Financial Markets Wall Street

Trader Andrew Silverman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Feb. 28. Stocks are opening sharply higher as the prospect of a vaccine for COVID-19 rises.

The stock markets are swooning again, but this time in a positive direction.

With major indexes at records, when so much of the real economy we live in day-by-day still troubled, what’s happening? The prospect of successful vaccines for COVID-19 prevention is driving the anticipation of a better future.

Many companies, such as those travel-related, were hammered during the extensive withdrawal of customers because of the worldwide pandemic. Those are rebounding.

Of special interest to Louisiana, oil futures trended a bit higher, as there is at least some prospect of people traveling and thus using more fuel in future.

If we’re glad to see the good news from Wall Street — and from Hong Kong and other financial centers — the nation still has a lot to worry about before COVID-19 infection rates get better.

A vaccine or vaccines is a long way off: “The vaccine could help people breathe a sigh of relief, but the devil is in the details,” Gene Goldman, chief investment officer at Cetera Financial Group, told The Associated Press.

Louisiana’s restrictions on business activity have hurt us, badly, in the real economy in which we live. But the reduction in infections and especially in hospitalizations is also real and a strong measure of success, relatively speaking.

Can it last? Infections are rising, in part because testing has been intermittently delayed by this year’s overly active hurricane season. And Louisiana is no island, apart from the mainstream of American life.

As infections rise, the prospect of tighter business restrictions also threatens whatever optimism there is about vaccines.

Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, said the consequences of the winter wave of coronavirus infections will be severe unless people do the right thing, wear masks and seek to reduce contact with others.

That’s not great for business, heading into Hannukah and Christmas, nor for families wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving together. The impact on the holiday season is worrisome.

“I don’t think it's certain yet, but if things go the same way for another week or two, we will need to do some pullback, because that will mean people aren’t acting the way they need to and using the tools we have to limit the spread of the virus,” Hassig said.

We hope that things will look brighter on the COVID-19 front, but because a vaccine is months away at best, the burden remains on society to protect against another wave of disease that could cripple health care delivery in Louisiana and in this country.

The future is still in the future.

Our Views: As we’re not out of the woods, masks still in order