Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 3

Despite some temporary shortages, COVID-19 panic consumption will end

Despite some temporary issues, panic consumption should soon end.

People who live in New York City need never carry an umbrella. At the first sign of a cloud burst, nearly every corner has a ramshackle opportunist selling chintzy parasols for five or 10 bucks apiece.

Supply magically meets demand. Instantly and without orchestration. It's a microcosm of the way the U.S. economy usually works. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" rarely fumbles.

Needless to say, these aren't normal times, as some supermarkets are emptied of toilet paper, rice, flour and other staples. Nevertheless, pandemic panic consumption shortly will be a distant memory. The recent grocery cart frenzy will seem pointless.

"All the grocery stores are going to have pallets of toilet paper sitting in the aisles, and nobody is going to buy it, because who needs to buy toilet paper when you've got a year's worth sitting in your garage?" Daniel Stanton, a supply chain expert, recently told CNBC.

"The U.S. produces a huge amount of food. We're also an exporter of food, so we're going to be OK," he said.

Hospitals may wait weeks or months to have all the protective clothing and advanced medical gear they'll require as millions fall ill with the coronavirus. But, like the spontaneous umbrella sales force of Manhattan sidewalks, retailers are stepping up to meet the more prosaic needs of U.S. households, from food to pharmaceuticals.

Amazon, Walmart, Lowes and other retailers have announced plans to hire 444,000 more warehouse and delivery workers. Target and eight other major retailers have given employees a temporary pay bump as an incentive to face the perils and fatigue of keeping shelves stocked and checkout lines moving.

That said, widespread shortages of consumer staples in recent weeks reveal the shortcomings of market assumptions that don't apply in times of trouble. While household goods are being restocked, two pervasive forces work against uninterrupted supplies of big-ticket items, from cars and appliances to laptop computers and cellphones.

First, supply chains that extend for thousands of miles make U.S. factories dependent on all manner of parts and materials made from as far away as China, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia. With the course of the pandemic's spread unclear, so will be the reliability of foreign vendors.

After a devastating 2012 Pacific Rim tsunami, finding a red Toyota became a challenge. The Japanese factory that made the rosy paint pigment was battered and shut down by ocean waves.

The second current challenge is the likely shortage of inventory — in finished products and parts and materials. Where factory warehouses once brimmed with enough goods and components to last for months, today inventories are designed to be depleted in as little as 30 to 60 days.

"Just-in-time" manufacturing and supply chains — meant to pare the cost of keeping unused inventory on hand — now applies to everything from $2,000 laptops to $2 dish towels.

Apple, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai lead a growing list of companies that have warned of supply bottlenecks ahead.

For the time being, however, transitory shortages won't rise to the level of emergency. In the midst of a recession that threatens to put millions of Americans out of work, shopping for new cars, fancier iPhones or stylish refrigerators won't be an urgent impulse for some time to come.

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The Free Press of Mankato, April 4

Transparency on care-facilities laudable

Thumbs up to state officials for deciding to reveal the names and locations of long-term care facilities where residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Minnesota Department of Health had declined to disclose the information, citing concerns that releasing the names of facilities could violate state privacy laws by potentially exposing the identities of those infected with the virus.

But officials in other states have provided the names and locations of long-term care facilities with confirmed cases.

Pressure was mounting in Minnesota for the state to release information as the number of cases in long-term care centers grows. The public and families of those in such facilities have every right to know which centers have cases.

Likewise, those looking to move a family member into a long-term care facility certainly should know if and how many confirmed cases there may be in any given facility.

Unacceptable behavior

Thumbs down to those who ignorantly choose to single out minorities as responsible for the pandemic.

A man in Moorhead is accused of deliberately coughing on a store clerk while blaming racial minorities for the spread of the coronavirus, police said.

And Minnesota Public Radio News reporter Hannah Yang, based in southern Minnesota, wrote a column about her encounter at an area grocery store. She is Asian American.

"I was searching for a jar of tomato sauce when I overheard whispers that made me nearly drop to my knees: "Trump should send them back," I heard one man say, followed by, "She looks diseased.'"

She turned to find an older white couple staring at her, and then they turned away to go about their business.

What shameful moments these are for all Minnesotans. Singling out anyone for their looks and laying blame is preposterous behavior.

Those of us who may witness such acts in our communities need to speak up and make sure the perpetrators of spreading racism understand what they're saying or doing is not acceptable. We are better than this.

No bailout for cruise lines

Thumbs up to the decision to leave the big cruise lines out of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package.

Those companies may rely on American customers, but they have based their operations overseas to avoid U.S. regulations and taxes.

Carnival Corp., owner of the Princess cruise lines, is incorporated in Panama. Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia, and Norwegian Cruise Lines in Bermuda. Their ships are staffed almost entirely with foreign nationals, and they pay almost no taxes.

President Trump, a longtime friend of Carnival's chairman, at one point declared: "We can't let the cruise lines go out of business." But there is little point in putting taxpayer money into saving companies with such little commitment to this nation.

Trump's blame game

Thumbs down to President Donald Trump and his administration for continuing to promote falsehoods with regard to missteps in the coronavirus response.

National fact-checking organization Politifact determined Trump lied about "inheriting" a bad testing system from previous administrations.

A test for the novel coronavius could not have been developed during the Obama administration because the virus didn't exist during his presidency. The test was only developed in January of this year when a German company developed it and shared it with the world.

Some tests had to be sent back to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they could be given because the so-called "reagent" was tainted. That part of the test is necessary for an accurate test. There has been no word on how the tests were tainted, but it was Trump's CDC that was in charge.

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St. Cloud Times, April 3

Don't let coronavirus pandemic block out government transparency

The number of paradigm shifts the COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting on American culture is impossible to calculate.

Yet one of those shifts — limiting public access and input to elected bodies' efforts to govern in the name of public health — must end as quickly as possible.

It's important to combat the coronavirus pandemic and protect people. But it's also disconcerting to democracy that governments of, by and for the people are ultimately spending trillions of public dollars without any chance for the public to weigh in.

Look no farther than the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package. A handful of elected officials drafted it behind closed doors. Then the U.S. House and Senate — both of which are closed to public access — voted on it and the president signed it. That's $2.2 trillion of your money spent with no chance for public input.

The Minnesota Legislature followed a similar plan with last week's $330 million COVID-19 package. The Star Tribune reported it was put together in private meetings with Gov. Tim Walz's administration and then posted online to the public 10 minutes before members of the House were set to convene and vote on the package.

Like Congress, those legislative sessions and votes came in chambers with no rank-and-file Minnesotans present.

Plus, legislators — in the name of safety — had been meeting in "working groups" and just with their own party members to conduct the public's business. Such meetings are not covered by public meeting laws because a quorum is not present.

Closer to home, local elected bodies at almost all levels have understandably turned to virtual meetings at which they have officially declared jurisdictional emergencies. Taking such action allows more flexibility with resources to respond to COVID-19 challenges.

Such meetings and declarations are needed. The officials involved simply must make sure of two priorities.

First, the meeting abides by legal requirements for virtual meetings, especially that "all votes are conducted by roll call, so each member's vote on each issue can be identified and recorded."

Second, that the practice of virtual meetings end as soon as possible once the danger has passed.

After all, as a nation of governments of, by and for the people, elected officials should be conducting the people's business with as much transparency as possible and in ways that allow the people direct engagement in this process.