Covid-19: We Need More Pragmatic Action, Less Panic

This week’s column isn’t that different in substance from a post last week, but I am cross posting here as I’ve sharpened the tone a bit. While I would still like to see some dial back the panic a bit – especially with respect to the long term impact on our economy and markets – I’d really, really like to see more of a sense of urgency from others in changing personal behaviors.

Covid-19, a/k/a Coronavirus, is the singular topic of the day.  The Georgia General Assembly suspended its regular session indefinitely Friday.  Legislators returned briefly Monday morning to ratify Governor Kemp’s Emergency Declaration. 

Whatever “normal” was, things are going to be different for a while. Above all right now, we need more perspective and less panic from some, more urgency and less indifference from others.  

Let’s start with when we can expect normalcy to return.  We need to understand that a lot of our disruptions are likely to continue into May.  On Sunday, the CDC recommended cancelling gatherings of larger than 50 people for the next 60 days.  Whatever we’re dealing with, we’re still unfortunately closer to the beginning than to the end. 

We need to accept that.  We also need to remind ourselves constantly that in the grand scheme of things, that’s not that far away.

Getting this over with quickly and with minimal damage to our health and the economy will depend on how many people accept that some behaviors must change immediately.  That means cutting out any trips that aren’t absolutely necessary.  It means staying home at night instead of going out whenever possible.  

That doesn’t mean staying inside, as sunlight helps and exercise will keep your lungs in the best shape possible.  It means the least human contact you can have, with the fewest number of people possible, will limit the chances you spread the disease.

To make that fine point, “social distancing” isn’t about stopping you from catching the virus as it is about limiting the spread of the disease.  Too many are taking the attitude that they aren’t in a high risk group so they don’t need to change their behavior.  It’s quite possible to spread this virus without knowing you have it. 

Everyone needs to alter their behavior.  Everyone.

Many spent the last week cautioning that we can’t shut activities down as the economic pain would outweigh the threat of this virus.  At this point, that train has left the station. 

With closures now baked in, how fast we recover will be determined by how quickly we all get on the same page.  I’m not advocating for large scale government quarantines.  I’m asking each of us to understand we have a personal responsibility to get this over with as soon as we can, and that means changing our behaviors quickly and meaningfully. 

In addition to the worries about personal health and that of their loved ones, there’s also a great deal of economic fear.  It’s real, but again, we need to look ahead.

A supply chain disruption is an inconvenience.  Time will repair this without damage to the underlying systems.

Some industries will suffer longer term impacts.  As an example, damage to the airline industry will be material.  Demand will come back when fear subsides, but a lot of companies large and small will need to find capital to pay employees during this downturn. Not all will be able to do so.

We need an immediate response to take care of the large portion of Americans who work hourly, customer facing jobs.  While we begin to debate the government’s response, take action yourself if you can. 

Help those you do business with frequently when you resume your normal schedule of haircuts, take an extra comforter in when you next go to the dry cleaners, and above all, tip well.  A lot of small businesses and their employees will be hurting, and they tend to get the benefit of any government “fixes” last. 

None of the above sounds cheerful.  The anxiety and doubts over the weeks ahead will be anything but.

We went into this crisis with our economy as strong as it’s ever been.  We have the ability to quickly resume economic stability and growth once this has passed, and we will with pent up demand for purchases delayed over the next month or two. 

We’ll delve into economic implications and possible policy reactions in the weeks ahead.  Right now, let’s all be pragmatic without panic for a couple of weeks to solve the medical threat, so that we’re all still around to solve the economic implications sooner rather than later.

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