I’ve been reading a variety of views and predictions about the situation we are facing regarding COVID-19 and I think some cold realism is necessary.
It is of course, not possible to accurately predict what will happen in the coming year and beyond. But it seems wise to prepare for the worst. At this point, all we really have is hope even while trying to face the facts. So I think the sooner we get our heads around the possibilities here, the better.
It is true that the lockdowns have prevented a lot of illness, death, and have saved our hospitals from collapse. This needs to continue, preferably voluntarily if we are to keep health care systems from being overwhelmed. I’m no fan of policing people to wear masks, remain physically apart, and avoid gathering. But it is important that we do all those things to reduce the spread of the virus. There is no completion of this so it will be the standard of personal behavior for the foreseeable future.
The virus has spread widely and is currently on track to spread everywhere given enough time. As far as we know, no one is immune to it. So it is possible that most people will eventually be infected. This does not mean all will get sick, as some will be merely carriers. But that is how it can eventually spread everywhere.
As more countries try to reopen their economies, there will be a rise in illnesses and deaths due to increased contact. Some people will start gathering in larger groups and this will accelerate the infections. There will be a corresponding shutdown again as health care systems will become strained. This pattern of opening, leading to increased viral spread, and closing again will be repeated. The result will be more deaths and economic hardships and with some jurisdictions opening, then closing, with others opening, the virus will spread.
The only thing that can stop the virus is a vaccine. In the meantime, the only protection each person has is staying away from other people.
I’ve read that no vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus. That scientists around the world are working more diligently and as fast as they can is encouraging, but there is little chance that a vaccine is coming anytime soon. Even if one is developed within the coming 12 months or so, there is still the issue of widespread manufacture and worldwide distribution.
There are the beginnings of conversations about how this virus may behave in the fall. Why the fall matters is due to it being the end of summer vacations and the return to school. What will happen when colds and flu season arrives with this virus still spreading? Again, remember the goal of lockdown is to minimize the strain on health care systems. Overwhelm them and we’ll see sickness and death on a new scale.
So what to do and how to approach all this. While any predictions are only possibilities, I think it best to face these particular ones realistically. Be hopeful, yes. Count on hopes to become reality, no.
At the moment, there are many people working from home and many are schooling their children there. Unless there’s a widespread distribution of a successful vaccine by September, (and there won’t be one) they will not be returning to school nor leaving the home office in the fall. Those teachers who are able to adapt to the needs of homeschoolers online will be in very high demand. School officials and possibly teachers who insist on kids and colleagues being in a classroom may be held liable for sickness and death of anyone those kids come into contact with.
Employers and employees will be smart to look at the best ways to optimize working from home. Improved equipment, better connectivity, etc. will be crucial. Many will simply not want to return to offices, elevators, cafeteria lines, etc. and forcing them to do so raises some legal questions.
What might be the legal ramifications for employers who demand their employees return to the office? What happens if employees refuse, especially if they have been doing their job from home? Worse, what happens if they return to work and start getting sick or die? Class action, anyone? Any employer who is not thinking about this and consulting with their lawyers about liability is a fool. On the other side of the coin, should employers who put in equipment, procedures, etc. to allow employees to work from home safely get special compensation in the form of tax deductions, allowances, or even grants? Probably.
Again, I must emphasize that this. Until there is a widespread distribution of a successful vaccine, the situation we are in now will continue. Each of us will need to manage our contact with others cautiously, assess the need to be out of our home, and most importantly, convert as much of our activities to the online world as possible.
We will be best served by accepting the reality of this moment and further accept that this will be the situation for much longer than we wish. In some ways, this change will be permanent.
I know it is more hopeful to be hopeful. And I fully understand the desire for that outlook. But if ever there was a circumstance in which the sentiment “hope for the best, plan for the worst” was appropriate, the COVID-19 pandemic is it.