Coronavirus Quick Takes March 30,2020
March 30, 2020
Welcome to day two of Coronavirus Quick Takes. Before we dive into our Quick Take for today, we want to mention that we will be hosting a webinar this week, entitled “Small Business Resources During The Shutdown”. We’ll have more details for you tomorrow!
Today let’s try to answer a question that’s on everybody’s mind: How long will we need to stay cooped up in our homes?
Many of you know that my (Ken’s) first career was as a physician. I also had a subspecialty in public health and preventive medicine, serving as the first Coordinator of Preventive Care for Kaiser-Permanente Southern California. Thus, the coronavirus pandemic plays into my previous career as well as my current one.
To reduce the rate of spread of COVID-19, we’re being asked to practice “social distancing;” a more accurate label would be “physical separation.” Keeping people apart makes it less likely for the virus to jump from person to person. But we can’t keep this up forever, either financially or psychologically. At some point, we’re going to have to let people be in closer proximity to each other.
A quick note about the psychological toll of the pandemic. Alongside worrying about your money and your health (and that of friends and loved ones), our routines have been radically altered, adding another layer of stress. On top of this, we aren’t able to see many of our friends and loved ones in person, and those we do see need to stay 6 feet away. These added stressors make living through this period meaningfully more difficult than previous economic and market downturns.
On top of all this, many of us are trying to work from home. This transition isn’t easy, either. As Karmel Choi of the Harvard School of Public Health noted, “Be kind to yourself and others. We shouldn’t be pushing for normal productivity. We’re not just working from home. We’re working from home in a pandemic. If things feel different it’s because they are different.”
Naturally, we all want everything to go back to normal as soon as possible. Realistically, when will that be? First, realize that “normal”—meaning life as it was before the virus—likely won’t happen for several months (and some things may never again be the same). But I certainly don’t think we’re going to stay locked in our homes for months on end.
Based on the most current data I have, plus the opinion of experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci (who was already a big deal when I was a medical resident), I believe that the “shelter in place” phase now in effect in many states need only last for 6 to 10 weeks. Those areas that started early (e.g., the Seattle, WA area) will probably be done with this phase of physical separation sooner than places that started later. Thus, I think we’re looking at a phased lifting of shelter-in-place orders beginning in late April and probably ending by early June.
What comes next? The economy will need to reopen gradually, starting with the most critical areas and also those where it is easiest to keep people physically separated. Here are some guesses as to how it might go:
First might be manufacturing where you can keep people density relatively low. Next in line could be low-density retail, followed by high-density retail and moving remote workers back into the office. Last would be large, nonessential, communal spaces, such as churches, bars, sporting events and conventions.
Sounds like it might take a while before the world reverts to some semblance of normal. Possibly. But humans are endlessly creative, and we can think of many ways that theoretically high-risk businesses and venues could start operating again. Here are a few examples:
Restaurants: Keep tables 6 feet apart. Limit party size to four. All employees have their temperature taken at the start of every shift; employees with a fever (or cough) are sent home with sick pay. Kitchen workers wear masks and gloves, possibly servers as well. Every table is sanitized between parties. Yes, it’s a lot of work and fewer people will be served, but it’s way better than being closed or just having takeout.
Movie theaters: Patrons are asked not to come if they feel at all ill. Every patron has their temperature taken by scanner and those with fever are denied entry. Only every other row is used and there is at least one empty seat between parties. Again, theaters will be less than half full, but that’s better than being closed.
Air travel: We’re already used to arriving at the airport early for TSA; we’ll have to get used to adding a bit more time for COVID-19 screening. First, we’ll obviously need to enforce physical distancing at the airport (with traffic likely way down, this should not be a problem). Every passenger completes a questionnaire regarding exposure and symptoms. Everyone has their temperature taken. Those with fever or a positive questionnaire are sent home. Planes are sanitized between flights (happening already). Passengers sanitize throughout the flight. We could even require (and hand out) masks to be extra careful.
We could go on, and these are just ideas. The point is that there is a middle ground between total lockdown and business as usual that can get us through to next year, when we will likely have a vaccine. Don’t underestimate the power of human creativity.
In our next edition of Coronavirus Quick Takes, we’ll look at the three main types of bear markets and recessions, and why the current type (event driven) is likely to be much shorter than average.
Ken Waltzer MD, MPH, AIF®, CFA, CFP®
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