Updated Thoughts on COVID-19

Jeremy LesniakMisc. WritingLeave a Comment

I sit at my desk, barely an hour from Vermont’s Governor, Phil Scott, announcing that our stay-at-home directive has been extended another month. While I think few of us in the state expected that the April 15th date would stand without adjustment, it’s still grim news. It’s a case of the reality being exactly what you imagined, and, yet, still feeling surprised.

And our situation here is not unique. All over the country – heck, all over the world – dutiful citizens are sheltering at home, finding routine and, dare I say it, even comfort, in this new normal. A normal we have reluctantly embraced for the greater good. One that any of us would be all-too-eager to shed in favor of the old normal. The one that let us congregate, and stand within six feet. What I wouldn’t do to visit a restaurant right now…

Yet, we know why we do this, even though we’re not all in agreement on the method. We stay away because we care about lives. We can rebuild an economy. Or, to offer it in the words of Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, “What we can’t do is bring people back to life. And that’s why the absolute focus here must be on reducing, as far as we possibly can, the numbers of people who die from this virus.”

All in the Numbers

Closed due to COVID-19The numbers tell us that we’re doing exactly what we knew we’d do – we’re crushing the economy while saving lives. Unemployment records are being set, and not in a good way. All the words I’d typically go to seem farcical or have been rendered cliché by pop culture. When you consider the rapid hit to employment, this is an epic, far-out, awesome event. It’s the economic equivalent of seeing Bigfoot surfing on top of the Old Faithful geyser.

To put it in perspective, lest you think I simply wanted to offer up a ridiculous analogy, consider these figures. Before the pandemic, new weekly unemployment numbers were typically 200,000. Last week, 6.6 million people filed. That’s a 33x jump. The total hit is over 16 million unemployed, and in a span of only three weeks. The only reason it’s not higher is that each state can physically process only so many applicants each week; the rest remain in a backlog that is, to date, uncounted. Again, with words failing me, we can only classify that as grim.

These numbers will only rise. Businesses are finding that the financial assistance they were promised isn’t as much, or coming as fast, as they need, so more former employees are joining the ranks of the unemployed daily. Some say we’ll see 30% unemployment or higher; others say we’re looking at a minimum of 20%. By comparison, the highest unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 24.9% in 1933 and during the Great Recession between 2007 – 2009, peak unemployment ran at about 10%.

Dollars Spent

The trillions of dollars that have been carved out in Washington are starting to hit checking accounts, but for every dollar that finds a home, several more needed. The Small Business Administration is working constantly to advise and disperse, but their guidance changes daily. So do the rules for each individual bank that is attempting to process these new SBA loans/grants created under the CARES Act. Clearly, the nuts and bolts of repairing an unprecedented economic disaster isn’t on anyone’s resume, but I applaud their efforts to date, and I know they are far from finished.

The world, however, continues to turn. We work from home and know that most others are doing the same. We recognize that emails may take longer to answer, and that corporate staff meetings may have a shirtless child or excited dog join for a few minutes. Our new normal, for all of the downside, seems to be helping us identify what matters most. We’ll endure, and even find ways to thrive, because it is simply what we do.

I won’t pretend that I’m not concerned. I wonder about the car accident and heart attack victims who receive a different caliber of care during this time. How many non-COVID-19 deaths will have this virus to thank? How many marriages will fall due to the stress and sudden shakeup of a partnership that managed to get by? A very grim statistic is the increase in incidents of domestic violence and abuse, but in lockdown, victims have no avenue of escape.

Is This Reality?

Every time I take a step back, and think, “Is this real? Am I dreaming?” I’m reminded that it could be oh-so-worse. Our unprecedented illness is met with even more powerful technology and communication resources. The resilience in our species is remarkable. We have managed to survive through time periods when other hominids didn’t – and science continues to show that our prior theories on homo sapiens superiority are probably not founded. Some are even now saying that we shouldn’t have been the species to survive.

And yet, we did.

If we can do that, I have no doubt we can do this. Those horrific unemployment numbers are expected to be short-lived, maybe even returning to pre-pandemic levels before the end of the year. Right now, Congress is working on additional support for individuals and businesses. As we always have, we’ll find a way. Through support and trial and error and, let’s face it, grit, we’ll find our way forward.

I’m not telling you to not be scared – I am. Nor am I telling you not to do what you can to protect yourself and your family through these times – you should. But I am beseeching you, no matter what you do, keep some space in your heart and mind for hope.