Pandemic Perspective #12 June 6
Today is a very special day, the 76th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Let’s take a moment to remember and to thank all those who died, and those who carried the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.
COVID-19 Lemonade for the Workplace
Yesterday’s good employment news made the likelihood of a V-shaped economic recovery look better than it did just a few days ago after the widespread and violent protests that followed the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Still, businesses that had expected to be closed temporarily may never recover from the looting and destruction. The untouched shops and restaurants around them might not survive either.
Closely-packed, maskless, shouting demonstrators are sure to spread the virus. It seems that the bug can travel a long way from the throats of loud talkers and singers – note the extreme spread among two choir groups a couple of months ago – it’s one reason that we are going to have limited singing at our church services. Even though the protests have been out in the open we can expect more cases among those enthusiastic participants.
I’ve been tracking the case numbers in New York City, Los Angeles and Minneapolis since May 31st; by mid-June we should know if those cities and their suburbs will experience an even worse rebound than some health authorities warned us about because of premature reopenings.
Businesses are already revamping their workplaces on a massive scale. I know of at least two that have told nearly all their employees that they will be working from home until the end of the year. It will probably be a couple of years before things become stabilized but there will be some advantages to these changes.
The main reason for working from home is obviously the reduced risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection from co-workers but it goes beyond that. The influenza virus spreads through office spaces nearly as rapidly as this new coronavirus and so do the many different cold viruses. (Mild forms of the coronavirus cause about one-quarter of common colds.) That adds up to less absenteeism and higher productivity during the next cold and flu season that begins in just a few months. Keeping preschoolers at home makes getting things done more complicated but the kids won’t be bringing germs home from daycare and infecting their parents and older siblings. During my practice years I often had to explain to parents that the average preschooler acquires a respiratory or intestinal infection about once every five weeks; if they are in day care the infection rate nearly doubles. Keeping them at home will also improve the family’s cash flow considerably.
Americans eat nearly half their meals outside the home and much of that is fast food. For the homebound worker that’s probably healthier and it’s certainly less expensive. You’ve seen the cartoons and jokes about quarantine weight gain, such as Batman and Mona Lisa who now each check in at about 300 pounds. Expect to see a lot more TV ads for weight loss programs.
Every part of the auto industry is taking a hit, from manufacturing to sales to repairs but the upside is cleaner air and less traffic-associated stress. One tankful of gas lasts a month. I have an all-electric vehicle and I don’t expect to recharge it until July! We have already received two credits from our auto insurance company because their claims have fallen. And we welcome the drop in motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries.
Next week I’ll discuss facts and foibles regarding how to prepare for the next pandemic, including what steps to take if the current one has a severe and extended surge. It goes beyond toilet paper, rice and peanut butter!