The economic second wave

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The economic second wave

The U.S. may be at the beginning of a second wave of economic damage from the country's uncontrolled virus outbreak.

New jobless claims rose last week for the first time since March, when spikes in the weekly measure forced chartmarkers to recalibrate the scales on their Y axes. Each week's tally of claims, while disastrous by historical standards, had at least been moving in the right direction after the initial shock of the pandemic's early lockdowns. Now, that's changing.

The reversal illustrates a point public-health experts have made since the early days of the pandemic: There is no tradeoff between controlling the spread of the virus and resuming commerce and public life. Suppressing the virus is a precondition for resuming activity. "The very best way to get our economy back is to control the virus," former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said at a congressional hearing May 7.

Boarded-up businesses in San Francisco.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

The drastic mitigation steps of the early spring that wrecked the economy were meant to slow down the virus and buy time to scale up the ability to test, trace and isolate—the case-based interventions that can stop its spread.

Some countries did just that. The U.S. spun into a partisan food fight, led by a president who pressed states to reopen contrary to the White House's own guidelines. As cases rose in June and July, places like Texas and Florida that lifted restrictions early backtracked on some reopening measures to keep their hospitals from overflowing.

The evidence of that retrenchment is beginning to show up in economic data. Recovering from the economic shock of the pandemic would have been a difficult slog even if the U.S. had controlled the spread of Covid. We didn't, and we may soon find out how much that failure will drag on the economy.—John Tozzi

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What you should read

Virus Wave Worsens Hong Kong's Dim Outlook
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Virus Jumps 26 Feet in Frigid Meat Plant
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