9 PREDICTIONS: THE COVID ROAD AHEAD

By David R. Schleicher—March 26, 2020

The danger with making predictions is that they are often wrong. With a number of those below, I certainly hope for that to be true. I’ve left open the tenth for you to fill in.

    1. No quick fix for COVID19, but not a repeat of the 10-year-long Great Depression either. On the downside, early denial precluded prompt planning, opportunities for large scale testing were missed, and the national response since has been a patchwork rather than uniformly coordinated. On the upside, the Federal Reserve and Congress acted with speed to try to stem the economic breakdown. Most importantly, a vaccine will be found and—while not immediately or easily—it is a process that should take a year to two, not a decade.
    2. Significant suffering will not be avoided. It’s very likely that you or someone you know had or has the Coronavirus, given how often it may cause mild symptoms or none at all. That makes it easy to spread. Sadly, you or someone you know also is likely to die from the disease. Overlaying U.S. trend lines with those of other countries, it is inevitable that it gets much worse here before it gets better. Countries that have seen the lowest numbers are ones that widely tested and quickly isolated/quarantined—we’ve not yet fully done either on a national basis. The tens of thousands that die each year from the flu provides too low a base—COVID19 is much cleverer in its contagiousness and so far no vaccine. Other the other hand, a prediction of two million dead likely underestimates the mobilization now taking place and the value of researchers worldwide urgently working to find a vaccine. So, I sadly predict a death rate of possibly two to five times the roughly 58,000 figure for the number of Americans estimated to have died in Vietnam.
    3. Consequences at the ballot box. Unless the American President shows surprising consistent, science-based, action-oriented leadership immediately, he will continue to put not only the country at risk for infection, but also his Republican Party in danger of a near-death-experience come November. Healthcare providers, the unemployed, and eventually even Wall Street traders are likely to be among those who will agree we desperately need new leadership. The Blue Wave of 2018 may look like a splash in the pool if Trump doesn’t self-correct ASAP.
    4. Changes in the social fabric. Church/synagogue/mosque attendance in the U.S. has been on the steady decline, from 70% in 1976 to now starting to fall below 50%. The Coronavirus has caused many houses of worship in the U.S. to close at least temporarily, with them often encouraging members to go online to hear a word from the clergy. After multiple months away, many may decide they can live without it and will keep their money out of the offering plates. Others will resume attending, but feel free to go somewhere new. The congregations that survive will have maintained ties among members in the interim. Those that don’t can look to Europe for their future: ancient churches that now serve as cafes, theaters, museums, and even shopping centers.
    5. Continued Growth of the Mid-Size Cities. The largest cities often have the best resources, but also face the problem that a citizen may encounter thousands of fellow residents simply by walking down a crowded street, providing extra opportunities for sharing of disease. At the other end of the spectrum, rural areas frequently lack the access to medical care required for success in battling a healthcare crisis. Requiring an hour and a half journey to the hospital in an ambulance is not a burden all will be able to survive. Mid-size cities are able to coordinate manageable resources without having to play whac-a-mole with a hundred smaller jurisdictions who may each go their own direction. The large cities, with pools of top medical experts and a tax base large enough to spread out the pain of a crisis will surely survive and continue to thrive once past this crisis, but in the end the population shift in the U.S. from the largest to mid-size cities will accelerate from COVID19.
    6. Health as the New National Security. Just as you have come to expect delay at the airport from TSA screening, in the future checking your temperature before you board a flight will become as common as checking your luggage for traces of explosive. In the same way we have come to accept a level of intrusive airport screening that once would have seemed unimaginable, we will come to accept that it is worth knowing it is unlikely the person seated behind you who is coughing your direction is doing so from infectious disease.
    7. Wage Increases Up from the Bottom. While the pandemic otherwise can be expected to heighten already troublesome trends in wealth disparity, one positive effect will be that the minimum wage effectively will have been raised, permanently. Grocers/retailers like H-E-B, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon are paying bonuses and/or increasing hourly pay, given that the buying that is going on is panicky in nature and wears down the staff with restocking. Once these employees have their wages raised—by $2/hour in some instances—they won’t take kindly to a reduction after the crisis passes. Though there will be profoundly higher levels of unemployment, those who do want to hire will have to match these increases eventually.
    8. Employees and Customers Will Remember. Many companies have demonstrated surprising generosity and ingenuity in helping their customers, healthcare providers, and the larger public in this crisis. Just as you tend to remember who came to your wedding or visited you in the hospital, customers will long have imprinted on their hearts and brains from this stressful period whether their favorite brands acted nobly and stepped up to help out. Likewise, employees will not soon forget if their employer cast them into the street at the first sign of reduced profits or fought to keep them on board and, when unable to do so, did what was possible to speed the process of their receiving unemployment benefits. The names of many a major brand will appear only on tombstones by the time COVID19 is done with us.
    9. Experts Again Seen as Experts. The current U.S. Administration built its own brand in large part on a rejection of the status quo, disdain for the “Deep State,” and a suspicion that “experts” know no more than the guy who relies entirely on talk radio for his information. Even on the left, anti-vaxxers grew in numbers as they looked to a report here or there that—while not peer reviewed—confirmed their worst suspicions that well-paid medical professionals and big pharma were on the take. As President Trump is in the process of proving, there is a cost—in fact, a very high one—for disregarding the input of those who have spent their life studying an issue and who rely on the scientific method rather than the TV remote to test their theories. I foresee a return to viewing experts as…well, experts.
    10. This One Is Yours.

In the meantime, stay safe, sane, and some six feet apart.

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   David Schleicher is an attorney licensed in Washington, D.C., Texas, and Washington State, with an undergraduate degree in Sociology. He represents clients ranging from an international manufacturer, to federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers, to restaurants and shopping centers.

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