Every few generations we have an epoch defining event. Life was going along one way and then, seemingly overnight, suddenly we live in a very different world.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbour and 9/11. These incidents have all split history and profoundly changed daily life from that point forward.
The current COVID-19 crisis will be remembered as another such event.
Here in Ontario last Thursday morning most of us got up and went about our business in the usual way. Sure, we had heard about COVID-19 and how it was disrupting life in other parts of the world. What had started in China and shut down production there had rattled financial markets around the world. Italy had shut down everything, but the most essential services and we were starting to see similar action in New York City but very little had touched us here.
That changed on Wednesday, March 11 when the first couple of cases were reported here. Within 24 hours, the provincial government had closed the elementary schools, secondary schools, and day care centers and ordered all nonessential employees to work from home.
Panic buying set in as people scrambled to purchase cleaning supplies and non-perishables.
“Social Distancing” and “Flattening the Curve” became the new buzz words as everyone was ordered to stay at least 6 feet apart. Churches cancelled Sunday services, Restaurants, Fitness Clubs, Dentists and most non-essential businesses began to implement first, extreme cleaning protocols, then reduced hours but by early the next week only grocery stores, pharmacies, fast food takeout (no dining rooms) and big box household retailers remained open at all.
What started with a handful of reported case, in just ten days, has grown to over 200 cases and resulted in a near total lock down of all non-essential human activity. Officials are telling us to get used to it, this could go on for several weeks or even months.
I’m not qualified to go into a discussion of why this is happening except to say that I understand that COVID-19 is a highly contagious illness, one that if left unchecked has the capacity to overwhelm the medical system. I’ve seen the computer simulations; I know what an unchecked spread could look like and how the various social distancing and lock down protocols should prevent the worst-case scenarios. I get it, so I am doing my part by working from home and going out as little as possible.
For me at least all of this is starting to beg the question, “what’s next?”.
The only thing I know for certain is that COVID-19 has split history, nothing will be quite the same again. I have no idea what some of the broader implications of this may be, but I have a few suspicions and a few ideas about how to go about life once things return to “normal”.
In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the state of the world post-COVID-19.
My friend owns a coffee shop up the street. He’s closed.
Rents are still due on April 1 and with no revenue coming in I have no idea how businesses will be able to pay. To date, the government has offered to help employees that are laid off and offered some tax relief, but I have seen nothing concrete that provides income assistance for the owners of these business. I hope the government will step in with something that will prevent landlords from evicting businesses and extend the income programs to people who are self-employed. But at the end of the day, most businesses will never get back the revenue that has been lost. The big chain stores have deeper pockets and stand a better chance of coming back from this, many of the smaller shops may never reopen.
It’s not just retail business and restaurants that are suffering. Personal service providers, dentists, physio therapists, contractors of all types, (plumbers, roofers etc.), anyone who works in person with customers is effectively closed. Even my business, which relies primarily on face to face meetings with clients, many of whom are small business owners, has been significantly curtailed.
The world post-COVID-19 will see fewer small businesses and less service delivered in person.
Teleconferencing is not new. The ability to put more than two people on the same telephone call has been around for at least 40 years. In the past decade the technology has exploded on-line with video conferencing over the internet growing exponentially. Last week as governments and businesses large and small began ordering people to work from home the stock price for video conferencing start-up Zoom Technologies shot up nearly 75% as tens of thousands, myself included, opened new accounts to stay connected with colleagues. Google and Microsoft have their own versions which have also seen significant growth in just the last couple of weeks.
As people become more comfortable with this technology post-COVID-19 I suspect we may begin to see more and more companies offering permanent work from home solutions to their staff. We are all taking a crash course in remote work and some companies may realize that this is a cost-effective alternative to the traditional office environment. We may also start to see less long-distance corporate travel, why fly halfway around the world for a meeting when you can accomplish just as much from the comfort of your own home via video conference?
3 – Emergency Preparedness
I tend to do my weekly grocery shopping on Fridays. Last week, when the first school closures where announced my wife tried to get me to go early but I refused, saying that there was no reason to panic.
Boy was I wrong?!
Within hours the grocery stores had been overrun, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, canned goods, pasta and countless other food staples where suddenly the hottest commodities on the market. By the time I went out on my regular schedule many of those items were simply sold out.
Experts have been telling us for years to always keep a supply of certain things on hand. Non-perishable foods, batteries, bottled water and a bit of cash, to start. Financial advisors like me also encourage people to maintain an emergency fund, anywhere from $1000 for essentials up to a savings account containing enough money to cover 6 months of expenses.
Nobody does it.
What this crisis has taught us is that you never know when, or how an emergency might unfold. Post-COVID-19, financial advisors like me and other experts should redouble our efforts to get the word out and help people prepare for the next disaster, however and whenever it may come. Will anybody listen? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.
4 – Your Health Matters
When COVID-19 first started its rapid spread around the world health officials were saying that most people wouldn’t get it, and for those that did it would just be a bad flu. The only people who needed to worry were the elderly and the immunocompromised. What we know now is that age has less to do with it, the real determining factor is your underlying health.
I’m not qualified to go into a detailed discussion of health, fitness and immunity. What I do know is that the three are both interrelated and mutually exclusive, it is possible to be both fit and unhealthy for instance. Nutrition science is the new cutting edge of medical research. I know you can’t kill a virus by changing your diet, but you can fortify yourself against attack and make your body stronger and better at fighting off all kinds of infections and other illnesses. Cutting out processed foods, balancing your microbiome (the millions of micro-organisms that live in your gut) and eating the right balance of macro nutrients, (fats, carbs and protein) for your particular lifestyle can go a long way to boosting your immune system and making you better at fighting off illness.
Post-COVID-19 the medical profession needs to do a better job of educating people about healthy foods and supplements and the food production industry needs to stop feeding us poison that damages our overall health and compromises our immune system. Again, will anybody listen? Some how I doubt it.
We are standing an apex of history, how we pivot from here will determine the course of the rest of our lives. The world has changed, adaptation is going to be hard, but we don’t have a choice anymore. As Mohammed Ali once said:
Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.
See you on the other side.