Don’t Underestimate the Impact of a Pandemic

I live in New Rochelle, New York and was part of the first quarantine after the pandemic hit the United States. I think, because we were first, our neighborhood may have learned to cope slightly better than some other areas. We walk, we talk, we shop, we distance. We wear masks and, in general, we seem to be much more supportive of one another than what seems to be happening elsewhere. People were even helping each other during the power outrage that lasted several days. I am diabetic and three of my neighbors with generators offered to store my insulin. I talk to people from other neighborhoods and, from what I’ve heard, many of them could be coping better with the impact of the pandemic. I’m not referring to the poor and the sick, but people who are still working, but stressed out far too much.

But, how do you improve your coping strategy amidst so much uncertainty and tension? A good place to start is to manage your expectations and focus on the things you have control over. In recent years, the U.S. experienced 9-11 as well as the 2007-2008 economic decline. Both of those events caused short-term disruption and long-term consequences. We are now seeing the same things happening with the pandemic and there are three key pandemic impact areas that I think should be considered as we forge ahead:

1.The most important factor is simply the pandemic itself, which is causing dramatic health, economic, and social consequences that will last through much of 2021, if not longer. There have already been approximately 200,000 deaths in the U.S. and we aren’t even close to a vaccine yet. There’s also been a shift in healthcare with Tele Visits becoming the new norm. Even if a vaccine does become available, healthcare will never be the same. Nursing home protocol, hospital financing, and virtual medical care are among the areas facing significant change. For example, it is even estimated that births in the U.S. will decline by about 500,000 or 10% in the next year.  

2. Another major impact will be economic. While much of the economy is slowly returning, industries like entertainment, travel, restaurants, and sports will undergo dramatic change. We have no idea when and how these businesses will return, but they will certainly be quite different from what they once were. For example, it is estimated that there were 600,000 restaurants in the U.S. before the pandemic. At least 20-30% will probably close within a year. Similarly, most forecasters are predicting 6-10% unemployment next year.

Additionally, working from home has become a major social phenomenon that will definitely impact the economy. People have learned that they can stay home and be more productive while having more time for themselves. This is a result of not having to commute, reducing meetings, and eliminating long lunches. Many are estimating that work-from-home could replace 20-40% of office work, especially for the next two years. This will result in several byproducts including a decline in real estate and urban stores. And as more people move to the suburbs, several other markets could dramatically be affected as well.   

The greatest impact, however, will most likely be the continued growth of income inequality. The thirteen wealthiest Americans increased their wealth almost $1 trillion dollars since the pandemic started. In contrast, the poor have increased hunger, loss of healthcare, and unemployment (especially among minorities). 

3.The third key area is political and many do not want to discuss it because there is too much emotion and uncertainty attached to the subject. However, the election this November will have a dramatic impact on our society. Our lives will be affected drastically based on who is elected—and this applies on a national, state, and local level. Minimally, there could be more diversity and focus on areas like criminal justice, income inequality, health care, and education. While partisan politics will probably increase, it is always important to focus on solutions rather than rhetoric after elections.

Now, how do we deal with all of this pandemic impact when we don’t know the what, when, or how surrounding them? The most important thing you can do is to recognize change and deal with it. Don’t be surprised or stressed out by the changes because they’re not going away. So, consider alternatives and ensure that you relax. Accept that the next several months will be like “flying an airplane while you are building it.” Sure, that might sound scary, but try to shift your thinking. Attempt to approach daunting situations like they’re challenges rather than obstacles.  

Accept the inevitable and search out opportunities. E-commerce, delivery, work at home, and tech are all growing. My local pizza parlor added lobster Wednesday night, a friend in advertising is doing yard signs for drive-by parties, drive-in movies are doing well, and other events—like virtual baby showers—are becoming popular. Companies are developing all kinds of programs in addition to Zoom that will make working from home more effective. Embrace your challenges and set your mind on problem solving.

Consider the increased opportunities for risk during this uncertain period. Basically, everything is pretty much up in the air anyway, so what do you have to lose by taking more risk? Additionally, there are lots of opportunities in areas that are permanently affected by the pandemic. Home delivery, virtual technology, and online shopping are all currently booming businesses. Even the gains in the stock market have shifted to new companies like Zoom and Tel-a-Doc.

In this rapidly changing environment, you should also do a brief self-assessment to evaluate your status quo and consider potential changes. The purpose should be to better understand challenges and opportunities rather than simply make changes. This review might include looking over your resume, evaluating your employment status, assessing potential changes in your status, education, and living environment. You should also consider what you like about yourself, your job, and your employer.

Extra Credit: Do something nice and maybe even outrageous for yourself. You probably used to spend gobs of money on restaurants, sports, travel, clothes, gas etc. that you aren’t spending now. Consider an extravagant treat for yourself. A special meal, a trip to the gourmet grocery, a health/spa treatment, a new pair of shoes, or a chauffeured car tour could all be nice distractions during this crazy time. (There are limits, however. I passed on a $50,000 chartered trip to California… and that was before meals and hotels…)

While we’re not sure what the new normal will require, we do know many of the opportunities and challenges. Avoid guaranteed failure with obsolete or doomed activities and, instead, embrace innovation, testing, and new paradigms. These cultural changes must include openness, infrastructure, and measurement. And cut yourself some slack and be kind to your neighbors… these are difficult times for us all.

Related: When the Pandemic Gets Tough, the Tough Get Logical