Health & Fitness

Covid-19 Dwell Updates: In Pandemic Recession, Used Vehicles Flip Into Sizzling Commodity

Looking to buy a used car? So is everyone else.

Used cars are usually overlooked in the fanfare accorded to cutting-edge electric cars and gussied-up pickup trucks. Now they are suddenly the industry’s hottest commodity.

Consumers are snapping up used vehicles as second or third cars so they can avoid trains, buses or Ubers during the coronavirus pandemic. Others are buying used rather than new to save money in an uncertain economy, not knowing when they or their spouse might lose a job. Demand for older cars has also been fed by a roughly two-month halt in production of new cars this spring.

Across the United States, the prices of used cars have shot up. The increase defies the conventional wisdom that cars are depreciating assets that lose a big chunk of their value the moment they leave the dealership. In July alone, the average value of used cars jumped more than 16 percent, according to

In June, the most recent month for which data is available, franchised car dealers sold 1.2 million used cars and trucks, according to Edmunds, up 22 percent from a year earlier. It was the highest monthly total since at least 2007.

The boom has turned the business of selling cars upside down. Because used cars don’t come from factories in Detroit, dealers are having to work as hard to buy cars as they typically do to sell them, they say, including running ads and cold calling people to ask if they would be interested in selling their old car. That’s how strong demand for used cars has become in the pandemic.

“Used cars are supposed to depreciate, but I’d look up the book value of a car on the lot and see it was higher than at the beginning of the month,” said Adam Silverleib, president of Silko Honda in Raynham, Mass. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Mr. Silverleib recently sold a 2017 Honda Pilot with 22,000 miles to Suzanne Cray and her husband. The family had gotten by with just one car. But Ms. Cray, a nurse who works at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said the family had decided it needed another to ensure that no one had to ride with Uber or on public transportation.

The boom is of a piece with other unexpected trends in a recession that has left millions of people unemployed and has devastated airlines, restaurants, hotels and small businesses. Despite that pain, the pandemic has been a boon to old standbys of the economy, such as canned and processed foods and suburban home sales, that had fallen out of favor in recent years.

The growing desire to own a car has caught many people by surprise and unnerved others who are worried about what it might say about the future of cities and transportation. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who gets around in an S.U.V., recently implored New Yorkers, many of whom don’t own vehicles, not to buy a car, saying they represent “the past.”

India, home to the world’s fastest-growing outbreak, has surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases.

On Monday, India reported 90,802 new cases, breaking its own record from the day before and taking its total to more than 4.2 million, according to a New York Times database. Brazil is now third with more than 4.1 million cases.

In early July, India surpassed Russia to become the country with the third-highest number of cases. By then, the United States was entrenched at No. 1, where it remains with more than 6.2 million cases.

“Crowded cities, lockdown fatigue and a lack of contact tracing have spread Covid-19 to every corner of this country of 1.3 billion people,” The Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman and Sameer Yasir reported in late August.

India has recorded 71,642 deaths from the virus, the world’s third-highest toll after the United States and Brazil, though as a youthful nation India has a relatively low death rate per capita.

India’s surge in cases comes as the government continues to ease lockdown measures in an effort to help the economy. On Monday, the subway system in New Delhi, the capital, began a phased reopening after being shut for more than five months.

The pandemic has been economically devastating for India, which not so long ago dreamed of becoming a global powerhouse. Last week, the government reported a 24 percent contraction in the second quarter, the worst among the world’s top economies.

Before Memorial Day weekend in May, the United States recorded a seven-day average number of new cases of 22,580, according to a New York Times database, and the average for new deaths announced was 1,216.

At the beginning of Labor Day weekend on Friday, the seven-day average number of new cases was 41,233, and the average number of new deaths reported was 851.

Within those numbers are more complicated stories:

In May, the country was beginning to emerge from lockdown. The number of overall deaths in the U.S. was nearing 100,000. And doctors were trying to find answers to a mysterious virus-related ailment affecting children. The death toll in New York, once the epicenter of the virus outbreak, had dropped below 100 for the first time since March.

Now, most parents and children are in the early stages of another round of online learning. Many colleges and universities have welcomed students back. The country is mostly open. And New York, once the hottest of hot spots, announced that the positivity rate for the state had remained under 1 percent for the past month. Still, cases in the Midwest are spiking. And the reopening of college campuses has spurred outbreaks. More than 51,000 cases have been reported at more than 1,000 campuses. Some students have faced serious consequences for breaking the rules. Northeastern University in Massachusetts dismissed 11 students last week for violating safety precautions. New York University, Ohio State, West Virginia University and Purdue have all suspended students over violations of rules intended to curb the virus’s spread on campus.

And higher education institutions are dealing with more challenges. A student group at the University of Kansas, where there are nearly 500 cases, is planning a “strike” to push the university to move to remote learning, The Kansas City Star reported; this follows a similar “sickout” last week at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on Sunday that exhaustion with social distancing and other measures meant to slow the spread of the pandemic is a potentially serious problem as the seasons change.

“In the wintertime, you see respiratory pathogens spread more aggressively, in part because people are indoors more,” he added in an appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “They’re in congregate settings where respiratory pathogens can spread more efficiently.”

Early on in the pandemic, a pervasive myth among patients and some health authorities was the idea that Covid-19 was a short-term illness. Only fairly recently has more attention been given to Covid-19 “long-haulers,” whose sicknesses have persisted for months.

In online support groups like Body Politic and Survivor Corps, long-haulers have produced informal surveys and reports to study their course of illness, and many have opened up about how their mental health has suffered because of the disease. Dozens wrote that their months of illness have contributed to anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the difficulties of accessing medical services and disruptions to their work, social and exercise routines.

“I felt this stigma like, ‘I’ve got this thing nobody wants to be around,’” said Angela Aston, 50, a nurse practitioner who was sick for weeks. “It makes you depressed, anxious that it’s never going to go away. People would say to my husband, ‘She’s not better yet?’ They start to think you’re making it up.”

Natalie Lambert, a health researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine, recently surveyed more than 1,500 long-haul patients through the Survivor Corps Facebook page and found a number of common psychological symptoms. She found that anxiety was the eighth most common long-haul symptom, cited by more than 700 respondents. Difficulty concentrating was also high on the list, and more than 400 reported feeling “sadness.”

Dr. Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates that between one-third and one-half of Covid-19 patients experienced some form of mental health problem including anxiety, depression, fatigue or abnormal sleeping.

“I’ve had three OK days, but I’m hesitant to share that, because it could go away,” Ms. Smith said. “Long-haulers will tell you that. We preface every conversation when we feel good with, ‘I’ll regret saying this tomorrow.’”

Alaska chopped resources for public broadcasting. New York City gutted a nascent composting program that could have kept tons of food waste out of landfills. New Jersey postponed property-tax relief payments.

Prisoners in Florida will continue to swelter in their cells, because plans to air-condition its prisons are on hold. Many states have already cut planned raises for teachers.

And that’s just the start.

Across the United States, states and cities have made an array of fiscal maneuvers to stay solvent and are planning more in case Congress can’t agree on a fiscal relief package after the August recess.

House Democrats included nearly $1 billion in state and local aid in the relief bill they passed in May, but the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said he doesn’t want to hand out a “blank check” to pay for what he considers fiscal mismanagement, including the enormous public-pension obligations some states have accrued. There has been little movement in that stalemate lately.

Economists warn that further state spending reductions could prolong the downturn by shaking the confidence of residents, whose day-to-day lives depend heavily on state and local services like education, public safety, health care and unemployment insurance.

“People look to government as their backstop when things are completely falling apart,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “If they feel like there’s no support there, they lose faith and they run for the bunker and pull back on everything.”

State officials say they have little choice but to keep cutting if more aid doesn’t arrive.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has warned that without further relief New York will cut $8.2 billion in grants to local governments, a blow he said had “no precedent in modern times.” The cuts would hit “nearly every activity funded by state government,” including special education, pediatric health care, substance abuse programs, property-tax relief and mass transit, he said.

The state faces a $14.5 billion budget gap this fiscal year, according to budget officials. As an alternative to more cuts, progressive Democrats have proposed taxing the rich.

Mr. Cuomo, however, says the potential benefit of new revenue from doing so would be far outstripped by the negative impact on the state’s highest earners, who already shoulder the bulk of the state’s taxes.

“I don’t care what you increase taxes to, you couldn’t make up that deficit,” Mr. Cuomo said last week upon releasing a letter asking congressional leaders for a whopping $59 billion to cover two years of projected state deficits and more.

British health officials on Sunday announced a sharp rise in new cases, prompting warnings that they may need to reconsider the aggressive reopening of the country.

The British Public Health agency reported that 2,998 new cases had been confirmed — the highest number since late May, during the British outbreak’s peak.

Amid criticism that the government had once again lost control of an outbreak that has already killed at least 41,000 people in Britain, government officials signaled that they were prepared to crack down.

“We’ll take whatever action is necessary,” said Matt Hancock, the health secretary, declaring that “we can use, and we will use, local lockdowns if that’s what’s necessary.”

But noting that, as is the case in many parts of the world, the newest outbreak is hitting mostly younger people, Mr. Hancock implored them to think of their grandparents and be vigilant.

“The first line of defense is that people should follow social distancing,” he said.

There have been almost 350,000 cases in Britain, which was initially reluctant to acknowledge the threat posed by the outbreak and act decisively to shut down. It suffered some of the worst losses in Europe in April and May, but gradually cases began to decline after the government moved to lock down.

In August, however, cases began rising again.

As the country’s students return to class, the response has not been uniform when cases appear in schools. The government placed the burden on health authorities to decide how to handle outbreaks, but said whole school closures would “not generally be necessary.” But a school in Suffolk, in eastern England, was told to close on Monday after five members of the teaching staff tested positive, and a school in Staffordshire, in the central part of the country, also asked all students to stay home last week after one tested positive. However, the health authority instructed three institutions in northeastern England to keep their doors open after virus cases were found in each school. A school that Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited late last month told some students to stay at home on Monday after a staff member tested positive for the virus.

In other developments around the world:

Australia on Monday announced deals to buy almost 85 million doses of two promising coronavirus vaccines if their trials prove successful. The vaccines, both of which are likely to require two doses per person, would be provided free to Australia’s 25 million people at a cost of $1.2 billion. One of the vaccines, produced by the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca, is in the final stage of testing and could be available starting in January. The other one, produced by the University of Queensland and the Australian biotechnology company CSL, would follow in mid-2021. Australia has said it is aiming for a 95 percent vaccination rate but will not make them compulsory.

After discovering only one in every 500 passengers who arrived in the country became infectious during a mandatory 10-day isolation period, Bahrain has dropped the requirement to quarantine. A day after the Persian Gulf state reopened its borders to tourists and nonresidents, Bahrain announced on Monday that travelers would be tested for the virus at its international airport, and as long as they receive a negative test result, they will be allowed to enter the country without quarantining. The country has had 55,415 coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times database.

In a year of voting by mail, poll officials scramble to shore up in-person voting, too.

Unnerved by the difficulties of voting amid a pandemic and faced with both the political static injected by President Trump and the limits on expanding voting by mail, state and local authorities across the country are racing to rethink and reinforce the polling sites where tens of millions of people are still expected to cast their ballots.

For all of the attention on voting by mail, perhaps four in 10 votes — 60 million ballots — are likely to be cast in person this fall, either early or on Election Day. Overall turnout could well reach 150 million for the first time, up from 137.5 million in 2016, according to Barry C. Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Against the backdrop of Mr. Trump’s relentless criticism of voting by mail, the breakdowns at the Postal Service and the relatively high rate of rejections of mailed-in ballots, election officials and activists in both parties are amping up efforts to hire and train poll workers; integrate stadiums, arenas and malls into their voting options; and come up with contingency plans if there’s a surge in coronavirus cases in the fall.

A major area of concern is finding younger people who are able to replace older ones most susceptible to the ravages of Covid-19 at a time when 58 percent of the nation’s poll workers are 61 or older.

“Everyone’s focusing on the rate of voting by mail, which is going to easily double what it was in 2016 — somewhere north of 80 million ballots,” said Paul Gronke, an expert on in-person voting at Reed College in Portland, Ore. “But people aren’t paying attention to what might happen if there’s a spike in the pandemic or a shortage of poll workers and there’s a last-minute reduction in in-person voting.”

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has used his recent trips to highlight a warning: The country must retool its economy to be more self-sustaining in a post-pandemic world of uncertainty, weakened demand and hostility.

Mr. Xi’s recent itinerary reflects the broader strategy he is mapping for China while the United States and other Western powers remain largely consumed with the crisis.

China needs its people to spend more and its manufacturers to be more innovative, Mr. Xi has said, to ease dependence on fickle foreign economies. Most pressing, official media comments on Mr. Xi’s strategy have said, China must be ready for sustained acrimony with the United States that could put at risk its access to American consumers, investors and technology.

Though China’s exports have rebounded from the shock of the first months of the pandemic — the government reported on Monday that exports surged 9.5 percent in August from a year earlier, even better than expected — Mr. Xi has suggested that the longer-term outlook is uncertain.

“The world has entered a period of turbulence and transformation,” he told an audience of prominent Chinese economists brought to the Communist Party’s headquarters in central Beijing late last month. “We face an external environment with even more headwinds and countercurrents.”

Mr. Xi has called his new initiative a “dual circulation” strategy. The grandly technocratic name, which he first used in May, means China should rely on a robust cycle of domestic demand and innovation as the main driver of the economy while maintaining foreign markets and investors as a second engine of growth.

The initiative comes as Trump administration officials have tried taking a political sledgehammer to China over the pandemic, asserting that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the initial outbreak and allowed the virus to spread around the globe. A recent U.S. intelligence report says top officials in Beijing were in the dark in early January on the true dangers of the virus, a revelation that could affect U.S. policy on China.

Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, announced on Monday that she was canceling her first planned campaign appearance because of the spread of the virus, as officials said two members of her household staff had tested positive.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a member of parliament who serves as state counselor and foreign minister, is running for re-election in her district in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, in national elections scheduled for Nov. 8.

The isolated country, wedged between China, Bangladesh and Thailand, had largely been spared from the virus until last month, when it began spreading in Rakhine State in western Myanmar.

As of Aug. 20, the country had fewer than 400 cases. But by Monday, the government reported more than 1,400 cases and eight deaths. Some provinces have imposed travel restrictions on other regions, including requiring visitors to undergo 21 days of quarantine upon arrival.

Officials said Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had not had personal contact recently with the two staff members who tested positive at her lakeside house in Yangon, where she spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule.

In canceling her campaign kickoff appearance scheduled for Tuesday, she said the minister of health, U Myint Htwe, had advised her against traveling to her district from the capital, Naypyidaw, where she now spends most of her time.

“At the moment the ministry of health is the most powerful,” she said in a video appearance on Facebook. “We need to follow the instructions of the ministry of health.

The recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has received widespread international condemnation for her refusal to defend the Rohingya Muslims, the target of a genocidal campaign by the Myanmar military with whom she now shares power.

About 1 million Rohingya have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar to Bangladesh where they live in crowded refugee camps. Aid officials there worry that they are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Myanmar’s election Nov. 8 will serve as a referendum on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, which won by a landslide five years ago but has struggled to improve the country’s standard of living.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Neal E. Boudette, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Alan Burdick, Kenneth Chang, Nick Corasaniti, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Jacey Fortin, Natasha Frost, Emma Goldberg, Ethan Hauser, Cindy Lamothe, Jesse McKinley, Christina Morales, Saw Nang, Richard C. Paddock, Bryan Pietsch, Anna Schaverien, Mike Seely, Neil Vigdor, Mary Williams Walsh and Michael Wines.

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