Living through a Pandemic

A+movie+theatre+in+Kearney%2C+Nebraska%2C+called+%22The+World%2C%22+displays+that+they+are+closed+as+a+result+of+the+coronavirus+spread.

Photo by Edwin Hooper via Unsplash

A movie theatre in Kearney, Nebraska, called “The World,” displays that they are closed as a result of the coronavirus spread.

With the closings of many schools, businesses and public gatherings, many Americans are staying home in hopes to “flatten the curve” against the COVID-19 outbreak. But how long can America endure social distancing? 

The anxiety to return to normalcy is reflected in all citizens. From industry service workers who have lost their source of paycheck-to-paycheck income to airplane companies losing all their customers, the economy has lost its momentum with over six million people filing for unemployment. 

Mr. Schwab, an economic teacher, believes most Americans were not prepared for the outbreak. 

He says, especially toward industry service workers, “This [COVID-19] may handicap their futures because they will never be able to gain that spending power back.”

Schwab also fears for graduates or people starting a career because he feels that the job markets will not rebound immediately. 

“I think it will take two to three years if not more to get to a semblance of normalcy,” Schwab added.

The markets are already adjusting to account for the fact that people’s needs and behaviors are changing as many are working from home.

Industries that are benefitting are services that can operate remotely. With today’s technology, people can order food, buy clothes, talk to their family and friends, and watch entertainment all from their homes. Companies like Zoom allow people to continue to have live interactions with each other and are being utilized for work, school, private lessons, etc. There is also an increase in online interactions as people bored at home are more likely to use TikTok and watch Netflix for entertainment. 

For delivery services, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hiring thousands of workers into order to keep up with demands of people ordering goods to their homes, and other delivery services like Doordash and InstaCart are experiencing a surge in usage. Although these services financially support take-out restaurants and its own delivery people, the long term sustainability of these gains is unclear. One possibility is that if the coronavirus persists to keep people home, people will become more increasingly dependent on these services for daily necessities. On the other hand, all these services still rely on human labor so the increased amount of workers at grocery stores, warehouses, and those who deliver are all at risk to contract the virus. 

Another benefitting industry is the cleaning industry. The fear that COVID-19 could be anywhere (door handles, bottom of shoes, people, etc.) has promoted the mass buying of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, gloves, masks, and Clorox products all to keep people safe from germs. Hoarding supplies has been looked down upon in America as it causes an unequal distribution of supplies among people, but it gets people to spend their money in order to keep things sanitized. 

On the other hand, some industries that are suffering are transportation industries and industries that rely on public gatherings. With an order to stay at home, people are not driving their cars, not riding the subway, and especially not flying to other countries. 

Forms of entertainment that rely on large audiences are being hit hard as many artists are forced to cancel their concerts and film release dates are being pushed back because movie theaters are closed. Malls and nonessential-stores are all empty, and tourist attractions, such as amusement parks and museums, are no longer generating income. Activities of leisure are being digitized as many concerts are performed live over various social media platforms, and many museums are creating virtual tours.

Even through the setbacks, many businesses are re-adjusting their products and services to match the demand. Alcohol and perfume companies are ramping up hand sanitizer production, and automakers are switching from car manufacturing to respirator and mask manufacturing.

Despite some industries adapting their products to meet society’s needs, there is still an increase in unemployment and lack of supplies to protect individuals against the virus. The current economy is trying to find that balance between being able to provide people a livelihood and protecting people’s life. 

Mr. Stoner, an environmental science teacher, says in regards to the world’s current path of function, “Our society is a right ‘now’ society. We want it right now, and whatever it is now! Our population was at about one billion in 1800, two billion in 1930, four billion in 1975, and now we are a little over 7.6 billion. The more people the more resources are used to get the products we want and need. If the rates continue we will continue to have famine, starvation and conflicts.”

The future is uncertain. People will lose their jobs, and government support of the economy will be re-evaluated. Essential jobs such as health care providers and emergency service personnel will be prioritized as the economy will shift to supply people with what they need and attempt to accommodate people’s change in behavior. Will people become further dependent on technology or will everyone become clean-freaks? Only time will tell. 

Schwab is of the opinion that ending social distancing and reopening the economy will happen gradually. 

“I don’t think a vaccine is possible until early next year in 2021. If you go back and look at the Spanish Flu pandemic that occurred in 1918 it actually lasted for two years and included three cycles of infection. We are currently only on the first. Social distancing will not make people immune. So when all those people who have been distancing go back out into society they risk infection,” he infers.

In the long scheme of things, COVID-19 will probably be a bump in the world’s timeline, and humans will return to normal operation as they have done with other natural disasters.

Stoner assures, “Over time the earth has had plagues, famines, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and for many, lives that were lost, but we [society] have gone back to normal conditions. The people truly affected were those directly involved, not the distant spectators. For some people this may be a wake up call; however, for the mass majority this is just a hiccup in life.”

But for the people living right through the midst of the pandemic, Schwab wants to tell them, “Pay attention. This is history in the making. People will be telling their grandchildren about this. Just like our grandparents told us about the Great Depression. We will remember what it was like to go through this. It will in all probability change our behavior. But it is too early to tell how those changes will occur. We won’t know that until we are past it and looking back at it as an historical event.”