Needless to say, these are not simple times in which we live…

The world is currently in chaos, and over the last 24 hours we’ve seen a lot of hesitation whereas up until now I’ve actually been kind of impressed how everyone had come to accept social distancing and remote work and even lockdowns as being what we had to do to help control the spread of this Coronavirus.

Just a quick glance at the data – showing that we added 11,000 new cases and are up to nearly 800 deaths – tells me that now might not be the best time for us, as a nation, to pivot.

And I get it. This is a complex problem and million of Americans are worried about an assortment of different things right now…

  • Some people are worried that they or their loved ones are going to get sick and die from COVID-19.
  • Some people are worried that they can’t pay their bills because they’re out of work.
  • Some people are frustrated because their kids are out of school and they’re not qualified to teach them.
  • Some people are worried that we’re doing permanent damage to the American economy.
  • And, let’s be honest – some people are just flat out bored.

All of these (except for that last one – grow up!) are valid concerns … to someone … and challenge lies in searching for solutions that do their best to appease as many of the people impacted as possible. We can’t crank the dial all the way in one direction because not only does it leave the other sides in the dark but that kind of jerkiness just isn’t good for the system as a whole.

I think part of the trouble with those in the camp of “We’ve sat around long enough – it’s time to get back to work…” is that they believe what they’re seeing right now is the worst it’s going to get.

They look at 19,000 people dead worldwide from COVID-19 and compare it to half a million flu deaths a year, and it seems like all of this is a lot of fuss for nothing.

In fact, one of the quotes that I liked when we first started talking about closing down schools and businesses was something like, “If this works like we want it to, it’s going to look like nothing happened at all. And we’re going to have to be ok with that.”

The thing is, we only have other countries to compare our progress to right now – which admittedly are confusing…

  • China has 1.3B people, 81,000 cases, and 3,281 deaths – that’s a 4% death rate for the Chinese.
    • Their trajectory spanned the end of January through February.
  • Italy has 60M people, 69,000 cases, and 6,820 deaths – that’s a 10% death rate for Italy.
    • Their trajectory started at the end of February and it looks like they might be hitting their halfway point.
  • The USA has 327M people, 55,000 cases, and 782 deaths – that’s a 1% death rate for us.
    • Our trajectory started at the beginning of March and we’re still on our way up.

I can see how that’s daunting for people who are either A) watching their bills pile up, B) watching their retirement accounts fizzle, or C) just pulling their hair out having the kids home all day.

I think the tricky thing here is that we need to evolve our response to Corona without just doing a 180 by saying, “Let’s have all the pews full in two weeks for Easter!”

I don’t think that’s very reasonable, and if we do as a nation decide to just slam on the brakes and try to go back to normal, I sincerely believe that it isn’t going to be the normal we remember for very long…

But there are things that we can do!

  • Congress needs to get their act together and work out a stimulus bill that helps businesses and individuals in need without just recklessly doling out cash to people and businesses that don’t really need it.
  • Schools can take more steps with virtual learning, which I know that they’re still trying to figure out, and that has to be ok, too. I know a lot of businesses that don’t get remote work, so we can’t expect an apples to apples result when asking kids and their over-worked parents to try and do the work of their teachers.
  • And as for the economy, I think this is where we need to separate the wants from the likes because it’s probably not going to return to the bull market of perpetually rising returns for a while. We need to somehow look at the difference between short and long term investments here because long term (e.g. my retirement, which is 20+ years off) has plenty of time to recover; short term is hopefully more isolated to folks on Wall Street who can afford to lose the money, although I’d wager there are probably also some boomers nearing retirement who have far more aggressive retirement funds than they should for their age … and they’re probably freaking out right about now.

And of course, we need to take into account what’s best to slow the spread of the virus – which medical professionals still maintain is social distancing.

Can we afford for businesses to be shut down for another month or two when people are feeling burnt out after barely 10 days of this???

Can we afford to see cases skyrocket if we just, as I saw one comment on Facebook put it, “Pretend this never happened…” and  it turns out that whatever social distancing we were doing was dramatically keeping the virus in check???

Or can we take a step back, and agree to not make any rash decisions, and do whatever we can to keep this thing at bay while businesses try to innovate by offering food delivery services and embracing their employees working from home and trying to find jobs for other displaced workers while shoring up unemployment and our other social safety nets to catch the rest?

Like I said, it’s a complex problem and there is no one solution that will magically make everything better.

So we need to be thoughtful. And graceful. And extra kind in everything that we do because the reality is that people are dying from this thing and that needs to remain in the forefront of everybody’s minds for whatever our next steps might be.

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