Anyone who believes COVID-19 is a one and done thing is grasping at straws.
People aren’t going to stop dying from COVID-19 even when an effective vaccine is developed and people inoculated on a large scale.
As with all pandemics there will be second, third and even more waves. Historically the best we can hope for is likely for it to settle down to a flu-like level in terms of its death toll. Based on data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control, that means an average of 12,000 to 61,000 deaths a year in the United States. COVID-19 is now closing in on 100,000 deaths in this country.
It is highly unlikely another lockdown to the degree we are now coming out of will be acceptable or enforceable whenever there is a spike. That means we need to find a way to live with it at least during the periods of the year when it spreads the most.
It is why entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg expect 50 percent of Facebook’s 50,000 employees to work remotely by 2030.
The current social distancing mandates means many transit systems will need to reduce ridership capacities by 60 to 80 percent.
The social distancing protocols for restaurants, while less daunting than mass transit, are likely to inflict a high mortality rate on the survivability of dine-in establishments that even in good times have a huge failure rate.
Traditional retail and manufacturing concerns are less susceptible to failure from COVID-19, providing we don’t revert to another lockdown of the economy.
This is not an issue of money versus life as much as it is how civilization goes forward. Just as it would be callous and barbaric to let COVID-19 run wild and thin the proverbial herd, it is also unrealistic to shutdown civilization to the degree we did until such time a morally acceptable annual death rate is reached.
It is why we need elected leaders on all levels that count —local, county and state — who are willing to stand up to the extremes on both sides of the coin and find a middle path that will allow civilization to function while depressing the COVID-19 carnage as much as possible.
The first step — even though many of us may not like it — is requiring the wearing of face masks into stores and other places where you come into within six feet of other people, as well as outside when you are within six feet of others not in your immediate household.
If that sounds harsh, compare that to the carnage another lockdown would create.
Keep in mind the wearing of masks protects others and not the person wearing it. With each passing week, research suggests there is a growing percentage of people with the virus and may never get sick. It is much like the cold virus in that case. You may catch one of the 200 plus viruses that cause a cold but you may not “catch a cold” per se. Still you can pass it along to someone who can catch a cold and be sick.
It appears the high peaks of the year for COVID-19 may parallel most flu and many cold viruses. If that is the case, a mandatory period — or periods — each year for wearing masks in stores and/or in public could reduce deaths and the spread of the illness at least until such time as we become comfortable with the death rate an acceptable vaccine would allow.
It is highly unlikely there would be buy-in for face mask laws after a point the COVID-19 rate becomes reasonable. But for now, it seems like the best way to keep things open while reducing the carnage.
Zuckerberg’s a solution goes a step farther. Instead of just reacting to the realities of COVID-19 his approach addresses a lot of perplexing issues ranging from overcrowded freeways, inadequate mass transit, to keeping corporate overhead down.
His condition of wages being reduced if employees that work from home permanently opt to move to areas where the cost of living is cheaper makes sense for a number of reasons. Firms like Facebook could expand by employing people with access to broadband or fiber even if they lived in Turlock, Merced, Manteca or Modoc County. It would spread the wealth in such a manner that it doesn’t significantly jack up the price of living in other areas, it can make economies in the less wealthier parts of California more vibrant without draining urban areas and it would relax the costly infrastructure needed for what are turning into super commutes to reach Bay Area jobs thanks to the huge disparity between the increase in employment opportunities and available housing.
It might sound a bit insane, but the pandemic could put into motion changes in how our cities grow and flourish by finally delivering on the full promise that many tech innovations are offering.
And although the odds are that you can never have 50 percent of a firm’s workforce ever not step foot in a physical Facebook office, you could easily have a system where they report once a week or once every two weeks for face-to-face collaboration and such.
If 50 percent of the people heading over the Altamont only had to do so four times a month, you’d be increasing the capacity of roads by 40 percent. Imagine post-pandemic world where 40 percent less traffic crosses the Altamont Pass during rush hour.
That also means 40 percent less vehicles spewing emissions.
Better yet, the more robust rail system we are moving toward would also have more capacity meaning even more cars could be taken off the road.
The online shopping trend may have accelerated but a world where half or so of the workers with Bay Area jobs aren’t tired from commuting offers unique opportunities for niche retailers and even coveted non-chain restaurants that would likely have a more robust local market given breadwinners aren’t spending an average of 10 to 30 hours a week on the road to bring home the bacon. That also reduces the cost of living by reducing commute costs.
It also means more robust family life and likely more time from residents who commute to live and end up living to commute to plug into community activities such as non-profits, schools and even service clubs.
How we cope with the challenges of the pandemic could bring about a paradigm shift that could increase the quality of life, reduce the cost of business, cut air pollution and stop making wider freeways an essential need to keep commerce and people moving.
Our leaders do not need to make what is unfolding a bigger train wreck. At the same time, they also need not to view what is unfolding as a train wreck.
COVID-19 has taken a steep toll on those who have been infected by it and gotten ill and those who have had their lives turned upside down and, in many cases, put on the road to financial ruin in a bid to blunt the carnage.
There has been too big of a price paid to repeat the total lockdown on the next inevitable surge or to plot a course that takes us back to the pre-pandemic world.
What we are experiencing now should not be viewed as the new norm, but as a transition to a better world.
We need leaders that will build on Zuckerberg’s vision.