In late November, China discovered that it had a small problem, a new virus, a novel virus was discovered to be spreading among the population of the Wuhan region of the Hubei province in southeastern China. A new sickness was spreading with devastating results. Health workers on the ground reported it first but their reports were suppressed. Ultimately, the doctor whose viral video was the world’s first alert to the problem would die of the virus himself. As the holiday season in the west drug on, China drug its feet on trying to stop the virus that started in a wet market of exotic wild meats. By January, the problem was simply out of control and China announced to the World Health Organization and the world that the new novel coronavirus, named SARS-COVID-19 was spreading throughout Hubei and that they were taking drastic steps to stop the spread. Soon travel in and out of Wuhan and Hubei was stopped and residents were told to stay home. Food was delivered and life in the province ground to a screeching halt. On 31 January 2020, President Trump banned air travel from China. This would be the opening salvo for a host of changes to everyone’s life as the virus spread around the world in a global pandemic.
Crisis? Another China Problem?
At first, health officials around the world seemed to not be terribly worried about the virus. The number of infections in China seemed small and as nothing was known about the virus other than it came from a family of viruses that counts the common cold among its number, experts did not see a need to move to quick action. However, by the end of February, the virus had begun to spread to Europe.
The spread of the virus in Europe began in two locations: a soccer game between teams in Spain and Italy and a ski resort in Austria. From those nascent cases, the virus quickly spread across Europe hitting Italy and Spain the worst. By mid-March, the situation was deteriorating daily. South Korea and the United States both reported their first cases on the 28th of February but the US rejected the WHO test for the virus opting to create its own that would be FDA approved. Cases in the US skyrocketed overnight and by March 13th, things began to get much worse and states began issuing stay-at-home orders, especially in California, Washington, and New York. New York City was the first to be hard hit despite the first case appearing in Seattle, Washington. Governors Newsom, Inslee, and Cuomo moved to protect their populations. Schools were closed almost immediately forcing parents to suddenly handle childcare. Daycares followed leaving parents in the lurch on childcare while balancing work. In just a few weeks almost every major event, sport, and even schools were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
It was obvious from the beginning that this would strain America’s healthcare system both in its actuality of equipment, staff, and buildings but also in its access. This is a problem that has been at the forefront of electoral politics since 2008 and has come to the foreground thanks to Bernie Sanders and the failures and successes of the Affordable Care Act. However, the main controversy was around the lack of two pieces of equipment: ventilators required to keep the most severe cases alive and personal protective equipment or PPE for doctors, nurses, and others who need to project themselves with gowns, masks, and face shields. As of this writing, this controversy is still on-going with federal supplies running low and states forced to find their own supplies thanks to a lack of federal support. 3M announced that it had doubled production of the masks and automakers Ford and GM have partnered with health companies to repurpose auto factories to make ventilators.
It is no easy thing to write about a crisis while it is still occurring.
Life In the Time of Covid-19
Life during the time of this virus has taken a dystopian and macabre turn. The empty grocery store shelves, idled factories, and empty venues are the tell-tale signs of this new crisis. It is not just a crisis of confidence or even of public trust: it is a crisis with fatal consequences. Early in the crisis, major events like South by Southwest, Coachella, and all major sports leagues canceled their public events. The NCAA canceled March Madness for basketball playoffs. At first, they decided to play without spectators and then, fearing the virus spread among players, canceled altogether. The NBA basketball team, the Utah Jazz, were quarantined in Oklahoma due to 5 of their players coming down with the virus. A host of celebrities including, HRH Prince Charles, the Crown Prince of Monaco, Tom Hanks and Idris Elba reported testing positive for the virus and working through its difficulties. Of this writing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in critical care in London for the virus.
Life in the time of Covid-19 has brought a completely new way of life. Television shows shut down production in their studios. Re-runs dominated the airwaves for several days until production staffs figured out that they could broadcast using Zoom video conference software. Now, America’s favorite TV shows are going broadcast from the homes of their hosts in casual wear and in an unpolished format. American television has become one, giant, Youtube channel. Even the guests are broadcasting from home as well. Demi Lovato debuted her new single from her living room. Panel shows like The View have come YouTube screen share shows with hosts doing their own makeup, hair and working from home.
With schools and universities shut, professors have had to move classes online and parents have had to try their best to homeschool their children so they don’t fall behind in school. Education is moving online and this crisis proves that it can be done with some ability and that it may be needed in the future. More schools can and should use this time to expand their campus beyond buildings and trees and towards a future in an online environment where people can gain knowledge wherever they are located.
Zoom and other work-from-home tools have sent professionals and others home. Parents are now managing children, household tasks, and work all in a cacophony of 24/7 occupation with virtually no break. Many people on Twitter are simply at a breaking point. Obviously, those working in service industries don’t have that luxury. For those who are essential, they are still hard at work and for those who weren’t, they were simply laid off. This has led the greatest application of unemployment insurance since 1930 with over 10 million Americans out of work during this time.
Life has changed even further. With social distancing as the new norm, people are staying far apart from each other. The hand shake is déclassé right now and people are using digital tools to stay in touch with friends and family like never before. While it might seem like this will become the new normal, people are likely to strengthen the bonds of in-person interaction to make up for lost time. This enforced loneliness is likely the most difficult part of the crisis for most people and there will likely be a great need for therapists and human interaction after this crisis has passed.
In the earliest days of the crisis, Americans panic-bought cleaning supplies to sanitize their homes and seized upon hand sanitizer for their hands in public. The phrase “social distancing” quickly entered our consciousness and our linguistics as more businesses shut down and states began to close non-essential businesses. Soon major fast-food chains shut down their sit-down seating and local restaurants moved to delivery or carry-out only services. Life seemed to change overnight, especially in major cities. People stocked up on food leaving grocery stores scrambling to cope with the sudden demand for groceries. Government officials, like Vice President Mike Pence pleaded with Americans to only buy their weekly items as the country was not running out of food. This did not stop Americans from panic buying and continuing to do so. These moments would be emblematic of federal response to the novel coronavirus so far.
A Lack of Federal Leadership
The lack of federal leadership in this crisis has been truly horrifying. Whether it is taking on the production of necessary equipment, distributing it to the states, or even controlling the spread of the virus within the military, the federal government has chosen to take a backseat at the behest of President Trump. The Covid response has been mostly spearheaded by state governors and this means that there have been 50 different responses to the crisis. This lack of federal coordination extends to within the organization. When Covid cases popped up on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific Ocean, the response from the Pentagon was anemic at best and when the Captain wrote a letter to his command complaining about the help he wasn’t getting, he was promptly removed from Command with caustic remarks from the Secretary of the Navy referring to Captain Crozier calling him stupid and naive.
Ultimately, this crisis has revealed a problem with American Federalism. Either we need far more federal powers and leadership or perhaps Americans have learned a lesson that seems very American: no one is coming to help you, so work within your own community. Trump ordering governors to find their own ventilators and other equipment in mid-March as the pandemic was spreading throughout the nation seemed to be the moment that the nation’s governors, those for whom, problems cannot simply be dumped on someone else, had to take the lead. Governor Cuomo and Inslee have both had more leadership in the crisis than President Trump has managed. While other nations have taken national action, the American response has been local in nature. This could be to our peril.
An International Pandemic
A pandemic is different than an epidemic because of its global scope. Over 100 countries have cases of coronavirus including refugee camps and other situation where the virus can spread quickly almost unchecked. Italy and Spain were the first countries in Europe to have the virus and the situation there has only just begun to recede, ever so slightly. Asian countries sprung to action which helped keep numbers down but every continent has been stricken. This is one of the first truly global pandemics since the Spanish Flu in 1918. It is bigger in scope than MERS, SARS, and H1N1. More people have gotten the virus and more people have died than in those previous cases. That’s what makes Covid-19 so insidious. It spreads easily and through the actions of just a few people over 1 million cases have now been recorded and the number is likely far higher due to a lack of testing.
Planes, Trains, and Cruise Ships
One particular victim of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the travel industry. It is nearly impossible to leave the United States right now. Most borders are closed. It is difficult to go anywhere right now as airlines have suspended most operations. Cruise ships were some of the hardest hit in the earliest days of the crisis with passengers breaking out with the virus and countries refusing to allow ships to dock. Just this past weekend (April 5) two Holland America ships were finally allowed to dock in Florida after being refused entry by multiple countries for weeks. Ships in Europe had to dock at multiple ports to off-load passengers and those passengers lucky enough to escape have been sent to quarantine immediately upon disembarkation. This crisis has thrown the entire cruise ship industry into a tailspin with no clear idea of what the future holds or if the operators will be able to financially survive with schedules cleared until travel once again opens up. The situation is even worse for airlines.
The airline industry has nearly shut down due to the crisis and the lack of demand as well as travel restrictions. Airports are reducing operations and airlines have parked their planes around the globe. It is predicted that without some relief, some airlines like British Airways and American Airlines may collapse. This is coming after a year of difficulties for the industry as Flybe (a european carrier) collapsed and the collapse and revival of WOW! Airlines in Iceland. How the industry will recover and what companies will survive this crisis is still very much an unpredictable situation. The entire travel industry is reeling from this decline in demand. Millions of jobs ranging from pilots to gate agents and ground crew are all in danger if the crisis is prolonged for too long.
One of the best stories that have come out of this crisis is how people have worked together to help each other in their communities. When cloth masks were needed, the seamstresses of the country took to their sewing machines and began producing masks. Louis Vuitton began producing hand sanitizer and other companies have shifted production to produce products for the crisis. Tesla has recently begun using its car parts to build ventilators and is trying to ramp up production. Wealthy individuals have donated billions of dollars for research and relief. Scientists around the world are researching the virus creating probably the largest team of researchers on any project in human history. People have volunteered to test the new vaccines that are being developed and those who have recovered are donating their blood for anti-body research and treatment.
At an individual level, people have helped deliver food to the elderly and food banks have taken in new volunteers and donations. Musicians have given home concerts to lift spirits and in Italy, musicians took to balconies to create beautiful musical moments. All in all, many people have banded together to help each other in this troubling time. Early in the crisis, a Tennessee man tried to buy up as much hand sanitizer and cleaning products as possible and sell them on Amazon at increased prices. After a stunning story in the New York Times, he donated his storage unit full of products to local charity under the watchful eye of the local US Attorney. One of the biggest groups to get a renewed sense of support from the public are frontline healthcare workers and those who have been busy restocking grocery stores, driving trucks, and picking up garbage and keeping the country going. Despite the stay-at-home orders, parts of the economy are still required to keep moving while other parts have simply shut down. Long after the virus has passed, our economy will be reeling from the economic consequences of Coronavirus.
Manufacturing and the Global Economy
The affects on the global economy will outlast the coronavirus. Businesses that have been forced to shut down may not re-open. This is particularly true for restaurants. Many restaurants have tried to soldier on with delivery or curbside take out while others have simply had to close their doors. Many other service industries like hair salons and massage therapists have had to cancel their services for the foreseeable future jeopardizing their income and future success. Major retailers like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Neiman Marcus have shut down their stores and laid off their staff. In entertainment, movies and television shows have shut down production and sent staff who can work from home to work there and those who cannot do their jobs from home are simply laid off. These reductions have resulted in 10 million jobless claims.
These changes have obviously triggered a recession around the globe with Europe being hardest hit so far. The economic damage to the United States is just beginning with stock indexes erasing all their gains for the last 3 years. Capital is sitting on the sidelines and central banks are buying up debt and printing money at the same time trying to stave off the worst of the consequences. Governments are also stepping in to inject money into the world economy. The question remains is if it will be enough to nurse the economy through the crisis and through to the other side. It will take some time to unwind this kind of economic destruction. However, not all the news is bad.
This is probably one of the largest experiments ever to see how well people really work from home. One of the most important trends that we will see after this crisis is an increase in working from home and distributed teams. On the one hand, this could spell doom for commercial real estate but it could save workers valuable time commuting and help people improve their work-life balance. However, it has also revealed that those jobs in stores and warehouses are really vital to American society and people are already using this crisis as a push for a rise in the minimum wage in the United States. Decades of wage stagnation have left vital jobs on the frontline of civilization paying little and certainly not enough to survive and pay for basic living expenses.
The logistics of the global supply chain have also come into question. America’s strategic lack of crucial industries in a time of crisis has been laid bare on the table. Most of the ventilators that hospitals need are made in China and that distance is putting a strain on supply lines. With many workplaces closed moving things around the planet has become difficult. With passenger airlines out of operation, a crucial part of moving things around the world has come to a halt leaving freight companies scrambling to pick up the slack. Having a global supply chain makes sense in the good times but in times of crisis, it can become a liability. Even the domestic supply chain is straining under the increased demand for food and other essentials. Runs on paper products and cleaning supplies have left store shelves bare for weeks. The expense of replenishment and the increased cost of freight will be a drag on retailers for months. Amazon has ceased selling certain items to focus on essential goods. For those who sell on Amazon as a business, their income has plummeted. One of the trends to look for in the post-Coronavirus economy is for more companies to look to open up operations closer to their home countries. This crisis will exacerbate the exodus of manufacturing from China.
A World in Crisis
This crisis shows that many points made by both this publication and others are spot-on: to tackle the future, we need a strong social safety net that can help people when life happens. We are in a dangerous world where an “unknown unknown” or black swan event can occur and send our lives spiraling out of control. As it turns out, the hard work required in things like public health, disaster preparedness and much more is essential although it might not seem like it at the time.
A crisis is not the time to prepare for a crisis.
Competent leadership is also needed to manage public concerns, as well as, coordinate the vastness of the Federal government or even state governments. This crisis has shown where true leadership lies. This often has been in people from the least expected places like the Governors of California, New York and Washington or Drs. Fauci and Brix who have lead us in the crisis. Covid-19 is going to be with us for some time. It is suspected that this may be a seasonal sickness that is part of our new reality on this planet. There are still many cases that may occur and most likely there will be more deaths, although that rate may be declining. This is very much a marathon and not a sprint so it is important that everyone do their part for the good of society at this time. Here at Rouges, we are a distributed team so working from home is natural to us and we will work to keep posting interesting things, new music, and much more for you to get us all through this crisis. Covid-19 is not the end. There will be life after this is over when we can all meet each other again without fear and can resume our daily activities. For now, we must do what is best so please stay strong and keep reading with us!