Not long ago we remained arms distance away from people who looked or sounded sick. Anyone else could receive handshakes, a friendly hug, or perhaps a kiss on the cheek. During collaborations at work, we might look over someone’s shoulder and congratulate them with a handshake or “high five.” Physical interactions were normal.
The coronavirus pandemic has redefined normal. It set off a chain reaction of events that only theoretical models can estimate. Life is different when we leave our homes. We have always had what we consider personal space. This is the invisible perimeter in which we only let friends encroach. Health officials now define a distance of 6 feet (2 meters), and in some areas 10 feet (3 meters). Often, even family living outside our homes cannot traverse this new perimeter. Social distancing virtually eliminates physical interactions. We pretty much assume everyone has the coronavirus.
Our vocabulary includes new phrases like “social distancing” and “shelter in place.” The way we cough and sneeze has evolved; some have learned to suppress these bodily functions to avoid ostracism. Americans even revealed their obsession with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants.
Masking The Problem
Do you recall when crowds were suspicious of people wearing face masks publicly? On April 3, 2020, those without them suddenly began attracting askance. You may now be acquiring a collection of face masks as fashion accessories. Fear that some version of the virus is lurking may extend this habit of donning masks after vaccines are available.
“Some people refuse to wear masks, regardless of state and government recommendations. Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief that the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask,” city manager Norman McNickle said in a statement. “No law or court supports this view.”
We now routinely wash our hands, keys, groceries, desks, countertops, and floors. Will the customary greeting of shaking hands ever make a comeback? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director, said Americans will wash hands more frequently and should never shake hands again. What began as a precaution might become an obsessive disorder.
Alarm clocks are no longer necessary for many. Sleeping midday to pass the time and wake up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning is not unusual while sheltering in place. Or perhaps, if you are not an “essential worker,” you stay up late binge-watching movies and awaken late in the day.
This is unprecedented since U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act on June 25, 1938: Some drug companies are manufacturing vaccines prior to completion of phase 3 trials. In case you don’t know, phase 3 involves tests on humans to record reactions and contraindications. Yes, thousands of test subjects agree to get injections of experimental drugs and then receive exposure to COVID-19 for evaluation. To be clear, clinical trials are underway and vaccines must still receive FDA approval.
Do you love going outside for a jog or walk? How about running to the gym for a good workout? During shelter-in-place orders, gyms were shut down nationwide. Some are reopening with private workout cubicles. Team sports and spin classes will be absent for awhile. Bring sanitizing hand wipes to clean barbells and equipment before and after use.
Walking, jogging or biking outside remains allowable. A mask is not required in unpopulated areas as long as you maintain a 10–12 foot perimeter (but this may change). So a mask is becoming the norm even on uncrowded sidewalks.
Food Service Changes
With 85 percent of grocery store workers reporting to their union that customers are not practicing social distancing in stores, dozens of grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus. You may have inadvertently killed a few while asking onto which aisle they moved the potato chips. We may be entering an era where public shopping is no longer allowable. Many stores are making the transition to pickup and delivery. Those that open may implement one-way aisles.
“You break; you pay,” is gradually becoming: “You touch; you buy.” No one wants you squeezing fruits and vegetables or reaching to the back of grocery shelves. Touch as little as possible. Grasp from the top or front and place into your sanitized shopping cart. Leave your reusable bags at home. Clerks won’t touch them. Who knows what germs they may contain or when they were last disinfected?
Michigan and Vermont have ordered stores including Walmart, Costco and Target to sell only essential items. Summit County, Colorado, took a similar step, as did Howard County, Indiana, which cited reports from retail employees “who witness customers congregating at the store because they are bored at home and come to the store to browse and buy only nonessential goods, causing longer lines and more people in the stores.”
A few restaurants have pivoted to home delivery with a steep cut in revenue. Some are transitioning into general stores that sell uncooked food from their pantries. Where state laws allow, indoor booths are being retrofitted with polycarbonate barriers. Seating capacity is reducing. Some restaurants can only serve outdoors. Others take your temperature before admittance. One restaurant owner envisions servers working in the back, receiving meal orders via text messages.
Take note of the slow recovery in Wuhan China, where the coronavirus began. “I opened for two days. No customers came in to eat, as it was forbidden, and I got only two or three orders from the online delivery platform. The cost of opening was much more than I earn each day, so I closed it again,” said a restaurant owner there.
The fragility of life has touched our psyche—especially if COVID-19 has gripped the lives of friends or family. The number of cases is staggering. Fortunately, symptoms are mild for the majority of them. You may be among millions of survivors. Either way, more people are feeling anxiety or agoraphobia. Psychological counseling is on the rise. Traumatic events like this can cause PTSD.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/
The economy has been through a rollercoaster. A nation cannot simultaneously thrive and shut down. Some companies have literally mortgaged their future with payroll loans for employees that cannot report to work. Many people entered this tragedy on the way to retirement. After exhausting resources, perhaps retirement is no longer an option.
The federal government’s stimulus bill protects some American renters within federally subsidized affordable housing. The plan includes a 120-day moratorium on evictions and late fees. But back payments may accumulate. Most rental properties are owned by private landlords and therefore ineligible. Some multifamily landlords with federally backed mortgages may receive a forbearance on their payments as long as they do not evict their tenants.
With U.S. unemployment hovering around 10%, there is a recession. Some might question whether we reach a depression. Remember the stories grandparents’ told you about life after the Great Depression? Now you have first-hand stories to tell. Will you be a bit more miserly, more cautious about physical contact, more caring, more reclusive, or more faithful? Families and friends need to help one another.
Despite government loans, grants, and stimulus packages, many businesses will fail. Large and small companies are filing for bankruptcy protection. Due to online shopping, popular department stores were imploding prior to shelter-in-place orders and mandatory door closures. Increasing unemployment is dramatically cutting the number of shoppers, so online retailers are also struggling. “We are going to see a level of bankruptcy activity that nobody in business has seen in their lifetime,” said James Hammond, chief executive of New Generation Research. Since 2017, small businesses have employed nearly half the nation’s workforce. Analysts do not expect half of small business to recover from the pandemic.
Any business that is dependent upon voluminous capacity is not fairing well during the pandemic. Stadiums, amusement parks, airlines, malls, and restaurants are a few examples. Some stadiums, hotels, and dormitories are transitioning into temporary hospitals.
Many small hospitals in rural areas have closed or are on the verge of financial ruin as they have been forced to cancel elective procedures—one of the few dependable sources of revenue. The hospital patients coming have no insurance or depend on Medicaid and Medicare, which do not fully reimburse treatment costs.
Elective surgery and doctor visits have taken a backseat to coronavirus patients. The rationale is to reserve resources for a surge in COVID-19 patients. The number of visits to ambulatory practices dropped by 60% in mid-March, and continues to be down by at least 50% since early February, according to data compiled in April and analyzed by Harvard University and Phreesia, a healthcare technology company.
Though some are opening back up, medical offices enacted moratoriums on non-essential medical services. How many people have downplayed symptoms like persistent headaches, unexplained lumps, rashes, and digestive issues? Are you comfortable having a medical visit with video conferencing? The resurgence of in-person general medical care may create a backlog of appointments, extending doctor visits far into the future. Surgeons have an overwhelming number of cases to schedule. Patients will require patience. Hopefully, the delay does not exacerbate their health conditions.
Plastic shields separate drivers from passengers. Seats could be cordoned off on buses and trains, leaving empty seats on each side of passengers. Wearing masks will likely be a mainstay of morning commutes. Schedules include more buses and trains to minimize overcrowding.
Moving toward normalcy will be gradual and regional. In many rexpects we are entering a new era of what is normal. Despite trials, you are a survivor. You have the ability to persist. It may take time and patience.
Perhaps before the pandemic you were enjoying face-to-face encounters. During stay-at-home orders, many have become FaceTime, Skype and Zoom experts. Some businesses have adapted so well that they intend to continue virtual meetings instead of leasing office space. How will the corporate real estate market fare?
Have you become a teleconferencing expert? With lighting equipment and less fear of the camera, perhaps you can launch a YouTube channel on the back of the Zoom experience. Have you developed some new cooking skills since being shut in? Explore how many wonderful dishes you can prepare with less than $10 of food. Start a Pinterest board or write a cookbook.
Shelter-in-place gives you the opportunity to learn a programming language or begin a blog. The best ideas are born of adversity. Contemplating the problems this pandemic causes will lead brilliant minds to conceive solutions. Indeed, some people will emerge from the crisis more financially stable than they were before it began. What about you? Pick a problem; mastermind a solution and use idle time to rebuild your future. If the solution is beyond your skill set, collaborate with others.
Don’t let COVID-19 claim you as a financial victim. Allow it to be a turning point for a better future.
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