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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

COVID-19: Where Do We Now Stand?

 

COVID-19 has impacted American families- and indeed the world- for about 18 months. In just the last seven months, we have gone from fierce “Hunger Games” style competitions for a limited number of vaccination slots to “vaccine hesitancy” and the use of various incentives, such as free donuts and million dollar lottery prizes, to get people vaxed.


With federal government eviction moratoriums sent to expire for renters on July 31 and Delta variant transmission picking up speed, now is a good time to review where we stand with respect to COVID-19 on both the financial front and the health front.

Financial Status Update

¨     Inflationary Pressures- Pandemic-induced shortages have impacted the inflation rate, measured by the CPI, which increased 5.4% in June (4.5%, excluding food and energy). About a third of the increase resulted from price increases for used vehicles. Other items with noteworthy price spikes are food, air fares, gasoline, and housing. Obviously, these prices increases are impacting consumers, resulting in postponed purchases, product substitutions, and other work-arounds.

¨     Advance Child Tax Credit (ACTC)- Initial ACTC payments began on July 15. Just like authors receive an advance against future royalties on a book, the ACTC is an advance of half of the expanded child tax credit (CTC) available under the American Rescue Plan. The remainder of the credit gets settled up on 2021 tax returns due in 2022. At the IRS Child Tax Credit Portal, parents can view their eligibility and unenroll from receiving ACTC payments, if desired. 

¨     End of Eviction Moratoriums- Nearly 6 million U.S. households are behind on about $20 million of rent in arrears and the fifth-and final-national eviction moratorium is set to expire on July 31. What will be left afterward is a patchwork of continued moratoriums in some states and no extensions in others. Clogged courts and delayed eviction case hearings taking months are predicted. States also vary in their processes for distribution of emergency rental assistance funds. The best advice for renters: contact local legislators and/or housing assistance/social services agencies for help and advice.

Health Status Update

¨     Delta Variant- While we all wish the pandemic would just go away, unfortunately it has not. Instead, it is all about the variants now. By many scientific accounts, the widely reported Delta variant is more contagious than, but similarly severe as, the original virus. Some say it is more severe, however, so the jury is still out. Variant unpredictability poses communication challenges for ever-evolving public health guidelines. What is known for certain, however, is that unvaccinated people should definitely wear masks and socially distance until they are fully vaccinated because they are at risk for the virus.

¨     Vaccine Hesitancy- For whatever reason (e.g., fear, religion, politics, mistrust of the government, a belief that you are young and invincible), the U.S. vaccination rate has slowed as the number of new COVID-19 cases is increasing. There have been about 625,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to date. For perspective, about 675,000 Americans died from the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu. Right now, approved vaccines are holding up well against Delta and other variants. There is a concern, however, that, especially in areas with a high percentage of unvaccinated people, vaccines could be less effective against new variants that may develop. This puts every one of us at risk.

¨     Mask-Wearing Guidelines- Individuals have different levels of “cautiousness” and personal risk tolerance, which is why we now see a mix of people wearing- and not wearing- masks in indoor areas where there are no official mask-wearing mandates by state or local governments or retailers. The most prudent and conservative practice today is to wear a mask and distance from people indoors if you are uncertain about their vaccine status, even if you, yourself, are vaccinated. Since there is typically no way to know if total strangers nearby are vaccinated or not, this means either masking up or simply skipping indoor activities.

For additional information about current COVID-19 issues, visit the Healthline COVID-19 website.

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