Pandemic Perspective #23 The coronavirus crystal ball
Making predictions can be dangerous, especially when they are in writing. That’s even more precarious when the virus and the pandemic that it has spawned have revealed so many surprises, overturned long-accepted medical principles, embarrassed politicians and their healthcare advisors, thrown political campaigns into knots, threatened the viability of whole industries, transformed the workplace, encouraged migration away from cities and forced the nation’s education facilities, especially colleges and universities to adjust to the still-uncertain online methods of delivering their content. Whew!
What will the world look like at the end of 2021? It’s certain that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, by then having spun off several mutated strains of unpredictable invasiveness, destructiveness and the response to a vaccine, will still be around. It’s unlikely that we will have arrived at herd immunity considering that as of late summer 2020 only about three-tenths of one percent of the global population has been infected. Even in the United States the number is below two percent (assuming that the numbers are even close to being accurate). Herd immunity may require that at least thirty times as many of us need to experience the virus, even more if we rely on the measles model that requires nearly ninety percent to reach an effective level.
As noted in last week’s blog a vaccine is only part of the solution; vaccine effectiveness and distribution are significant challenges and cost is a major factor in developing countries. The pharmaceutical industry has not yet brought forth a single drug or combination that can stop COVID-19 in its tracks, at least to the satisfaction of medical professionals, pundits and politicians. Convalescent plasma is promising but such a complex biological material is likely to reveal allergic reactions and other problems when it enters wide use.
Are you working from home? Will you ever go back to an irritating daily commute, spend five days a week in a (currently empty) office building and have to wear something besides PJs or sweats? Public transportation and commercial office space have taken a hard hit and they have taken municipal tax revenue with them.
Colleges and universities are in turmoil. They still have to maintain classrooms, administrative spaces and dormitories but students and their families are already balking at having to pay full tuition for online courses and the revenue from athletic events has vanished. To some parents of younger school-age children, home schooling has revealed clear benefits and there are now several permutations of this approach to education. Pooling of parental talent, choice of curriculum, fewer worries about safety from predators or bullies, lower transportation costs and a sense of control add to the appeal. Proponents of school choice have been energized by new opportunities and bolstered by the reluctance of teachers’ unions to reopen schools.
Then there’s the face mask issue. No civilian version is 100% effective. Simple cloth masks are minimally effective; those with valves actually increase the risk of spreading disease. Yet Dr. Fauci has told us that we’ll be wearing masks throughout 2021. Good luck with that! (On the other hand, maybe he will have changed his mind again.) More and more people refuse to wear them and many others wear them below the nose. Unless there is a sharp downturn in the rate of infection you can expect more states and cities to mandate their use for the remainder of this year, as several have already done.
Dr. Fauci has also told us that we must stop shaking hands – forever! Even fist bumps are suspect.
“Fine dining” has become an oxymoron. There is nothing charming about eating at a table in what was a parking space a few months ago. When indoor dining does return there will be at least one benefit: the restaurant will be quieter with only a quarter to half as many patrons. The wait staff will also be more eager to please, with only a fraction of the tips that they had become used to. I doubt that the restaurants that will still be open at the end of 2021 will be allowed to return to their prior capacity.
Flying had become an unpleasant experience even before TSA security lines. The airlines predict that it will take years for them to recover. Permanently furloughed crews and ground personnel never will. Perhaps TSA will implement a new express lane for passengers who can show a certificate of immunity or proof of vaccination. Like the pink dot on your driver’s license that identifies you as an organ donor we can apply for a “COVID-19 Free” sticker to help us zip through the line.
COVID-19 testing is evolving as technological advances make it more accurate, faster, easier, more comfortable and less expensive. Test kits will be as ubiquitous as pregnancy tests on the shelves of Wal-Mart sometime in 2021. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a COVID-19 test combined with a DNA test (to prevent fraud) in a national database. That will give privacy advocates nightmares but there isn’t much about each of us that isn’t already in a database somewhere to which we have contributed willingly.
The national lockdown will have ended by December 2021 but the effects on our psyche will be as lasting as those that followed the stock market crash of 1929 or World War Two. Hugs and handshakes will be less common but wearing a face mask will become a habit for many persons. We’ll unconsciously keep social distancing when we’re among strangers. Zooming won’t just be for business; together with Instagram and other apps it will replace ordinary phone conversations. The benefits of working from home will have been solidified and welcomed both by employers and employees.
But then, these are only predictions. I can’t wait to see the reality!
And feel free to share any ideas that you might have regarding post-pandemic America. How do you think your life will change?