Even after “flattening the curve”, Americans face a long way back to normal pre-coronavirus


After flattening the curve, the Americans should expect a number of curve balls.

Once the immediate crushing of COVID-19 cases fades, epidemiologists say that a “post-peak” purgatory is looming until a vaccine can be discovered and released that would allow a return to normal.

“When this lockout ends, it will no longer be like one day you are at home and the next day you are taking the subway for the game,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, director of the Institute for Global Health at École de Northwestern Feinberg University Medicine.

“It’s not going to happen like that. It will be gradual.

“You can think of a million different scenarios, and the reason you have to think of a million scenarios is that no one is in charge.

“There is no master plan. “

Given the uneven response at the state level – dozens of states have issued residence orders, starting with California on March 19; governors of eight states have not issued residence orders – the peaks of coronavirus cases will strike different states at different times. This makes any uniform national calendar impossible.

Experts say even a gradual relaxation of restrictions is not possible without major increases and improvements in testing. As of mid-April, only about 3 million Americans had been tested for coronavirus – about 1% of the American population. Once the epidemic is better brought under control and the hospital downturn is mitigated, widespread testing will be key to catching new clusters as quickly as possible to prevent large-scale spread of communities.

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“There is a need for extensive testing, both to test people who are symptomatic and their close contact, as well as to test for the presence of antibodies to see who might be immune,” Jessica Balkus, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, told me.

“The biggest contributor to the speed at which we can move toward opening and reducing social distance is a rapid increase in all states and in all areas of testing. “

Assuming that the test gap will be closed in the next few months, here’s how the experts predict how the post-peak lifespan might evolve:

A man wearing a protective mask and gloves walks past a restaurant offering takeout in Little Havana, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Miami, Florida on April 13, 2020.Marco Bello / Reuters

Americans in quarantine may want to hit their favorite bars as the stay-at-home warrants are lifted, but don’t open the champagne right away.

Even if bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen, it is likely that they will only be allowed with strict capacity limits.

“There are a few difficult questions to think about before you can reopen these restaurants and bars,” said Balkus. “You can take into account individual customers with appropriate social distancing, but this also concerns the safety of staff. How do you pass people? How do you take orders and deliver food? It would be very difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet at all times. ”

This can make it difficult for many of these establishments to keep the doors open. “You will see that the death rates in bars and restaurants are going to be very high because of this,” said Peter Pernicone, owner of 190-seat bar The Elgin in central Manhattan.

“The atmosphere of a bar is based on being full and alive – you have to fill most of these seats to make money,” said Pernicone, who added that the stimulus bill the federal government did not plan enough to cover more than a little pay and rent. “If we can only fill 50% of the bar, it will be very difficult to survive. “


Passengers divide while waiting in a screening area for hundreds of people at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washington on April 15, 2020. Flights to the most popular airport have dropped from 1,300 per day to around 400 per day. .Elaine Thompson / AP

The travel and hospitality industries will take a long time to rebound because these industries thrive on crowds of people from various locations.

“There will be measures taken by airlines and hotels to keep things under control in terms of crowds,” said Harold Vogel, author of “Entertainment Industry Economics”. “Maybe they leave open spaces, maybe they reduce the number of people on each flight. They can move people to different places, bought or bought, from coach seats to the premium economy (for social distancing purposes). “

The fear: asymptomatic carriers could come from a part of the country where the disease is not contained and start a new outbreak elsewhere.

“The biggest challenge with the issue of travel at the national level is the fact that we did not have a coordinated national response to stay at home,” said Balkus. “There are huge concerns about the mobility of the population. “

Vogel added that it will take the cruise industry much longer to get back on track – both because of the negative associations with multi-vessel epidemics at the start of the coronavirus crisis and because hobbies are less essential.

“With a large number of people in many shared and confined spaces, traveling from port to port – and potentially having an impact on the communities visited – for the good of all, it would probably be better to wait for this one”, a she said. .


A view of Lexington Avenue at 55th Street during the coronavirus pandemic in New York on April 14, 2020.Cindy Ord / Getty Images

The country’s $ 3.9 trillion retail industry has been particularly hard hit, with many brick and mortar stores closed, and not all of them were slated to reopen. Despite the advantages of online shopping, 85% of the country’s retail trade goes through these stores.

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Experts say at least some stores will be able to reopen fairly quickly – if the number of authorized customers inside is limited to allow social distancing.

“We are not going to see a single switch come on and the economy will restart,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade organization. “We are going to see the potential for discomfort because people are insecure about their jobs and the speed with which we recover will depend a lot on consumer psychology in many ways. “


More than 21 million jobless claims have been filed across the country in recent weeks, as stores and restaurants have closed and businesses have lost staff, pushing the unemployment rate up to around 15%.

Many of these lost jobs may take a long time to return, but there will be a lot of hiring in the coming months. “Obviously, the areas of employment that will improve are grocery stores, pharmacies, distribution, warehousing and transportation, as many people use them or turn to online shopping,” said Kimberly Amadeo, American economic analyst for The Balance.

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“So someone who was a hairdresser might have to ask, ‘Can I get behind the wheel of a truck?’ “

Employees can get used to staying at home, said Amadeo, as companies can continue to allow remote working to keep their offices less crowded for social distancing. There could also be a long-term financial incentive for this type of staff, with lower rental costs for small spaces.

There has been tremendous financial pressure to reopen sectors of the economy, but these decisions will depend on the most essential businesses and those that can be used safely with minimal risk of contributing to the spread of the community.

“There is a real cost of not being in business, but there also seems to be a real cost of being in business right now. So we have to figure out how we’re going to balance that, “said RP Eddy, CEO of Ergo, a geopolitical intelligence and strategy firm headquartered in New York.


Within 24 hours of the California home stay restrictions, staff at CrossFit High Voltage owner Dan Crawley provided home exercise instructions to their customers. A few days later, he launched online courses so that members of his Burbank club could exercise. The following week, he was forced to loan exercise equipment from his gymnasium to justify the dues these members continued to pay. This type of improvisation has been working for so long.

“Gyms like ours operate with small profit margins, so if you are closed for a month, you may be out of work,” he said.

“The longer it lasts, the more the enthusiasm will decrease. How do you ask someone who has lost their own job or been on leave to continue spending money on a gym? “

The good news, said Murphy, is that gyms will likely be able to reopen – with heavy work by staff and customers to keep it running.

“The machines will need to be more spread out and wiped dry after each use,” said Murphy. “The virus is not sweaty, but there is a lot of breath and puffs during a workout. You will have to wear masks. ”


Yankee Stadium is empty for the opening day in the Bronx, New York, March 26, 2020.Al Bello file / Getty Images

Given the danger that large crowds in sports arenas pose to the spread of the disease and the likelihood that different cities will reach their peaks of coronavirus at different times, professional sports will be very different each time. Even alternating rows and seats to accommodate social isolation may not be an option due to the danger of crowded bottlenecks such as front doors and bathrooms.

Reports have hinted at the possibility that the Major League Baseball could start the 2020 season with 30 teams playing at Chase Field, Arizona – home of the Diamondbacks – without live spectators, or having teams play an adjusted schedule against opponents. spring training in Arizona and Florida. The league’s large television contract provides a safety net that can support the fall in ticket revenues. It can be done: Italian Serie A teams played similar games without a crowd in late March, for example, before the spread of the virus in that country resulted in a complete stop.

“You can start with games with players and support staff only, then gradually loosen the restrictions and let in more spectators as the situation improves,” said Murphy.

But for now, the MLB and other major American professional sports leagues remain in limbo with their uncertain return.


Closed Broadway theaters during the coronavirus pandemic in New York on April 8, 2020.Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

The show must finally continue.

The news that the lights on Broadway will continue to be turned off until at least June is not a surprise given the narrow seats in these theaters, making it difficult to limit seats to keep a distance from 6 feet between clients.

“I could see Broadway theaters reopening in a few months if you took some precautions,” said Murphy. “For example, if you had ushers distributing masks to all the spectators when they entered the theater. “

The same goes for concerts, which are based on the gathering of large crowds in clubs or arenas. Experts say it will take some time to be able to set concrete dates for new shows and rescheduled programs. Meanwhile, music promoters such as Live Nation have started broadcasting live “virtual” sessions with musicians, an option that could potentially be monetized.

The coronavirus pandemic has also been a horror for the film industry, from studios to multiplexes. Before orders to close non-essential businesses hit, however, cinemas had already started to move towards alternate rows and seats.

“When life returns to normal, there will be a tremendous desire to have shared experiences again,” said Phil Contrino, spokesperson for the National Association of Theater Owners. Contrino says that some small theaters have found creative ways to survive, such as the sale of popcorn and take-out concessions, and that there has been renewed interest in the small number of theaters behind the wheel. country.

But it will take some time before these drive-ins have new movies to show: Disney, for example, moved its release date from March 27 for the live action “Mulan” to July 24, and moved the Marvel film “Black Widow” from May 1 to November 6. Warner Bros. moved his own superhero film “Wonder Woman 1984” from June to August 14. Universal has been even more careful, shifting the ninth installment of its “Fast & Furious” franchise to next year. Universal is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

“Cinemas will likely suffer long before things get back to normal,” said Vogel. “Unless a movie is very interesting to watch, you may not want to sit in a crowded theater with people for three hours. “


The move to distance learning has had uneven results across the country, but at least at the university level, online learning could have long-term implications even after it is safe to return to these courses. 500 seats at level 101.

“I could even foresee a situation where they could offer two levels – a price you get for going on campus and interacting with the professors and another price level where everything is online, but you get the same degree”, a said Amadeo. “It could open higher education to more people by reducing costs. “


There has already been a shift to virtual memorial services during this flattening period of the curve. Funerals that would normally bring families together are considered dangerous scenarios that may further spread the disease.

“In the coming months, it would be unfair – and possibly emotionally devastating – to assume that major life events (marriages, births, showers) and end of life (funerals) will look like what they were doing before COVID-19, ”said Balkus. . “In my opinion, there could be other ways to organize these important life events, but it’s hard to say exactly what they would look like, as it would depend on the level of social distancing measures in place at the time.”

Former New York-based wedding planner Jennifer Brisman said the industry has seen reservations for the next 60 days largely postponed to fall or next year, with couples particularly proactive regarding destination weddings which require the additional uncertainty of air travel.

“It makes sense that everyone I know is deploying right now,” she said. “It’s not about the couple, it’s about the family, it’s about the community right now. No one wants to endanger anyone else. “

There is however no need to suspend planning.

“The best thing couples planning for weddings in 2021 and beyond can do is find and book suppliers,” said Jeffra Trumpower, Creative Director of WeddingWire, by email. “Much of the wedding planning can be done in the comfort of your own home, including virtual site tours. What these professionals need is a way to keep their lights on until weddings are re-authorized, and depositing deposits for future services is extremely helpful to them. “

Some couples are taking their vows now, with a reception to follow.

“Virtual celebrations certainly don’t replace live celebrations, but we’ve seen many stories of couples creatively marking their original wedding dates at home or virtually – whether it’s just two of them, in immediate family , or even by videoconference or Livestream – until they can host a more formal ceremony and reception at a later date, “said Trumpower.


Rosemary Arends, nurse and stewardess for South African Airways (SAA), right, checks the temperature of a passenger before a charter flight from Miami International Airport to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, during the new coronavirus pandemic, in Miami on April 14, 2020.Lynne Sladky / AP

The team of analysts and epidemiologists at Ergo mapping the course of the pandemic also anticipates an increasing pull between two very different impulses among Americans.

“On the one hand, there is this feeling that you cannot go to the park right now because you are preventing the elderly from getting the disease, and that’s great,” said Eddy of the civic duty posted which made social distancing possible. on an unprecedented scale.

“But there is no way that in the next month you are not going to see an increase in social unrest and crime (as the economic crisis develops),” he added.

Part of this is already being displayed with an increase in calls for domestic violence amidst statewide blockages. A spike has also been reported in hate crimes against Asian Americans, blamed on a White House push to call the coronavirus, the “Chinese virus,” after its country of origin.

“The question is whether we will find our way to our best angels or whether we will return to type,” said Eddy.


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