Work, Life and Pandemic. Expectations for the Months Ahead

By: MacKay Jimeson

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A not so bold prediction is that “open for business” will join “social distancing” as the most commonly used phrases of 2020. 

With some positive indications that COVID-19 related hospitalizations are flattening, government officials across the United States began to turn an eye towards next chapter of this crisis – economic recovery.

The storylines:

  • The White House is expected to announce a second coronavirus task force focused on economic recovery.
  • New York and six other northeastern states agreed to a regional plan to reopen economies.
  • A western states pact between California, Oregon and Washington was also announced. 

The Numbers:

Aggregated polls on FiveThirtyEight show:

  • 87% of Americans are concerned about the economy.
  • 75% are concerned about coronavirus infection.

Neither number is surprising. Both are legitimate concerns. Public health and economy may never have been so intertwined in our lifetime. 

Reality Check:

Expect the media to focus on the power dynamics between the President and governors. This is theater. Coordination is inevitable and necessary.

Rather than addressing the issues nationwide or state-by-state, it will likely be a community-by-community decision that will require cooperation from all levels of government. 

The Business Impact: 

It is right to set expectations on loosening restrictions and increasing economic activity. People and businesses need a realistic view of what lies ahead.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. This is always the mantra in any crisis. I am as optimistic as they come about a great economic comeback, but the current situation is too complex to assume a “V-shape” recovery in the short term.

“We could have these waves of flare-ups, controls, flare-ups and controls, until we actually get a therapy or a vaccine,” Neel Kashkari, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said over the weekend.

The White House whisperer and former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb worked with former FDA Commission Mark McClellan and other the health experts on a four-phase Road Map to Reopening. The report, which can be found on the American Enterprise Institute’s website, does not recommend lifting all restrictions until people can be protected by a vaccine. 

“It’s going to be a gradual evolution back to something that approximates our normal lives,” Dr. Gottlieb said last week.

It seems we are highly reliant on advances in medicine. Kudos to the life-sciences industry that have been all-in on helping out in this pandemic. Yet, most health experts have been comfortable saying it will take 18 months to get a vaccine to market – and even that would be lightening fast. We would all benefit from a speedier FDA approval process.

Meanwhile, businesses rightly want to safely get back to work. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that companies are looking at ways to get employees in the office through creative strategies like rotating schedules. Expect many more creative ideas to come, but flexibility and understanding will be critical from all parties in the months ahead.

Must Consider:

Coordination. The President and Governors should be working on the exit strategy for our current COVID-19 state of isolation. Given that people often live in one state and work in another, regional planning makes a lot of sense. What is critical moving forward is strong coordination at all levels of government and including the business community in the process.  Employers must have a line of sight to properly plan for the evolving situation, but they can provide valuable perspective on what might be possible. 

Schools and education. Parents are now balancing work (or finding work) with the added responsibilities of teaching assistant. Some school districts have handled the transition to virtual learning better than others. Getting a well functioning educational model – whether virtual or not – is critical for students, parents and even employers. If a student is home, it can be difficult for a parent to be a work. Perhaps virtual school ends with this school year, but our school systems must be ready for a flare up in the Fall or Winter. 

Beyond Essential: Entrepreneurism has been on display as existing businesses have found ways to repurpose themselves during the pandemic. Gyms have moved online to keep people in shape. Distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. Restaurants are becoming grocery alternatives. Businesses and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to become essential.  This is a great moment to take inventory of skills and assets and uncover opportunities to serve the needs we have in the coronavirus crisis. 

Population Health: Hopefully we are all more informed after going through this pandemic. As restrictions are eased, we all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. Those who are older or have underlying health conditions will continue to remain at higher risk. While distancing may remain good policy, we should be mindful not to leave them alone and socially isolated. 

That’s a Wrap:

The economy never truly closed. Some businesses have done very well during this pandemic. It just has been closed for some businesses and some people. A better term is partly closed. A great near term goal is to move smartly to partly open as soon as safely possible.