On Friday, May 8, we will wake up to read the worst jobs report in history. While founded during the Gilded Age, the U.S Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics only started tracking job numbers and unemployment statistics in 1948. So while we don't have official Great Depression numbers against which to gauge what is currently happening, it's certain that the unemployment numbers gathering steam now will outpace the 10% peak unemployment rate we saw at the worst of the Great Recession in October 2009 and the 10.8% peak rate in November 1983 (the previous record-setter). We're barely past the first week of April and some are estimating that the unemployment rate is already up to 13%—that after hovering at historic lows not seen since the first Woodstock festival. In the past three weeks, 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment, and the internet is rife with horror stories of people getting denied for no reason and having to call their state unemployment office hundreds of times to get help.
In the next few weeks, as those technical lags get fixed and more people already out of work start getting their benefits, those unemployment numbers are going to go up. Additional people are bound to lose their jobs or get furloughed, which will cause those numbers to go up. And up. And up. By the time May rolls around, we could be looking at Great Depression–level employment numbers.
What we've seen thus far is the beginning, not the end. But the real question is: Will the May jobs report, released in early June, be better or even worse?
Already, the market is guessing betting on "better." As I write this, stocks are having their best week since 1974, with the S&P 500 up more than 12%. Whether that's misplaced hope or not depends on two things: bending the curve of infections to quickly get past the peak infection rate and coming up with a systematic way to start lifting social restrictions and go back to work.
We have lots of good news about the former. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, nationwide hospital resources needed should be peaking right now, with the death rate peaking in a couple days. They're estimating that total deaths will climb for another month, before leveling off. For someone like me, who has been watching IHME's tracker the last few weeks, as more states and localities added stay-at-home orders, it has been incredible to watch these estimates get less dire and more hopeful every day. The urgency to help by staying at home has worked.
But in order for society to make the turn and start getting back out there, we're going to need two things: A systematic nationwide plan for reopening the country and a lot more testing. And sadly, there's absolutely no evidence of either of those things in the works. States and cities are going to have to reopen slowly and carefully, in a federally coordinated effort, to avoid relapses and new outbreaks. And if we're going to go back to work safely, we need ubiquitous testing (both of the PCR and serology types), paired with a policy of (possibly mandatory) quarantine and the tracking of all individuals that a newly infected person has had contact with for additional testing and quarantine. If we don't do these things, then we could be destined for a continuous wave of states and cities closing-and-reopening, closing-and-reopening, in perpetuum—or at least for the next couple of years until we have a vaccine. That would lead to even more uncertainty for business that could be even more destructive, so let's hope our leaders have enough sense to see the urgency to get this right.
But with (some) hope that we could be outside for the start of summer, here's some of the things we've been following this week ...
Impact on Architecture and the Built Environment
The American Institute of Architects' new COVID-19 task force is "providing a new tool for public officials to quickly identify buildings suitable to be adapted for patient care." The checklist of everything a non-health-care designer needs to know to evaluate whether a possible site is a good one is intended to help speed the process of providing a "rapid evaluation of buildings compatible for supporting patient care operations; providing for the needs and safety of healthcare staff and patients; and mitigating the spread of disease." [ARCHITECT]
In the span of about a week and a half, the ExCeL London exhibition center has been transformed into the NHS Nightingale Hospital, starting with 500 beds but with the potential to expand to as many as 5,000 ventilator-equipped ICU beds. [The Architect's Newspaper]
MASS Effect: In the latest episode of our podcast, design editor Katie Gerfen talks to MASS Design Group founding principal and executive director Michael Murphy about his firm's COVID-19 response and how architects can use design to help fight the pandemic. [ARCHITECT]
A new AIA report shows how upended the residential design market has been by the outbreak, with April revenue expected to be 20% below previous expectations. [ARCHITECT]
Have we already started to make the turn to looking at how society will have to function after the pandemic has subsided? Richard Florida at CityLab has. From changes to how we use public transportation and airports, to how we can start re-using large event spaces safely, to how we can shield our local economies from further fallout, are all things on his mind. And he has ideas for how we're going to need to change how we live. [CityLab]
Building and Construction
Mary Salmonsen reports that a few days into the month, full-rent payments are down nationwide about 5% in April, with larger numbers seen in some areas like Los Angeles. Another metric has that percentage down 12%. Salmonsen also reports that rents still grew in March, albeit more slowly than they had been. Christine Serlin reports that more than half of members of the apartment industry say that they are "experiencing construction delays." [MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE]
Affordable housing leaders are calling on the federal government to expand the CARES Act to include more protection for rental households. [AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE]
Assistant editor Vincent Salandro reports that Lowe's and Home Depot have adjusted and tightened their policies for customers and employees, including things like paying employees extra for working during the outbreak, closing earlier to give the staff more time to restock and sanitize the stores at the end of the day, widening social distancing rules and allowing fewer customers inside at a time, giving more paid time off, and asking employees to perform health checks before coming in each day. [REMODELING]
The International Code Council is hosting a four-part series of webinars on how to continue the processes of permitting and inspections during this uncertain time when so many people, including code professionals themselves, are working from home. [BUILDER]
The U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $22.2 million in grants to 224 humanities projects "relating to preservation of historical collections, the creation humanities exhibitions and documentaries, scholarly research, and various curriculum projects." The organization is also slated to get an additional $75 million from the CARES Act to support cultural institutions. [ARCHITECT]
A team at Michigan State University has devised a way to decontaminate and sanitize N95 mask using ovens so that they can be reused up to 20 times. This would help the state stretch its limited resources during this critical stretch over the next few weeks. [Detroit Free Press]
Two brothers from New York City, an ER doctor and an attorney, are calling on a nationwide universal testing program as the only way to get past the epidemic and get back to normal: "Such a program should categorize people in three ways: they had Covid-19, they have Covid-19, or they are still at risk for getting Covid-19. Green, Red, Yellow—that simple, no more uncertainty. It would use two types of tests to accomplish this categorization" ... PCR and serology testing, like we covered last week. [Wired]
Fashion designers and other tailors left without commissions by the outbreak are turning to making masks in droves, many of which they donate to hospitals (who have run out of proper PPE), nursing homes, and the like. And the rest are made to sell online. [CityLab]
"Waze, but for the sick:" Could a population mistrustful of big data turn to being perpetually tracked via their smartphones in the near future and alerted to occasionally quarantine as a way to return to some semblance of life before a COVID-19 vaccine is developed? [The Atlantic]
Apple has sourced more than 20 million masks for distribution around the world. The iPhone company has also joined the face-shield construction and donation wave. The first ones went to Santa Clara, Calif., and the company planned to have a million of these flat-packed shields ship this week around the U.S., with a million a week after that to U.S. facilities and around the world.
Apple is dedicated to supporting the worldwide response to COVID-19. We’ve now sourced over 20M masks through our supply chain. Our design, engineering, operations and packaging teams are also working with suppliers to design, produce and ship face shields for medical workers. pic.twitter.com/3xRqNgMThX— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 5, 2020
When you have a few minutes, check out Ed Yong's superbly well-reported article in The Atlantic about the debate surround how useful it is (or isn't) for all of us to be wearing masks right now, and the many social and medical reasons to do so regardless. [The Atlantic]
“It’s like having a car without gas”: Since all bad news seem to be compounding these days, not only are we short on ventilators to help the most severe cases of COVID-19, now it appears that we might also be running out of the medications, such as fentanyl and hydromorphone, needed to sedate those patients so that intubation isn't agonizing. [Vox]
If the city's morgues become overwhelmed, the New York City Mayor's Office is eyeing using the Bronx's Hart Island as a temporary cemetery. Currently, the city's hospitals have been provided with 45 refrigerated tractor trailers to use as overflow morgues. Utilizing Hart Island, which is used as a cemetery for unknown deceased individuals during normal times, would be a contingency plan. [The New York Times]
Researchers working independently at Stanford, MIT, the University of Arizona, and more are looking at analyzing wastewater and sewage as a future early-indicator of possible COVID-19 outbreaks. Fragments of the SARS-CoV2 virus are "fecally shedded" early in a person's infection cycle and virus fragments in an area's wastewater could thus be an early warning sign. [Wired]
Hanley Wood publications are working together to track how state-by-state mandates are affecting the construction and building materials supplier industries. We're updating the map and the data as they develop, so bookmark this page and check in often. [JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION]
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle, a research institute founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is tracking and projecting the spread and peak of COVID-19 through the United States in the coming months, and projected numbers of deaths in each state, as measured by needed hospital capacity. [IHME]
On the Way Out ...
Yeah, it's yet another tutorial on hand washing. But this time, it's from the great Good Eats creator and food scientist/historian/anthropologist Alton Brown:
So stay safe out there everyone, keep washing your hands and wearing your masks, and we'll see you here again next week.