Over the past week, there have been a wide range of forecasts, possibilities, expectations, timelines, and statements about when we can expect American life to return to normal.
Some are reasonable and some are not. But the more you understand the truth about where we are now, you can see that we’re not getting out of this quickly.
First, our president’s call for everything to be back to normal by Easter, now 16 days away, is insane. Coronavirus is not a nightmare which we can end by waking up. It is not HIV, with almost every case preventable. The United States is now purported to have more coronavirus cases than any other country. While I think the numbers are usually misleading, reflective of our more open information sharing and always out of date before publication, they are, as you read this, sharply increasing, and will continue that for at least a month or two. True, it will cost our government a trillion dollars per month to keep everyone reasonably afloat, getting us a national debt in the dozens of trillions, but this is the territory in which we now live.
Second, the social distancing, critical to reduce the spread of this long-lasting and highly contagious virus, will need to continue until almost all Americans are immune. That, even more than the shortage of medical equipment, medical personnel, and hospital space, will put severe restrictions on our freedom.
Third, with viewpoints, recentness of information, and sources varying, there have been a lot of false hopes spread about when we, for example, might be able to comfortably travel again. If not Easter, many are acting as if all of this might be over by May, but that makes no real sense either.
For your planning realism, here is what I expect to happen. Any normalcy we have before Christmas will be a bonus. There will be no 2020 major league baseball season. The NFL will probably delay, then cancel, theirs as well. The Kentucky Derby, now rescheduled for September, will be lost outright. Airlines will all but stop operating, limited to a small number of flights with a maximum of one passenger for every five to 10 seats. Other large-audience in-person entertainment, from movies to festivals, will stay nonexistent. Schools of all kinds will be closed through at least the fall. For the rest of this year, it will take hiring efforts by the likes of Amazon to hold unemployment to about 18%.
It may get better sooner, but don’t count on it. If there were a viable and perfected vaccine in a laboratory right now, it would need months for confirmation, months for mass-production, then months more for distribution. That goes similarly for the malaria drugs and other solutions about which people now hold hope. Even those most optimistic see little chance of a vaccine, the main possibility for widespread immunity, being effectively implemented before a year from now – to others, spring 2022 or even later is a live possibility.
For the final downer, remember that everything I have written above pertains to the United States. The rest of the world, with 95% of the population, will have its own issues. We read about how some countries, in Scandinavia and elsewhere, are doing quite well, but what would happen if just one infected person wandered around the packed slums of Dhaka or Kolkata? Tens of millions would die in their countries alone, with little hope for containment. International travel will long be problematic.
Eventually, when we know more about the virus, our new order will set in. Then we can get our expectations in line with reality. They are not there now.