Back in April, I tweeted this about how I thought Covid-19 would go down over the next few months:
My working assumptions: we’re not leaving lockdown until the end of August / beginning of September, and there will be a second wave after this, because it’ll still be too early. We’ll see layoffs even at seemingly wealthy companies. Social distancing until at least 2022.
At the time, people were telling me that I should prepare to be in lockdown for maybe another month (so, until two months ago). There had been lots of talk about everything being up and running for Easter (April 12), or for Memorial Day (May 25). My tweet looked like doom-saying pessimism.
If anything, my assessment now seems overly optimistic. The World Health Organization is now saying we'll have it under control in 3 to 5 years; Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says we won't have a vaccine until 2021 (which in itself is very fast); almost 40% of healthcare executives think a vaccine won't be made available to all until 2022. Social distancing is likely to be with us for some time to come, and with it, a real change to the way all of us live. This will be true all over the world, but particularly in the United States, where leadership and our own hubris have continued to spectacularly fail us.
Here in the US, 73% of companies plan to keep at least some workers permanently remote; 30 million people lost their jobs because of the pandemic; at the time of writing we're in the last week of the $600/week of federal unemployment benefits (unless Congress extends this help). No matter what happens next, the effect of this era will be felt for generations.
Unfortunately, this is particularly true in communities of color. Indigenous and Black Americans are five times more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized because of the virus. Hispanic or Latinx Americans are four times more likely than white Americans.
We should have been mentally preparing ourselves for a long pandemic this whole time. Assuming these figures hold, the following is true for the foreseeable:
We are not going back to the office.
We are not going to resume the same kind of social activities we're used to.
We are not going to conferences, or to the movies, or to conventions.
We are going to need to adapt.
It's difficult to imagine how we would have coped before the internet. For the last few decades, it's slowly become ingrained in all of our lives. For the last few months, it's become the way all of our lives can operate: famously through Zoom (which is now worth 78X its revenue), but also Slack, Facebook, and all of the apps and services that keep us in touch with each other. All of these services were created long before Covid; it's going to be interesting to see the services people create to cope with the specific challenges of the pandemic. I am hopeful that while some of those services will be startups, others will be open source collectives of people who want to help.
It's also difficult to imagine how our current systems of care can cope. A pandemic makes clear that we are, as individuals, only as healthy as we are as a society: if lots of people have a deadly, infectious disease, I'm more likely to get it too, no matter what healthcare plan I'm on. It's in all of our interests to establish a genuine social care system that allows everyone to be safe and healthy - and in a world where millions of people continue to lose their jobs every month, it's vitally important that this safety net isn't tied to employment. Healthcare must be a human right. Housing must be a human right, with strong tenant protections. Food must be a human right. The fallacy that every single thing needs to be a free market must come to an end.
We're going through a period of major change, and we're still only on the first foothills. There's a long, hard road ahead. Surviving the next few years will mean covering new ground, and redefining a great deal of how society works.
Most importantly, we will need to finally learn to work together.