Life with the Coronavirus: A Look into America's Future (And How to Get Ready for It)

We’re only a month or two into the novel coronavirus outbreak in the US, but it feels like we’ve been social distancing and home schooling forever.

And yet, by any measure this is just the beginning. As of this writing, the number of infected in the US is approaching 820,000—that’s about 32% of all world cases (and growing quickly).

With a vaccine likely a year away, most experts are warning us to dig in and prepare for a long fight.

True, there are a handful of promising treatments in development, but getting them to the public is going to take six months at best—that’s if everything goes perfectly. In that optimistic scenario, wider use wouldn’t come until late this year or 2021.

Many health care leaders aren’t even that optimistic. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration puts it: American’s lives won’t return to normal soon without a “technological breakthrough.”  

So much for 2020.

A Road Map for the Next Phase of Coronavirus. Spoiler Alert: Don’t Get Too Comfortable

So, what will life look like once this initial coronavirus spike settles? The best roadmap we have can be observed in China and South Korea. Here are some of the landmark changes they’re implementing that we might reasonably expect to see in the US:

BUSINESES RE-OPEN TO STRICT NEW REGULATIONS

In Asia

Many businesses began reopening in March, but it’s far from back to life as normal. The Chinese state is requiring businesses to:

  • Get a daily temperature from every employee
  • Provide employees with protective face masks
  • Open office windows three times a day for 30 minutes each
  • Make sure workers refrain from sitting face-to-face at lunch
  • File a daily report on the health of every worker

Many companies are voluntarily taking these regulations a step further. FoxConn employees are being grouped into teams of 20 that always stay together to make it easier to monitor and report on health. There are QR codes at cafeteria seats that track who sits where. Bags and coats are being disinfected daily. And infrared cameras have been installed to measure employees’ temperatures as they walk by.

Here at home

While we likely won’t see companies take steps nearly so drastic (this is the land of the free, after all), expect the new face of the American workplace to look prepared: tighter, cautious, and generally more restrictive.

Along with the generous flow of hand sanitizer that started to make its way around most offices weeks ago, expect to see plenty of Clorox wipes, Lysol spray, and the regular, dedicated swabbing down of public surfaces (door knobs, desktops, etc.).

And that’s just the small stuff. Many business leaders are considering a phased reopening, bringing employees back to the office a bit at a time. Once they’re on, expect to see work schedules staggered to limit the number of people present at the office at once (grocers are already doing this with some success).

WeWork, a shared office space company, has released a new office layout plan to “cut meeting room capacity in half,” create “buffer seating” that builds a six foot gap between each worker, and impose one-way traffic lanes in the office to prevent face-to-face bumping.

There’s also a lot of discussion around technologies that would give you access to offices, bathrooms, and elevators without having to touch a public surface. Some of these concepts are a little more space age than others. Xinhua, a company funded by the Chinese government, is developing technology that makes light into real images in the air—an elevator button hologram—and “realizes direct interaction with human beings.”

In the meantime, working from home will continue for many employees into the foreseeable future, leaving the spaces they once inhabited empty and giving more room for workers who are physically present to separate.

The biggest change of all might be the sudden death of the open concept office that’s been all the rage. The layout designed to get people up and socializing, removing barriers like cubicles and private offices, is now a clear liability. Don’t be surprised to see 90’s-era cubicles going back up—a natural sneeze guard for employers concerned about the spread of infection.

PUBLIC AREAS OPEN AND THEN CLOSE AGAIN

In Asia

In South Korea businesses have by-and-large remained open, though a recent “second wave” of infections have started to put the brakes on some economic activity. For instance, in Seoul, hostess bars, night clubs, and discos were shut down after the employees of a bar admitted to coming into contact with a pop-star who recently tested positive. In light of the episode, many in the city are demanding stricter regulations and even shutdowns of entertainment venues.

Public areas and restaurants are opening again in China as well, albeit in fits and starts. Approval to re-open movie theaters was rescinded within just two weeks after it was given.

You also may have seen a story that went viral recently, reporting the hasty shutdown of the Huangshan mountain range soon after the park’s re-opening. Trails were so packed with visitors eager to get outdoors (who can blame them) that people could hardly move.

Social distancing is still the order of the day, of course, with residents in at least some areas being urged to continue to stay at home as much as possible and even provide proof via a government-sanctioned app that they aren’t a contagion risk.

Here at home

Don’t think for a minute that the recreation and entertainment powers that be here in the US aren’t monitoring progress in Asia closely. Some of them, like Disney, have properties in China and have been on the front lines of this battle from the beginning. Others, like the NFL, are by-and-large domestic organizations. All of them will do everything possible to avoid their own Huangshan moment. The question of how successful they’ll be will be answered in time.

For their part, Disney has shuttered all their parks worldwide, now going on weeks. When they closed in March, they did so in phases. Expect the same to happen as they open.

For a few weeks now, Shanghai Disneyland has been undergoing a phased re-opening, starting with hotels, shopping, and dining facilities. In addition, Bob Iger has been quoted saying that “just as we now do bag checks, at some point, we [may] add a component that takes people’s temperatures.”

Also on the table are mask requirements, virtual queueing, and measures to reduce traffic to public surfaces like fingerprint scanners and elevator panels. Don’t be surprised to see similar measures taken at parks and arenas all over the country, once they re-open. And, like China and South Korea, expect some significant, extended hiccups along the way.

GROWING CONCERN OVER THE GLOBAL ECONOMY AND FOOD SHORTAGES

In Asia

South Korea and China differ in many aspects when it comes to coronavirus impact, especially economically. South Korea has been one of the only hard-hit countries in the world to suffer little economic blowback.

They’ve been hailed as a shining example of virus response. Heads of state in places like France and Sweden have personally reached out the South Korean President Moon Jae-in for advice on how to effectively “flatten the curve.” 

Unfortunately, for many Western countries—the US included—the virus has spread too far to replicate South Korea’s quick, decisive response.

Looking to the future, a more realistic model of economic impact is China, where the virus ran rampant only weeks ago. Even as conditions improve, there’s a lot of worry over the economy and commodities. While the Chinese government works to bring the services sector back online, officials have admitted that its shaky economy “is facing greater difficulties at the moment”  with the coronavirus decimating global demand.

And then there’s the problem of food. There’s plenty of evidence that the coronavirus shutdown has left key links in China’s food supply chain vulnerable. A leaked government document dated March 28, 2020, shows officials in one province planning for shortages, mandating a “transfer and store all kinds of living materials such as grain, beef, mutton, oil and salt.”

Add to that data showing that “60% of village officials in 1,636 counties were ‘pessimistic’ about the planting season,” a feed and fertilizer shortage, and the recent assertion that “China’s agricultural industry has collapsed without the free flow of labour and raw materials,” and there is plenty of reason to worry.

Here at home

With erratic markets and gloomy jobs reports in the US, the coronavirus will probably continue to be a harbinger of tough economic times here as it has been abroad.

What we don’t know is how bad it will get.

Here’s what we do know: America’s economy is expected to shrink by a quarter—as much as during the Great Depression. That contraction spanned four years, while this is happening over the course of three months.

Experts are taking plenty of reasonable, educated stabs at how things might look when the dust settles, but there’s really no way of knowing. Will the economy bounce back quickly as businesses rush to re-hire—what economists call a “V” shaped recovery? Or will we experience a years-long financial hangover? At this point, we’re all just along for the ride.

MORE WAVES COMING AND ANOTHER LOCKDOWN EMINENT?

In Asia

This of course, is the ever-lingering elephant in the room in Asia, and likely will be in America for some time.

In China and South Korea, the virus appears to hit the population in waves. For the Chinese, the first famously came out of Wuhan with a second smaller wave arising as travel restrictions were lifted and residents returned from abroad.

South Korea, on the other hand, was looking for a moment like it might be preventing a second wave altogether. But for as successful as the country’s strict measures have been (daily cases plummeted from 909 in February to 64 by mid-March), there are an increasing number of clustered outbreaks in places like Seoul and Daegu, fueling concern that a second wave is on the way.

Renowned University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung sees a third wave on the horizon, one that he warns will likely come from mainland China as people return to public spaces and mingle by the millions.

“This kind of cycle will continue on and on until we have an effective vaccine, or we acquire herd immunity, where about 60-70 percent, or even 70-80 percent of people are immune to Covid-19,” Kwok-yung said.

At the end of the day, the threat of further infection and lockdowns is an unavoidable fact of life in China, Korea, America, and any country struggling with the pandemic.

Here at home

As they re-open the economy, leaders in the US are preparing for subsequent waves of the virus. As we’re already seeing in China and South Korea, further infection seems unavoidable.

However, measures are being taken to contain these outbreaks to local “brush fires” rather than the all-out infernos. In an April 9th statement, Vice President Mike Pence and a top US health official made no bones about how patience will be a key tactic in preventing a major second or third coronavirus wave.

 “Let’s be clear,” the Vice President said,” Reopening the country, as the president is very anxious to do at the earliest responsible moment, will be through combination of facts.” Namely, that most major communities are at “an end” to their outbreaks. Widespread testing must also be in place, as well as easily available treatment for the infected, and detailed directives from the CDC on how businesses should go about operating.

 The director of the CDC added that before reopening the economy, officials need to better understand the spread of the virus, strengthen public infrastructure, and find ways to instill confidence in the public that it’s safe to go out—no small order.

FOUR PREP STEPS: How to Get Ready for an Uncertain 6 to 18 months

Based on these patterns we see emerging in China and South Korea (as well as early indicators here in the States), our prep experts are recommending four essential steps that everyone should take to get ready for the challenging, uncertain months ahead.

1. RESPONSIBLY COLLECT AN AMPLE SUPPLY OF KEY FOODS: MILK, EGGS, MEATS, BREAD, FLOUR, AND MORE

Disruption to our food supply has been one of the most dramatic outcomes of the coronavirus outbreak. Grocery store shelves were emptied of key items for weeks, and though that trend is beginning to correct itself, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get your hands on the foods you need.

The problem here isn’t the food supply itself—it’s the chain of growers and transporters that are having to adjust on the fly to changes in the market due to the novel coronavirus. These events are exposing a market in a historical state of flux, as:

In unprecedented times like these, who knows what next week, let alone next month will hold? Responsibly gathering an ample supply of essentials like milk, eggs, flour, meats, and bread (please don’t buy up more than you need) could save you from pantry shortages in the near future.

 2. HAVE A 3-MONTH SUPPLY ON HAND FOR THE NEXT POSSIBLE LOCKDOWN OR JOB LOSS

In a recent letter to the White House, the National Academy of Sciences committee wrote:

“There is some evidence to suggest that [coronavirus] may transmit less efficiently in environments with higher ambient temperature and humidity; however, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread without the concomitant adoption of major public health interventions."

In other words, summer weather probably isn’t going to tamp down the spread of coronavirus as many had hoped. The possibility of a second lock down will loom large until this crisis passes.

And even if we never see another lockdown (let’s pray!) the likelihood of losing a job is growing by the day. As of this writing, there are 17 million reported jobless in the US, putting the unemployment rate above 13 percent—the worst since the Great Depression.  

You and your family need to be prepared with a 3-month food supply on hand in case you find yourselves confined to the house and unable or unwilling to go out and risk exposure.

We recommend dehydrated and freeze-dried foods that have a reliable, decades-long shelf life. These are the kinds of meals you can lean on as a primary food source, or to extend the life of fresh foods. For example, add some freeze-dried rice to fresh chicken for a bump in calories and flavor. Or swap out meals on a daily basis: fresh one day, freeze-dried the next. You’ll double the life of your supply!

3. BE PREPARED TO CREATE AN ISOLATION ROOM IN YOUR OWN HOME

Part of the trouble with the novel coronavirus is how easily it spreads. If a member of your family is infected and isn’t hospitalized, isolation is your safest option.

Look for a room that’s away from foot traffic in your home and has an attached bathroom and window access. Take the following steps to seal it off:

  • Hang drop cloth at the entrance
  • Cover the walls with plastic drop cloth
  • Cover all vents in the room to isolate the air system

Once the room is set, create a disinfecting area right outside the door with a cleaning solution for anything contaminated, a bag for removing clothes to be washed, and a separate garbage can for discarding of disposable, exposed materials (gloves, masks, etc.)

For daily contact, you’ll also need:

  • A face mask (here’s a great DIY solution if you can’t find any at the grocery store). Here are some important instructions about the right and wrong way to wear them.
  • Gloves of any kind (nitrile are preferred if they’re available)
  • Long-sleeved shirt and pants
  • Disposable shoe covers (don’t forget to toss these out with every use). 

Make sure the infected person is as comfortable as possible if you don't have an attached bathroom for them. If worse comes to worse, you can provide buckets or pails with locking lids for waste. At very least, they’ll need bar or liquid hand soap (antibacterial preferably) and a fresh source of water.

4. Prepare to go back into public—know the supplies you need.

There is a little doubt that in the US, work will resume as we eagerly attempt to kick start the economy.

But the workplace won’t be exactly as we left it. If events in China are any indicator, we’ll return with a heightened level of caution and attention to cleanliness. If your employer doesn’t provide them, be ready to supply your own mask, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and more.

Of course, as we know, these items might be in short supply. Never fear! They can all be made at home with supplies that most of us have around the house. We’ve scoured the web for some of the very best DIY tutorials for making them yourself:

We can do this!

As a father of three and a concerned son of two aging (though spritely!) parents, I know first-hand that these are scary times. This road map and the preparedness steps I've laid out aren’t meant frighten, but to inform and prepare.

The old clichéd adage has never been more true: “an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.” We can’t stop the coronavirus, but we can slow it. Please share this information with your family, friends, and neighbors. God bless, and stay safe out there!

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