed at the same time, churches won’t enjoy any special protection under the Free Exercise Clause.

Can the president declare martial law and, well, become a dictator?

Declaring an emergency—even a public health emergency—doesn’t unlock a secret back door out of the Constitution. Rather, it mainly unlocks specific additional statutory powers, and those powers—such as making grants, waiving various regulations, and activating military medical resources—typically fall well short of the kind of general police power that American governors enjoy.

Worth Your Time

  • China was the first country to suffer from the coronavirus, and it will be the first to recover. And the Washington Post reports that Chinese leaders are planning on how this time advantage can be used to help the country take over significant industries.

  • In other China coronavirus news, the New York Times reports that the Chinese government is trying desperately to reshape the narrative about the virus’ origin and its own response. And officials are doing so through the ominously named “internet police,” who censor dissenting voices online and show up at dissenters’ doors to interrogate them and force them to renounce their views.

  • While other countries around the world rushed to get coronavirus tests out to help stem the flow of the epidemic, the United States’ response time has been relatively slow, in large part because the first set of tests sent out to health facilities by the CDC were declared unusable. The New Yorker walks readers through just how this happened

  • Wondering what an effective public health response to a COVID-19 outbreak would look like? In the Journal of American Medicine, Jason Wang, Chun Ng, and Robert Brook argue Taiwan’s handling of the coronavirus represents “an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • One of the questions we’ve been getting the most in recent days here at The Dispatch is what authority states and localities are drawing on to close private establishments and mass gatherings as they look to slow the spread of COVID-19. If you enjoyed today’s TMD item and David’s piece on the subject, be sure to check out the latest Advisory Opinions podcast for an even deeper discussion.

  • A bonus editon of Thomas Joscelyn’s Vital Interests newsletter takes a look at some of Bernie Sanders’ comments in Sunday’s debate, arguing the Vermont senator was misguided in attributing (very real) reductions in poverty in China to the Communist Party’s authoritarian bent. “China’s economic growth over the last 40 years is due to the government’s adoption of liberal economic reforms—the same types of policies that Sanders often rails against. China’s relative economic prosperity isn’t the result of the politburo’s planning. Instead, the Chinese government realized it had to allow more domestic competition and economic freedom in order for its people to be raised out of poverty.”

  • If you missed it yesterday, Samuel J. Abrams argues that, as much as the coronavirus is disrupting our lives, it’s possible that it could also upend our political polarization. And that, at least, would be a good thing.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).