An Eerie Silence

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March 4, 2020 2:19 p.m.

As I’ve noted, we’re getting and closely reading your emails with accounts of events in communities around the country. We’ve been particularly focused on the major epicenter of the outbreak in Washington state. There’s one broad theme in many or all these accounts I’d like to share with you. That is people who are hearing major news from their employers – often major national or multinational corporations-, from the school districts where their kids are in school, in some cases from local government or health authorities even while the federal government remains largely silent.

There’s a huge, huge story unfolding – many communities are already shifting behavior in major ways – and yet we hear little of it from the federal government or to a significant degree even from the news media.

One of the big things is restrictions on travel mandated by big companies. To be clear, no one’s freedom of movement is being restrained. This is big companies saying no travel or no critical travel until this is over; some people who are on a business trips are being ordered to return to the main office; major cases of companies having some or all employees working remotely; various alerts in affected communities to avoid large public events. None of this is surprising and none should be worrisome in itself. But again, a whole story, a massive story unfolding but people aren’t learning about it from the news media (largely) and aren’t hearing from the federal government.

We’ve seen news reports of many conventions and big public meetings being canceled. If anything this is underreported. There are lots more. When you put together the number of big companies drastically limiting business travel and many people canceling leisure travel, it seems certain that the travel and hospitality industries are already entering what can only be called a steep, steep recession. I mentioned yesterday we already have data on a sharp disruption of oceangoing trade across the Pacific.

It is important to say that the messages coming from the federal government are much improved from a week ago when Happy Talk and nonsense were the order of the day from the White House. There’s still some of that. But it’s shifted. But to a significant degree it’s been replaced by relative silence. It’s improved but the White House really has centralized information. We had this weird spectacle yesterday where Pence and members of his task force did a briefing at the White House but allowed no audio or video recording of what was said. It wasn’t off the record. Just no audio or video.

But again, big picture: there’s a lot going on, particularly in the Pacific Northwest but not only there are you wouldn’t know it from what we’re hearing from the federal government. There’s a relative silence at the top.

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