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‘Hospitals are terrified of repercussions:’ Health-care workers question why Mayo Clinic permitted Pence to visit coronavirus patients with no mask

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Why would a hospital, ranked No. 1 in the U.S., break its own policies and put its patients’ and medical staff’s health and even their lives at risk by allowing a visitor to walk around wards with no mask, no gown — and without maintaining the recommended six-feet distance?

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Mayo Clinic Tuesday, and, according to a now-deleted tweet and a statement to MarketWatch, was told by hospital officials he should wear a mask. A spokesperson for the clinic said, “Mayo shared the masking policy with the VP’s office.” (Here’s a video of the scene.)

The Service Employees International Union roundly criticized the hospital’s decision to let Pence forgo a mask: “As the union that represents thousands of workers at Mayo, we are deeply disappointed that Mayo failed to enforce their own policy.” (Mayo declined to comment beyond its official statement.)

‘There’s a classic dilemma in health care: Celebrities and wealthy people get special treatment.’

— Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

The SEIU said that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is preventable and treatable, “but only if we ensure working people are informed and protected.” The labor union represents around 2 million frontline health-care workers.

Many medical professionals were aghast. “I would have said, ‘You’re not going in. You should be a good role model,’” said Art Caplan, director of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “You cannot deviate from procedure. It usually leads to bad outcomes.”

“The institution has an obligation first and foremost to make sure that all visitors are following their guidelines for safety for both patients and their staff,” he added. “That’s an absolute must. They have to enforce it, whether it’s the vice president or your 10-year-old child who’s visiting.”

Caplan lost his own mother, who was living in a nursing home, to COVID-19 on Monday. He told MarketWatch on Wednesday that he would rather talk about how the nation’s health-care system needs to improve to address inequity, and do his best to help make things better.

The Moneyist:My state is reopening businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. Am I selfish if I go, or am I selfish if I stay home?

Medical professionals say hospitals work tirelessly to develop and maintain positive relationships with state and federal officials who allocate crucial resources for medical institutions. That funding, they say, can impact everything from personal protective equipment to federal research grants.

The Mayo Clinic received $150 million in federal funds under the CARES Act as part of $1.2 billion disclosed by hospitals and health systems, according to Axios. The hospital was also awarded $142 million in funding in 2016 over five years by the National Institutes of Health.

Did funding influence the hospital’s decision? “The current administration is a bit of a slot machine,” said Augie Lindmark, resident physician at Yale Primary Care Residency Training Program at Yale University. “It’s unpredictable if, when, and how they’re going to spit cash into health systems.”

“I have no idea if Vice President Pence got push back from Mayo Clinic officials about not wearing a mask,” he added. “If the vice president shows up at your doorstep at a time when hospitals are getting massive infusions of federal funds, the red carpet is rolling out, with or without masks.”

The Mayo Clinic later tweeted: “We are grateful that @VP and @GovTimWalz visited Mayo Clinic today to hear about our work fighting the #COVID19 pandemic. We look forward to continued collaboration to develop essential testing and treatment for our patients and communities.”

Umbereen Sultana Nehal, a Boston, Mass.-based pediatrician, said a perceived balance of power may have influenced staff at the Mayo Clinic not to push the issue by asking Vice President Pence to wear a gown and a mask, or even maintain social distancing while speaking to patients.

“There may have been reticence to challenge authority of a VIP or a VP,” Nehal said. “There may have been a belief that Vice President Pence, as head of the national task force on coronavirus, had greater authority than hospital regulations. Hospitals are terrified of repercussions.”

‘There may have been reticence to challenge authority of a VIP or a VP.’

— Umbereen Sultana Nehal, a Boston, Mass.-based pediatrician

“Very little of what is being done right now is based on usual standards,” she added. “For instance, an N95 is meant to be a single use mask, not for use over a week or to be sterilized as has been happening. There are many shocking things going on right now.”

Nehal previously served as a chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for a federally qualified health center, or FQHC, where she had to ensure compliance with federal, state and city regulations, and sign off on clinical guidelines for safety and quality.

For his part, Pence told reporters after the visit, “As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus, and since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here.”

Pence gave another reason why he did not wish to wear a mask, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told reporters he wanted “to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say, ‘Thank you.’”

But Alison Bateman-House, assistant professor at the division of medical ethics at New York University, said Pence could have been infected with coronavirus shortly after his last COVID-19 test, adding that testing for the disease in the U.S. has not always been accurate.

She said the Mayo Clinic may not have wanted to deny the vice president access for fear of a public reprisal from President Donald Trump, particularly on Twitter TWTR, -6.46%. Although the White House advised the public to wear masks in public places, the president said he would not wear one.

Don’t miss: Is 6 feet the ‘magic number’ in public spaces? As states reopen their economies, exercise caution in these public places

“No hospital wants to be on the receiving end of a presidential tongue lashing,” she said. “To me that indicates a lack of moral courage. If you’re in the health-care profession, you have to do what’s best for public health and the population without worrying about Monday morning quarterbacking.”

The response to COVID-19 has become a political issue. President Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have locked horns over when to reopen the economy. But Bateman-House said politics and patient safety don’t mix. “I don’t think this is a partisan issue at all,” she said.

Hospitals, she added, make hay from such high-profile visitors. “Any time you have a big name person come to your hospital, you use that news for fundraising and send it out to your donors.” This news, she said, is not worth sending. “Somebody seriously dropped the ball,” she added.

‘Somebody seriously dropped the ball. I don’t think this is a partisan issue at all.’

— Alison Bateman-House, assistant professor at the division of medical ethics at New York University

Bateman-House cited the case of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, who earlier this month defended her decision to get a haircut, while salons and barbershops were closed in her city. “I’m the public face of this city,” Lightfoot said. “I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”

Caplan also said this issue goes beyond the Mayo Clinic. “There’s a classic dilemma in health care: Celebrities and wealthy people get special treatment,” he said. “If you’re going to put yourself forward as an honest broker of public-health information, it’s an embarrassing moment.”

He said the episode reveals deeper problems in the health-care system. “When the elite don’t follow public-health rules like everybody else and the powerful have special access, it’s a stark reminder of the inequity that underlies our health-care system due to money, celebrity status or connections.”

In mid-March, during a nationwide shortage of tests for COVID-19, the National Basketball Association said that at least eight teams had tested positive for the virus, leading the NBA to cancel the remainder of the games for the season.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: “We wish them a speedy recovery. But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

The numbers keep climbing. As of Thursday, 6 million people had been tested in the U.S. for SARS-CoV-2. There were 1,040,488 confirmed cases, and 60,999 deaths in the U.S., of which 18,076 were in New York City. Worldwide, there were 3,212,262 confirmed cases and 228,299 deaths.

Also see: As Georgia and South Carolina start reopening for business, question hangs in air: Can the economy be saved without sacrificing lives?

The wealthiest Americans have the money and the real estate and — in some cases their private yachts — to quarantine themselves and wait the pandemic out, while the lowest-paid Americans are showing up for work, and putting their health and lives on the line.

One-third of frontline workers are members of low-income households, and non-white households have been hard hit, Gov. Cuomo previously said. “We see the infection rate among African-Americans and brown Americans higher proportionally than other groups,” Cuomo said. “Why? Because they were out there exposing themselves.”

“I am calling on the federal government to provide hazard pay to these frontline workers and give them a 50% bonus because they are the true heroes in this crisis,” he said, adding, “Essential public workers are the ones on the front lines every day.”

One-third of frontline workers are from low-income households, and 40% of health-care staff are people of color.

His office cited recent data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which states that 41% of frontline workers are people of color. Of those, 45% of public transit workers and 40% of health-care workers are people of color, and this week he lauded them for showing up for work.

“What if they said, ‘You don’t pay me enough to put my life in danger? I’m not doing it.’ They showed up. They didn’t show up for a pay check. They didn’t show up because government asked them to show up,” he said. “They showed up out of their honor, out of their values, out of their dignity.”

The Mayo Clinic, meanwhile, touts its top spot in the nation, per the U.S. News & World Report. “Mayo Clinic has more No. 1 rankings than any other provider based on factors such as reputation, mortality index, patient safety, nurse staffing and Magnet status, patient services and technology.”

The clinic states on its website: “Mayo Clinic physicians, scientists, researchers, educators and allied health staff members work together in a team-based model to deliver the highest standards of care and transform scientific discoveries into critical advances for unmet patient needs.”

Medical ethicists and health-care workers say healthy relationships with powerful donors and lawmakers enables medical centers to secure the resources that help them become leaders in their field. However, those same ties can also lead to conflicts of interest and poor decisions, they add.

“A lot of clinicians have been treated like Cassandra where we get disregarded or sidelined, but our concerns about safety have turned out to be true,” Nehal, the Boston-based pediatrician, added. “There’s no joy in being right. I’d rather see good results that put patient safety first.”

Encore: How will the coronavirus pandemic affect Social Security’s finances?

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A frequent question from the press is how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect Social Security finances. This topic was not covered in the Trustees Report released last week, as the report was prepared before the pandemic. Of course, no one knows the answer, because no one knows how long it will take to get the virus under control and how long it will take the economy to recover from the shutdown.

Read: Claim Social Security and still haven’t received your stimulus check? You’re not alone

That said, two pictures offer a useful way to think about the question.

The first is the conventional figure showing the program costs and income as a percentage of payrolls over the next 75 years (see figure 1 below). Clearly the system faces a problem since the cost rate exceeds the income rate. Before COVID-19 and our economic collapse, the Social Security system in 2020 was not bringing in enough tax revenue to cover promised benefits. Yet no one was concerned about benefits not being paid in full.

The reason for the lack of concern is the fact that Social Security has a pile of assets in its trust fund that it can use to cover the gap between cost and income for some period of time. In the 2020 Trustees Report, that period extends to 2035, at which point the trust fund is depleted and income and payroll taxes can cover only about 75% to 80% of benefits going forward.

Read: Thanks to COVID-19, Social Security’s day of reckoning may be close than we thought

So the impact of COVID-19 on Social Security finances could come through two routes. The pandemic could: 1) shift the long-run cost and income lines shown in figure 1; or 2) push forward the date when the trust fund runs out of money.

My sense of the 75-year cost and revenue lines is that they are not easily moved. It’s not impossible, but it’s not the first place I would look for action. The more likely route would be the depletion date for the trust find. To get a sense of that, I asked my colleague Anqi Chen to plot the projected depletion dates over time. She came up with the most extraordinary picture, which you can see in figure 2.

Before speculating about the impact of COVID-19, note what has happened between the 1983 legislation, which initiated the buildup, and the present. We used to have 65 years to figure out what to do once the trust fund was depleted; we now have 15. It’s pincer movement as time has moved forward on the one hand and the date of exhaustion has moved towards the present on the other.

With regard to the impact of COVID-19 on the trust fund assets, the effect is unlikely to be dramatic. The trust fund is about $3 trillion, about 2½ times annual benefits. Social Security is currently using the interest on trust fund assets to bridge the gap between cost and income and is scheduled to start drawing on the assets next year. If the COVID-19 economic collapse causes payroll taxes to drop by, say, 20% for two years, the depletion date would move up by about two years. That means we may soon be within 10 years of depletion.

Read: Baby boom or bust: How Social Security will be affected by the coronavirus lockdowns

As soon as we get the immediate issue of the pandemic off our plate, it would be a good idea to take steps to ensure that people retiring in the mid-2030s and later do not see a 20% to 25% cut in benefits.

Mortgage rates fall to new record low — here’s why some loan applicants won’t be offered them

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Mortgage rates have dipped to a record low for the second time in as many months amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to an average of 3.23% during the week ending April 30, a decrease of 10 basis points from the previous week, Freddie Mac FMCC, -1.81% reported this week. This represents the lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking this data starting in 1971. A year ago, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.14%.

Previously, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit an all-time low back in early March, when it dropped to 3.29%. Before that, the lowest rates recorded were seen back in November 2012 in the wake of the recession, when the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan fell to 3.31%.

Meanwhile, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped nine basis points to an average of 2.77%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.14%, down 14 basis points from a week ago.

Read more:Only 50% of Americans believe it’s a good time to buy a home, an all-time low, Gallup poll says

Freddie Mac’s report is based on a survey of lenders, and it reflects the dollar volume of conventional loans, meaning loans eligible for purchase by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae FNMA, -2.82%. The survey therefore does not reflect movements in rates for loans backed by other agencies, such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also doesn’t include rates for jumbo loans.

But whether borrowers get a loan featuring a record-low rate will depend on a number of factors. “While some borrowers could be quoted rates close to the lowest they’ve ever been, others either with less-than-excellent credit scores or seeking an atypical loan type — like jumbo or FHA loans — may be offered a much-higher rate,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist with real-estate firm Zillow ZG, -2.02% .

In recent weeks, some banks have begun tightening the standards prospective borrowers must meet in order to get a home loan. Mortgage companies have become stingier in terms of who they’ll lend to because of the risk posed by the current economic environment.

There’s an increased chance that a borrower could lose their job soon after getting a mortgage, which would make it much more difficult for them to make their monthly payments. Lenders are eager to avoid that at a time when some 3.5 million homeowners have already requested relief from making their monthly mortgage payments.

Also see:More than half of renters say they lost jobs due to coronavirus: ‘They could face housing situations that spiral out of control’

Nevertheless, in spite of the challenges people may face getting a low-interest rate mortgage, Americans continue to apply for new home loans in droves. “These low rates are driving higher refinance activity and have modestly helped improve purchase demand from their extremely low levels in mid-April,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Last week, the volume of refinance applications was more than three times larger than it was a year ago — a reflection of the appeal of low rates, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The number of Americans applying for loans used to purchase homes, while 20% down from last year, had nonetheless improved after hitting a five-year low.

But low rates won’t be enough to change the tides in the housing market, experts said. The number of listings of homes for sale continues to decrease as home buyers and sellers across America have grown wary of making such a large transaction given the state of the economy.

“Many buyers — stuck at home and worried about their jobs — have hit the ‘pause’ button,” George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com, said. “With financing less of an incentive and inventory disappearing, we will see a sharp contraction in sales over the next two months.”

FA Center: The help investors need most from financial advisers is often not about money

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We avoid handshakes nowadays. But for advisers, hand-holding (metaphorically speaking) never stops. It’s more important than ever now. Jittery clients express dismay and seek reassurance from a levelheaded financial adviser who can guide them through these scary times.

Just as insurance claim adjusters aim to deliver exceptional service to shaken customers who lose their home in a fire, advisers often pride themselves on calming anxious clients amid brutal market downturns.It’s in these harrowing days that advisers prove their worth and provide psychological succor.

“I started my career in early 2000 when nobody made any money in the stock market, so I learned early on not to pretend you know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said David Shotwell, a certified financial planner in Lansing, Mich. “Just talk about what we know now” and reinforce the importance of sticking to the long-term plan.

Ideally, an adviser’s hand-holding leaves clients feeling grounded and grateful. They come away thinking, “I’m so glad I’ve got this expert keeping me on track.”

But there’s a right and wrong way to calm agitated clients. An adviser who is naturally excitable will want to speak softer and slower. Pause often to give clients ample opportunity to chime in with questions or comments. Forcing them to interrupt to get a word in adds an aggressive edge to what should be a soothing conversation.

“You can’t beat clients over the head with logic,” Shotwell said. “You need empathy. The client is feeling something real. So we need to listen” before launching into explanations of what’s happening and what it all means.

He knows that one of the main reasons panicky clients call is “they want you to remind them again that they’re OK.” So he obliges, focusing on the long time horizon for their investments and offering historical perspective on bear markets and the inevitable recovery.

“One thing I don’t talk about is risk tolerance,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘You told me you were comfortable taking more risk, so this is what comes with that.’”

Even if true, it’s not productive to raise that point in a severe market selloff. Emotions can flare and tensions can boil over as clients claim that they misunderstood their risk exposure.

For Lisa Kirchenbauer, a certified financial planner in Arlington, Va., calming clients sometimes means less talking and more breathing. When a self-employed, 50-year-old client fretted about her income declining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirchenbauer replied over the phone, “Let’s stop for a second and take a couple of deep breaths together.”

“It worked beautifully,” Kirchenbauer said. “The client said that was really helpful.”

In preparing for fraught conversations with clients, Kirchenbauer might take a few deep breaths herself before picking up the phone. “Whatever it is you need to do so that you show up centered,” she said. “Clients want to hear a calm, reassuring voice.”

Repeating the same points to dozens of clients in one-on-one chats can prove taxing, even if you sound soothing in call after call. Broadcasting your voice for all to hear enables you to reach a wider audience — and calm more people in less time.

More: How to trust that your financial adviser can shield you from the coronavirus fallout

Also read: When stress hits you like a slap in the face, how do you respond?

‘It’s something we’re going to have to get used to.’ How businesses reopening in Georgia could give a preview of what’s waiting for consumers across the country

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In Savannah, Ga., the first step for a haircut is now a temperature check.

In Marietta, Ga., people will have to make disinfectant wipe downs of gym equipment part of their workout routine.

And at one bowling and arcade chain across the state, bowlers will not be allowed to handle any ball they choose; they’ll be taking the one given to them by a worker wearing a face mask.

Almost a month after Georgia’s shelter-in-place orders temporarily closed businesses where there is close human contact, such as beauty salons, gyms and bowling alleys, those closures have ended. Gyms, barbershops and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen Friday, and restaurants were allowed to open Monday, albeit with new social distancing rules.

Georgia is one of the first states trying to reopen its economy. The move has supporters who say this is a necessary step and critics who say it’s happening too soon.

Either way, it’s giving the rest of America a glimpse at what everyday life could be like when walking out of the house during the global pandemic’s new phase.

“The new normal for us is definitely different. It’s something we’re going to have to get used to,” said Shannon Stafford, owner of New Era Hair Studio and Restoration. The Savannah beauty parlor now has a sign on the door saying “NO MASK NO ENTRY!!!” in bold red letters.

Stafford had one client Friday to test her new way of doing business. That includes face masks for both stylists and clients, and Clorox PG, +0.16% bleach wipe-downs of the sinks after every use. Both of those are Stafford’s rules. Temperature checks for customers are the state’s rules, she explained.

Stafford has a two-week waiting customer list, but that’s also because she’s only seeing three or four customers a day now. “My business is still suffering financially because I decided not to go full force with this. I want to take baby steps,” she said.

‘The last thing these people want to be is sick and miss a workout’

In Marietta, Dan Cardin, owner of Cardin’s Classic Gym, used to get to work just before 6:30 a.m. to open the doors for his early-bird customers.

He reopened five days ago, and now he gets to the gym at 5 a.m. to wipe down all the equipment with commercial-grade disinfectant and get the fans moving for better air flow. Throughout the day, he’ll wipe down the bathroom every hour.

Don’t miss: As more than a dozen states begin to reopen their economies, experts advise extra caution in these public spaces

Masks and gloves are optional for the gym’s clients, but everyone has to wipe down equipment with disinfectant wipes before and after use, he said. The health-conscious clientele have been taking the rules seriously, he said. “The last thing these people want to be is sick and miss a workout,” Cardin said.

Now some people wear masks when doing leg squats at Cardin’s Classic Gym. But no one’s spotted someone else on the bench press so far.

Cardin has seen some exercisers wearing masks during squats — that’s a tough leg exercise where someone can exhale deeply. So far, he hasn’t seen people spotting each another on the bench press.

Cardin, a health major in college who hasn’t seen his 81-year-old father in five weeks, emphasizes he is taking the virus’ threat seriously as he reopens. “The whole world is watching” how Georgia businesses reopen, he said.

‘Every business is in the health and wellness business’

The Peach State has become a flashpoint in the debate over whether the time is right for Americans to get back to shopping and business. It’s a high-wire act that’s balancing people’s health with an economic recovery.

Georgia had 25,274 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,052 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. Georgia accounts for almost 2.5% of America’s 1 million COVID-19 cases and roughly 1.7% of the nation’s 58,965 deaths.

Seven-day averages on new cases show Georgia has been leveling and trending down, at least for now, since mid-April. As of Wednesday, new confirmed cases had been dropping for nine straight days.

The Trump administration’s plans to reopen the economy say one benchmark is a 14-day downward trajectory for new cases.

To be sure, some stores in Georgia are choosing not to open up just yet, including some major retailers such as Macy’s M, +1.33% and The Gap GAP,

All businesses are now trying sell peace of mind to bring customers through their doors, said Chris Clark, president & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

‘If you lose the confidence of the general public, if you can’t win the confidence back, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.’

— Chris Clark, president & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce

“Every business in Georgia, every business in America, is in the health and wellness business,” he said, later adding, “If you lose the confidence of the general public, if you can’t win the confidence back, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

Customers get the final say on what they’re comfortable doing

The consumer’s frame of mind is critical for what happens next, said Chris Albano, co-owner of Stars and Strikes, an entertainment chain that offers bowling, arcades, and food and drink in 15 stores across five southern states.

“All of us, as consumers, have to make a decision for ourselves based on what we want to do and don’t want to do,” Albano said.

See also:My state is reopening businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. Am I selfish if I go, or am I selfish if I stay home?

Whatever customers decide, Albano’s going to get his facilities in line with state and federal safety rules in the COVID-19 age. Technically, Stars and Strikes could have reopened its 10 Georgia facilities last Friday, but Albano said he’s aiming to reopen those stores on May 8.

The chain needed time to make physical adjustments and train staff on what lies ahead.

Every other bowling lane will be open. The arcade will turn off every other game, and all games will get wiped down every hour. There will be protective screens installed at cash registers. “There are no longer balls on bowling racks. For now, that’s a thing of the past,” he said.

Before the outbreak, Stars and Strikes employed 1,600 people. It dropped to 50 staffers at one point and now is back up to 250, and could add on another 200 to 250 by next week, Albano said. But Albano also has to see what business will be like, he noted.

The business secured a loan from the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill’s Paycheck Protection Program. Albano’s grateful for the lifeline, but thinks businesses need a longer window to meet the forgiveness terms of the loan.

‘The most risky time of all, with what we are dealing with, is the start up. It’s not the time you shut down.’

— Chris Albano, co-owner of Stars and Strikes

“The most risky time of all, with what we are dealing with, is the start up. It’s not the time you shut down,” Albano explained.

When businesses temporarily closed down, they could negotiate on rent and banking terms with banks and landlords that understood business owners were in predicaments they didn’t create.

But now, economies are starting to reopen and consumer money is supposed to start coming in, Albano said. “Once you start back up again, that understanding starts to change again.”

Half of all Americans are canceling their summer vacations — what to expect in refunds from cruise lines, hotels and airlines

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Vacation is all Americans ever wanted this summer, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are looking at lost money instead.

Forty-eight percent of Americans have canceled summer travel plans because of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey of 1,200 people from personal-finance website ValuePenguin, a subsidiary of LendingTree TREE, +11.70% . Comparatively, only 16% of people said they have not canceled their summer itineraries, while the remaining respondents had no travel planned for the warmer months.

Meanwhile, some 46% of people said they had lost money on nonrefundable travel expenses due to COVID-19-related cancellations. Those who cancelled plans lost more than $850 on average. Most of those losses stemmed from airfare (59% of consumers), followed by hotel bookings (44%).

Also see: How the canceled music festival Tomorrowland Winter is getting a private-equity-owned travel giant entangled in a legal fight

But consumers can take steps to ensure that canceled travel plans don’t lead to significant financial losses. “Policies are all over the map right now,” said Sara Rathner, credit card and travel expert at NerdWallet. “Before calling customer service, review the company’s cancelation policy so you know what you’re entitled to.”

Here are some tips for thwarted travelers planning to stay home this summer:

Who is offering cash refunds?

Not all travel providers are offering cash refunds — and even those that are will have limitations on who can receive them.

Airlines, including Delta DAL, +12.24%, United UAL, +12.10% and JetBlue JBLU, +12.30% , have amended their cancelation policies to get rid of change fees in light of the coronavirus outbreak. But travelers will be out of luck when it comes to getting a refund with most carriers if they elect to cancel their trip proactively. While the Department of Transportation requires airlines to provide a refund if the carrier cancels a flight, a travel will typically only get their money back in the form of a credit or voucher if they choose to forgo a trip.

Don’t miss:Airlines are issuing billions of dollars in vouchers — but can you still get a cash refund for coronavirus-related flight cancellations?

“There’s no benefit to taking the voucher,” said Chris Elliott, a travel consumer advocate. “All the benefit is to the airline.”

As a result, people are better off waiting to cancel their travel plans until the last minute. In that time, the airline might reschedule or cancel the flight, making a passenger eligible for a refund.

Meanwhile, many major hotel chains have introduced flexible cancelation policies that allow consumers to receive refunds. For instance, any new or existing reservations at Hilton HLT, +4.66% hotels through June 30 can be changed or canceled at no charge, even reservations that were previously denoted as “non-cancelable.” The same is true at hotels owned by Hyatt H, +5.42%, Marriott MAR, +9.80% and Choice Hotels. CHH, +4.80%

In most cases, cancelations must be made at least 24 hours in advance to be eligible for a refund. If a customer wishes to change the dates of their trip, they may be subject to the difference in room rates.

Many cruise lines are also offering refunds to travelers who have either canceled planned trips or who are unable to go on their vacation due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order, according to travel website Cruise Critic. Travelers could encounter difficulty getting refunds though if the trip was paid for using points or gift cards.

But people who can’t travel this summer, yet still want to go on a cruise vacation in the future might find it advantageous to get a credit instead. Many cruise lines, including Princess CCL, +15.42% and Norwegian NCLH, +25.36% , are offering future credits worth more the original cruise fare — in same cases, the credit can be worth double the original amount paid.

“Which option to choose isn’t as easy of a decision as you might think,” Cruise Critic senior editor Erica Silverstein wrote. “Should you take the certainty of cash or be tempted by “free money” to use toward a longer cruise or nicer cabin than you initially booked?”

Also see:This disturbing visual of how viruses spread in planes might make you feel a lot better about staying at home

How to improve your chances of getting money back

Don’t call right away. The phone lines at airlines, hotels and cruise lines are jammed with people doing the same thing: Canceling their trips. “Customer service hold times are so long right now that I typically start with an email, unless I must have an answer today,” Rathner said.

If you do call, make sure to have all your trip information handy to ensure the call is fast and productive — and be prepared to wait on hold for an extended period of time.

Read more:How do I self-quarantine? Can I walk my dog? Be warned, there can be legal consequences for violators

Book trips with the right credit card. Many credit cards offer travel protection as one of their perks — and that protection can come in handy in the current situation. “This can help you get your money back if you must cancel your trip because you or a family member becomes ill before you leave,” Rathner said. “It can also help cover the cost of cutting your trip short if you get sick while traveling.”

Not all travel insurance policies will help. If you didn’t purchase your travel insurance before the coronavirus first cropped up, it likely won’t cover any losses from canceling a trip. The only exception are “cancel for any reason” policies — but these are usually more expensive and can have their own exclusions.

If you get a voucher, ask questions. Most travel vouchers that airlines and other companies are offering have a use-by date. Travelers should confirm what happens if the voucher’s expiration date comes around before the coronavirus has dissipated, Rathner said. And make sure the voucher can be used for any trip or destination, not just the original itinerary.

If all else fails, go to social media. While publicly complaining on Facebook FB, +6.16% or TWTR, +7.98% shouldn’t necessarily be a traveler’s first way of seeking a refund, it can be useful, U.S. PIRG wrote. If “they don’t allow you to change, cancel or receive a voucher for your travel, you can ask the airline to expand their coverage via social media,” the consumer advocacy organization said. “If enough people take this action by posting and tagging the airline or hotel chain, it may cause them to reconsider their policy during this time.”

Outside the Box: This banker says big banks are getting it wrong by tightening their mortgage-refinancing standards right now

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Big banks — recently JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — are tightening standards for mortgage and home equity loans. Wells Fargo is only allowing customers with at least $250,000 in liquid assets to refinance; JPMorgan JPM, +2.69% is requiring 20% down and a credit score of over 700.

They’re worried, apparently, that Main Street Americans can’t be trusted with credit. I beg to differ: In the Great Recession of 2008, big banks closed their doors on many middle-class Americans. Credit unions did not. The one I run — PenFed Credit Union, which is the nation’s second-largest federal credit union by members and open to everyone — did not. But we didn’t see higher loan defaults. Instead, we did better than ever.

Today, as our membership of 1.9 million Americans continues to grow, we aren’t turning our backs on those who need us. PenFed’s conforming conventional mortgage loans allow for a minimum credit score of 620, a low down payment, and liquid asset requirements are based on individual member credit profiles. Other credit unions across the country share the same approach, even if the details vary.

In 2009, delinquency for mortgage loans with credit unions peaked at 1.61%, compared to 8.86% at banks. Between 2008 and 2012, credit unions saw a much lower percentage of liquidations or mergers than FDIC-insured banks. And credit union membership grew year over year — from 89.3 million people and $884.7 billion in assets in 2009 to 119.6 million members and $1.54 trillion in assets in 2019.

During the Great Recession, credit unions continued lending and worked with members facing financial challenges. It wasn’t just the right ethical move; it also turned out to be the right financial move.

It turns out Main Street Americans are trustworthy after all.

This is something financial institutions should remember during these challenging times. It seems that as the world has moved online, many have forgotten that once upon a time, financial services happened between people who knew each other. A shop owner — let’s call him Joe — used to go into his local bank or credit union to deposit his paycheck, where he would see his neighbor, Sam, behind the desk. Joe knew Sam wouldn’t steal his money or give him bad advice; Sam knew Joe was careful with his money and always paid his debts. In fact, their kids played together after school.

Banking used to be an interaction of mutual trust; today, that’s not always the case. In small-town America, especially in local credit unions, these kinds of interactions still take place. But they’re the exception, not the norm. Americans have become numbers instead of faces to many financial institutions. Algorithms determine if we’re “good risks” or “bad risks.” There’s little gray area. And Americans, in turn, are evaluating financial institutions from rates on a screen, instead of from trustworthiness, service and word of mouth.

Read:Your bank could lower your credit-card limit — what to do if that happens

Now more than ever, we need a “people helping people” financial model. An emergency-room nurse in Ohio may have painstakingly built $50,000 in liquid assets and paid every bill in her life on time. She’s risking her life every day on the frontlines helping others, but banks like Wells Fargo WFC, +3.91% would deny her the opportunity to refinance, as she doesn’t have $250,000 in liquid assets. Seriously?

In contrast, PenFed’s mortgage division set new records this past quarter — volumes, approvals and closed loans were up over 300% over 2019’s first quarter. I’m also proud that we’ve been able to hire over 150 new employees in the past month and a half. This isn’t because we’re recklessly handing out loans to make ourselves richer (credit unions are nonprofits, which means profits go back to members instead of shareholders). It’s because we’re offering loans to financially responsible Americans — not just wealthy Americans. More and more Americans are opening their eyes to credit unions for their personal service and their market leading rates.

This model of accessibility and reliability is the model our country’s financial system should be turning to right now — not a model of exclusivity. The Federal Reserve has been boosting liquidity for banks to encourage them to lend more; instead, they’re lending less. How is this supposed to help our economy rebuild? How does it help Main Street Americans in their time of need?

We may not run into our neighbors at the bank on Saturdays anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t operate on the same honorable principles. This means helping all responsible Americans buy homes, no matter what their tax bracket is.

Now read:The No. 1 mistake to avoid if you’re skipping your mortgage payments

James R. Schenck is president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation.

NerdWallet: Can you make your car last 200,000 miles? You can, and you should

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

You typically change cars every few years, but with economic uncertainty looming, you’re thinking you should look for ways to save money.

Look no further than that car already in your driveway.

Keeping your car running longer, and avoiding a car payment and higher insurance premiums, could be a financial life preserver during the coming years. Your car is up to the task — these days cars can last for 200,000 miles or more, says David Bennett, AAA’s manager of repair systems.

“It really comes down to the maintenance and care for the vehicle — and maybe a little bit of luck,” Bennett says.

But pushing your car to 100,000 miles and beyond requires a different mind-set, too. Your goal: Keep the car feeling new as long as possible and learn how to deal with the aches and pains and charms of a not-new vehicle.

Also see: The new world of car-buying: Remote negotiation, home delivery and no-touch test drives

Bennett recommends following your vehicle’s maintenance schedule and building a relationship with a repair facility or mechanic you trust.

Here are other the steps experts recommend to keep your car humming for a long, long time:

Understand required maintenance

Modern cars have computer systems to track how many miles you’ve driven and illuminate a light — often an icon of a wrench — on your gauge cluster when service is needed, Bennett explains. This light most often illuminates when you need an oil and filter change and tire rotation.

See: The road to riches is this simple: Drive a crappy car

But at longer intervals, more maintenance is needed, which can be costly. Rather than blindly accepting the recommendations of a dealership service adviser, who often tacks on extra repair items, find out exactly what’s required by reviewing your maintenance schedule.

Easier than cracking the owner’s manual, which is confusing to many car owners, is checking your car’s required maintenance on the CarMD Garage, says David Rich, the company’s technical director. Not only will this help you budget for maintenance but the information will “allow you to speak with confidence to a mechanic.”

Keep up on fluids and wear items

In addition to oil and filter changes, Bennett says, other fluids need changing at regular intervals, especially as your car motors past the 100,000-mile mark. Brake, power steering and transmission fluids, as well as coolant, should be changed on schedule. However, carmakers are stretching those fluid replacement intervals in modern cars.

It’s also smart to ask your mechanic to keep an eye on brake pad thickness, says Bennett. If you get enough warning about a required brake service, you can budget for it ahead of time. Then, get it done next time you come in for an oil change. Rotating your tires regularly will make sure the tread wears evenly and postpone the need for expensive tire replacement.

Get ahead of a breakdown

Maintenance is cheaper than repairs. So don’t let developing mechanical problems go unaddressed, says Rich.

Innova Electronics, CarMD’s sister company, sells an inexpensive device that plugs into your car’s computer, via the onboard diagnostics port, and wirelessly sends alerts to your smartphone when service is needed. CarMD and Innova use data from 500 million vehicle inspections to predict what might go wrong with your car.

“Predictive diagnostics,” Rich says, is a “forward view of problems that could come up in the next 15,000 miles of driving.” Early inspection and replacement of a key component “could keep you from being stranded by the side of the road.”

Do the little things yourself

A great way to save money, and time, is to perform some basic maintenance tasks.

For example, changing the windshield wipers takes only a few minutes and is an important safety feature. Another easy task is replacing the cabin air filter. Two minutes on YouTube can turn up a step-by-step video showing you how. Innova’s site has online DIY videos, rated by difficulty level, and connects with Amazon to help you buy the right parts.

Keep your car looking young

If you’re going to keep your car a long time, you’ll want it to age gracefully. This will be a boost to your morale and will motivate you to give it the care it deserves. Here’s what Bennett recommends to keep the exterior fresh:

  • Give it a bath. Even during the winter, rinse off your car regularly to prevent paint wear, and remember to spray the undercarriage, too. Remove bugs, tree sap and bird poop that can eat through the paint.
  • Wax on. Yes, there’s a clear-coat layer, but even that needs protection with a twice-a-year wax job.
  • Care for the armor. Touch-up paint is inexpensive and, properly applied, can prevent a paint chip from starting a rust spot.
  • See clearly. Some insurance companies will pay for a replacement of a windshield that is cracked or chipped. This is important for proper visibility, but the windshield also adds to the structural integrity of the car.

Inside, you’ll need to:

  • Catch spills early. Wipe up spills as soon as they happen or they’ll become harder to remove. Avoid strong cleaners, such as bleach, that could damage the fabric.
  • Shampoo seats and carpets. Steam cleaning, or even a DIY shampoo, will make your car smell and look newer.
  • Vacuum often. This is a small step with big results. Buying an inexpensive car vacuum makes it easier to spot-clean your car and saves money in the long run. You’ll be glad you took the extra effort each time you slide into the driver’s seat.
More from NerdWallet:

Philip Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: articles@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AutoReed.

Personal Finance Daily: How to trust that your financial adviser can shield you from the coronavirus fallout and can the economy be saved without sacrificing lives?

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Hang in there, MarketWatchers, and don’t miss these top stories:

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14 million Americans risk major delays in their stimulus checks — should they use Square, PayPal or a bank account?

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What daily life during the pandemic looks like to people across the U.S., and beyond

MarketWatch asked readers to share pictures of what life during a pandemic looks like for them. Here are some of the images and stories they shared with us.

‘We hope normalcy will not happen all of a sudden’: Hindu leaders have an inclusive message for all Americans during the coronavirus pandemic

‘With the pandemic going on and people being sequestered in their homes, there is a need for that religious and spiritual connection.’

If your dead relative received a stimulus check, you should return it to the feds, Mnuchin says

Some tax experts say the CARES Act doesn’t allow the IRS to take back money sent to dead people.

Here’s how small businesses can slash their bills during the coronavirus shutdown and afterward

The scramble for federal assistance isn’t the only way that small businesses can fight to survive the COVID-19 shutdown. From suspending garbage service to trimming the fat on a phone contract and more, these bill-cutting measures can help during better economic times, too.

As Georgia and South Carolina start reopening for business, question hangs in air: Can the economy be saved without sacrificing lives?

‘You can’t ask the people of this state or this country to choose between lives lost and dollars gained,’ New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Pending home sales drop to lowest level since 2011 as coronavirus takes its toll

Documents are now being signed in parking lots rather than the offices of title insurers and attorneys.

1 in 7 Americans wouldn’t seek coronavirus treatment because it probably costs too much

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Farm state Democrats come out swinging at Trump’s processing plant order

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These public companies are returning emergency loans meant for small businesses

The Treasury Department says Paycheck Protection Program loans are not meant for “a public company with substantial market value and access to capital markets” and given big borrowers a May 7 deadline. Here’s how the returns are going.

A loyalty program for mutual funds? Fidelity tries something new

A new offering from Fidelity Investments inhabits a gray areas amid the market shift, and suggests that there’s more life left in the mutual fund space than ETF-watchers might realize.

Gilead’s news saved the day for the stock market, which is in a high-risk area

The drug company’s treatment for the coronavirus sent the broader market soaring. Prudent investors will note the shaky ground underneath.

CityWatch: Office reopenings may come with staggered shifts, increased hygiene and recalibrated spaces

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As employees transition back to offices in New York City and around the U.S. post-coronavirus lockdown, they’re likely to return to a very different reality. 

When the time eventually comes to reopen — a move officials have advised should be a gradual process — businesses will have to “think about how they’re going to reopen with this quote-unquote new normal,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said over the weekend. “What precautions are they going to take in the workplace? What safeguards are they going to put in place? It’s very much going to be up to businesses.”

Once such change will be the use of square footage. In New York City, larger companies may start “downgrading space,” according to Andrew Feldman, a Compass broker who specializes in residential and commercial investment property sales. 

“You’re going to see larger corporations with lots of staff taking small satellite offices [in suburban spots like Long Island and Westchester] and downgrading in New York City,” Feldman said. 

“I think most [companies] right now are looking out for potentially another drop in the stock market. Most companies are going to be risk-averse,” Feldman said, and find the “most cost effective way of keeping employees safe.”

Across the board, some organizations “may choose to expand their space to allow for everyone to still be together while also adhering to any new physical distancing guidelines,” according to Elizabeth Brink, principal at San Francisco-based design and architecture firm Gensler. 

Related: Limited seating, disposable menus, possible temperature checks: The future of small business in New York

“Some may choose to keep their current square footage and use shifts with a more permanent work from home plus working in the office combination. And, we may see some companies realize they can run their businesses effectively with a much smaller office and many people working largely from home,” she said. 

Beyond their physical footprint, offices are going to witness other changes as workers start coming back through the doors.

“There’s been a big realization that we need to take care of the health and cleanliness of our environments,” Brink said. “And a big shift of people who thought they’d never work from home are working from home.”

Each is going to lead to a “fundamental shift in office dynamics and that will really change things over the long run,” she said. 

Phase one of returning to work is almost certainly going to see employees working in the office in shifts, according to Dr. Anna Tavis, academic director of the Human Capital Management Department at the NYU School of Professional Studies. In addition to reducing density in the office, this would help prevent masses of people from crowding the subway during rush hours. 

Also see: Coronavirus took a bite out of the wedding industry — but is this force majeure or force of government?

“For us in New York, it’s not even the office, I’m more concerned with getting back on the Q train in rush hour,” Tavis said. 

While at work, companies will likely want to continue to enforce some level of social distancing, which we have all become accustomed to while in public or grocery shopping. 

“Not only do you want people with six to eight feet of space between them, but you want to make sure people aren’t facing each other. If they have to be [facing], maybe put up some barrier, maybe plexiglass,” Brink said. “A lot of people are thinking about if people should be wearing masks, especially in the beginning.”

Companies are also mulling the benefits of sensor bands that alert people if they get too close to another person wearing a sensor, she said. 

“There are physical as well as behavioral solutions,” and part of the initial return to the office will be setting those new normals and policies, according to Brink.

Another part of the new normal will be companies setting new rules on cleanliness and communicating them to employees. “It reassures you,” Brink said. And “that level of reassurance will be really important going forward.”

Looking further ahead from the immediate challenge of transitioning back to the office, more people will likely be given the flexibility to continue working from home completely or to do so more regularly, according to Tavis. 

“We kind of assume that collaboration means physical presence in one place,” according to Tavis. “But now we’ve learned that’s not the case.”

“What is the role of personal proximity in the workplace? We’ve never been asked that before,” Tavis said. “We assume we need to work together and work together means one room, one location and now we’ve got other options, so this is the space that we need to define.”

Those changes will also determine companies’ floorplans, too. 

“Offices have been more of a hybrid office with open and closed spaces, and I think that balancing point will probably shift,” Brink said. “People will be doing some of their work at home so the use of space may recalibrate.” We’ll see “more of a collaboration space, more social space because that’s what’s really driving people to the office in the future.”