More than two months later, the public health disaster predicted by Abbott’s critics has not materialized. A new analysis by three economists confirms that his decision had no discernible impact on COVID-19 cases or deaths in Texas.
“We find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in social mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments in Texas,” Bentley University economist Dhaval Dave and his two co-authors report in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. “We find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases during the five weeks following the reopening.” They say their findings “underscore the limits of late-pandemic era COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.”
Dave, San Diego State University economist Joseph Sabia, and SDSU graduate research fellow Samuel Safford looked at smartphone mobility data from SafeGraph and COVID-19 data collected by The New York Times. They compared trends in Texas before and after Abbott’s order took effect on March 10 to trends in a composite of data from other states that retained their COVID-19 restrictions but were otherwise similar.
Most businesses in Texas had been allowed to operate at 75 percent of capacity since mid-October, when Abbott also allowed bars to reopen. It was implausible that removing the cap would have much of an impact on virus transmission, even in businesses that were frequently hitting the 75 percent limit.
While Abbott said Texans would no longer be legally required to cover their faces in public, he urged them to keep doing so, and many businesses continued to require masks. At the stores I visit in Dallas, there has been no noticeable change in policy or in customer compliance.
Conversely, face mask mandates and occupancy limits did not prevent COVID-19 surges in states such as Michigan, where the seven-day average of newly confirmed infections has risen more than fivefold since March 1; Maine, which has seen a nearly threefold increase; and Minnesota, where that number has more than doubled. Cases also rose during that period, although less dramatically, in other states with relatively strict COVID-19 rules, including Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Florida, a state often criticized as lax, also has seen a significant increase in daily new cases: 34 percent since mid-March. But Florida, despite its relatively old population, still has a per capita COVID-19 death rate only a bit higher than California’s, even though the latter state’s restrictions have been much more sweeping and prolonged.
Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas, sided with plaintiffs who challenged the CDC’s eviction moratorium on Constitutional grounds. We’ve embedded the opinion for Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the end of this post. Even though some will be inclined to dismiss the ruling as politically-motivated (Barker was a Trump nominee), recall that it was the Trump Administration that first launched the eviction freeze. It initially ran through December 31, and covered tenants who gave their landlord a declaration attesting that the made less than $100,000 a year, had suffered a large hit to their income, were seeking assistance and would pay as much rent as they could. The Biden Administration planned to extend the moratorium to the end of March.
Bear in mind that the eviction halt dumped the cost of keeping coronavirus-whacked workers housed on landlords, rather than having the government provide income or rental subsidies.
Before we turn to the reasoning of the ruling, keep in mind that Judge Barker did not issue an injunction against the CDC’s moratorium, since the CDC apparently made noises at trial that they’d withdraw the moratorium if they lost. However, Barker told the plaintiffs they could come back and seek an injunction if the CDC didn’t play nice. There is no indication yet as to whether the Administration will appeal.
Winter storms paralyzing the United States have left millions without power and sent health officials scrambling to protect freezers full of COVID-19 vaccines, which have to be kept at extremely low temperatures or risk going bad.
Rolling blackouts through Texas took out at least one set of freezers full of the Moderna vaccine; 5,000 doses were sent to a university, a jail, and a handful of hospitals before they expired. The Oregon Health Authority is moving vaccines to places with power, although the agency isn’t disclosing which storage sites have their systems down. As part of its storm preparations, Kentucky made sure places holding COVID-19 vaccines had contingency plans.
Despite the stark difference in policy, both countries saw remarkably similar COVID-19 trends this winter. According to Worldometer’s numbers, the seven-day average of new cases peaked in the U.K. on January 9; it peaked in the U.S. two days later. That number then fell sharply in both countries. As of yesterday, it was down 81 percent in the U.K. and 73 percent in the U.S.
Daily deaths are also falling in both countries. As of yesterday, the seven-day average in the U.K. was down 61 percent from the peak on January 23. In the U.S., it was down 43 percent from the peak on January 26. Given the dramatic drop in daily new cases that began more than a month ago, daily deaths should continue to fall.
The same story of starkly different policies and similar outcomes emerges from a comparison of Texas and California, the two most populous states. While California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a new lockdown on December 3, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not impose new restrictions, and the state remained largely open. Yet since mid-January, the two states have seen almost the same drop in the seven-day average of newly reported cases, which has fallen by 85 percent in California and 81 percent in Texas.
U.S. property insurers are bracing for claims for damage from collapsing roofs, bursting pipes and lost business as Texas takes stock of its losses from a winter storm that has crippled its electrical grid.
Insurers’ losses could stretch into billions of dollars, said Moody’s analyst Jasper Cooper.
Insurers in Texas, the second-largest property insurance market among U.S. states, are used to grappling with historic storms, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
But this winter storm is unique because of its grip across the state. It crippled the electric grid and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power for four days.
Public pension investment professionals spend too much time and effort fighting to do their jobs. Internal bureaucracy probably took up 25 percent of the total work hours of my small team.
And it’s not about being lazy or unwilling to work hard. Consider, for example, an in-demand fund that had been in process for some time and finally created capacity — but required one month for work to be finished up before closing. Every week needed for internal paperwork, presentations, and hoop-jumping, well, that meant one less week of actual due diligence and investment debate. Or maybe we would have just passed on the manager, which is also suboptimal as it’s often the best-performing managers that require the most flexible processes.
This is counterproductive. And that’s not just an opinion. Research shows that the impact of due diligence in alternatives is meaningful for returns. Spending more hours doing actual research before making a decision results in higher returns, and the effect is more pronounced the greater the dispersion of returns. The act of getting that decision approved shouldn’t consume so much of a limited staff’s time.
Insurers could suffer record first-quarter catastrophe losses after the historic Texas winter storm, which crippled the state’s electrical grid and caused extensive property damage including collapsed roofs and broken pipes, insurer credit rating agency A.M. Best said on Friday.
The storm occurred during a quarter that is typically the most benign for catastrophe losses, and could become the costliest winter weather event in Texas history, A.M. Best said in a report.
The Texas Department of Insurance plans to collect data from property insurers to assess costs stemming from the crippled electrical grid, roofing collapses, broken pipes and other problems, a spokesman said.
That hasn’t deterred governments. Nationwide, cities and states issued $6.1 billion in pension obligation bonds in 2020, more than in any year since 2008, according to data compiled by Municipal Market Analytics, a research firm. States with significant new pension borrowings last year included Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas. In California, cities borrowed more than $3.7 billion to squirrel away at various public pension funds, breaking the old state record of $3.5 billion, set in 1994.
It’s a major comeback for this type of debt, said Matt Fabian, a partner at Municipal Market Analytics who has been writing about the deals for years. “They’re borrowing money and basically putting it into the market and gambling,” he said.
Mr. Fabian said his firm’s tally almost certainly missed the borrowing by municipalities that took West Covina’s approach, because those bonds used different names. Flagstaff rented its City Hall, libraries and fire stations last year to back a pension deal marketed as “certificates of participation.” In January, Tucson did the same, leasing two police helicopters, a zoo conservation center, five golf courses and the bleachers at its rodeo grounds, among other things. And a Chicago suburb, Berwyn, used “conveyed tax securitization bonds” to help fund police pensions.
With President Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled Congress moving ahead on a coronavirus relief package, Texas budget writers are beginning to look at how they might use federal funds for one-time “investments,” such as bolstering pension funds for retired teachers and state workers.
That’s only one way state coffers could be altered now that the federal government is led by Democrats. Unlike Republicans who controlled the U.S. Senate during former President Donald Trump’s administration, the Democrats and Biden want to send money to aid state and local governments. Of a $1.9 trillion package, some $350 billion would go to states and localities.
“Those investments may be made in our retirement funds or one-time plugs or capital investments,” Kolkhorst said. She referred to lawmakers’ ongoing efforts to make the Teacher Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System more actuarially sound, and to deteriorating buildings used as state offices and at state mental hospital campuses.
For Hispanics, it’s two thirds, with most of it coming from California (23%), then Texas (21%), then Florida (10%). New York City accounts for 9%, and then the rest of New York state for 3%.
UPDATE: Checking out the Hispanic population by state, these percentages are a little in line with national distribution — California (26% of U.S. Hispanic population), Texas (19%), Florida (9%), New York (including NYC — 6%). The most disproportionate effect comes from New York City.