Wealth of Health: End of the pandemic in sight as economy rounds the bend

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At last, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Amid loss of life and damage to the economy wrought by the pandemic, the vaccine rollout is approaching critical mass, and herd immunity is within reach. The $1.9 trillion relief bill passed last month supports individuals, businesses and local government. The increasing yield on the 10-year Treasury note indicates that markets are optimistic on recovery.

The current surge of COVID-19 cases is the result of premature laxity in essential precautions and, in some areas, mutations to the virus. This surge will be more transient than previous ones. President Joe Biden anticipates that 200 million vaccines will be administered by the end of this month. With convalescent antibodies from over 30 million known cases to date, and as many as fourfold more undiagnosed cases within a U.S. population of 332 million, we are rapidly approaching the 60%-to-70% threshold for herd immunity. There still will be microsurges for some time, and the need for an annual booster is a real possibility, but soon COVID will no longer exist at pandemic proportions.

WE MUST still address post-acute COVID sequelae, or long COVID, which is seen in 30% of those who have had the virus for at least nine months. The National Institutes of Health is focused on studying PACS. Most common symptoms include fatigue, digestive issues, mental health problems and sleep and breathing difficulties. Manakai o Malama also continues to evaluate PACS and to strengthen our multidisciplinary approach to this problem, utilizing our medical team, psychological services, acupuncture and Niolopua Sleep Wellness Center.

From the economic standpoint, the U.S. is rounding the bend as we transition from rescue to recovery and face the daunting task of building back jobs and tackling long-neglected renewal of our infrastructure while investing in clean energy, technology and medical research.

The U.S. added 916,000 new jobs in March, but there are still many holes in the supply chain. Many of our favorite restaurants in Hawaii are shuttered for good. Car rental companies sold off much of their stock, making it both difficult and expensive to make a reservation. Construction is being strangled by the lack of lumber as logging and milling lagged last year. U.S. shale oil production declined significantly during the pandemic and won’t come back in time to meet demand, while renewables will be too slow at first to close the gap. A deep recovery necessarily requires remediation of not just our omnipresent potholes, but, even more important, attention to the priorities of climate change and social justice.

Education is an essential piece of this national investment and must include child care and preschool together with free community college and retraining for those who have lost jobs that will not return, and to prepare ourselves for emerging growth industries.

The notion to divide the recovery plan into two parts is a good one. It’s smart to focus on passing a $2 trillion infrastructure bill now, crafted with the best chances of garnering bipartisan support. This will enhance the viability of passing an additional bill after midterms for the care economy with attention to quality public education for all ages and universal access to health care.

There are two key points of resistance to passing these bills. First, How will we pay for it? An increase in corporate tax rates to 28% from 21%, a centerpiece of the proposal, is a rallying point for opposition. An increase in corporate taxes, plus additional taxes on those earning over $400,000, further levies on the uber-rich and taxes on all offshore revenue are popular in the polls. Not all of these will go through, and even if they did, total additional revenue would not come close to covering the bill.

THE OTHER concern is that the historic increase to the federal debt as a proportion of gross domestic product, combined with both fiscal and monetary policy conducive to growth, could trigger a surge in inflation and a super cycle of extended, rapid growth in commodity prices and real estate. To hit the brakes would require higher interest rates. That is the risk we take.

This is good news. The end of the pandemic is in sight. The largest rescue package in history was just passed and is flowing through to society as we speak. An infrastructure bill is on the table to remedy roads, bridges and sewers. That infrastructure bill is also designed to combat climate change and transition the workforce toward clean energy and technology and will position the U.S. for the road ahead. An expanded bill to support the care economy awaits success in the midterm elections.

If it works, there will be a resurgence of confidence in our institutions of liberal democracy, such as the globe experienced after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The U.S. will no longer be seen as a superpower in decline, but again as a beacon for freedom and democracy. May our better angels prevail.

Ira Zunin is a practicing physician. He is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Serv­ices Inc. His column appears the first Saturday of every month. Please submit your questions to info@manakaiomalama.com.

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