Last week, the largest employer in my county announced that they are not bringing employees back into the office anytime before 2021. This is an employer who employs 7,000 people in our county (about 10% of the county population). This company, an asset manager, manages over $5.5 trillion in assets. That is trillion with a “t”.

When the largest employer in your county decides that it isn’t safe for its 7,000 employees, or its $5.5 trillion in assets, to come back to face-to-face work anytime in the next 7 months, that is significant. At least it should be.

It is May 25, 2020. Memorial Day. A day when we remember those who have lost their lives in service. It is also a day, today, when we should remember those we have lost for a lot of reasons. Including COVID-19.

Today we are going to pass the 100,000 fatality mark in the United States. As of this morning, we are at 1.6 millions cases, and 99,311 fatalities (see chart from Worldometers below).

For a little bit of perspective, we were at 1717 fatalities on March 28. In less than two months, we have lost 100,000 Americans to COVID-19.

I have been maintaining a “doubling chart” since March 28 (see below). The importance of this chart is to highlight that COVID-19 infections don’t just increase. They double. In the past 58 days (8 weeks and 2 days), we have had four doublings of cases, and this week we will have the sixth doubling of fatalities.

We used to live in a country where we honored the lives of those who passed before us with holidays. We honored their service and their sacrifice. We lived in a country where we were shocked at the senseless loss of life when (for example) 50,000+ Americans lost their lives in Vietnam over 20 years.

Now we lose 100,000 lives in 8 weeks, and all that we want to do is open up shopping malls again. How selfish. How naïve.

Our country got bored with the idea of quarantines and social isolation very quickly. We got upset (understandably so) with the economic impact (over 35 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last 8 weeks).

The economic impact has been portrayed by some people as something that has happened as a result of quarantining and social isolation. I have an unpleasant truth for you. The economic impact is not because of quarantining and social isolation. The economic impact is because of reduced demand.

People aren’t going to spur the economy just because we end quarantining. Some will. But many will not. People like me are going to continue to stay home until it is safe to be in crowds. And it isn’t safe yet. As long as it isn’t safe to come out and play, a large percentage of our country is going to stay home, and not spend money. As long as that happens, businesses will continue to go out of business.

Think of all of the businesses that operate on tight profit margins. That includes the entire retail sector, the travel and entertainment industries (airlines, hotels, rental homes and rental cars, and vacation areas). That includes every strip mall in the United States, and most shops, stores, and solo ventures. Those businesses operated by selling $100,000 worth of goods and services, and having $95,000 worth of expenses, and keeping $5,000 as profit. $1,000,000 worth of sales with $950,000 worth of expenses resulted in $50,000 worth of profit.

What happens when that business has $950,000 worth of expenses, and only $700,000 worth of sales? That business won’t be around much longer.

This is what the future holds for us as a country, for both the pandemic and the economy. Until we solve the pandemic, we cannot solve the economy. And solving the pandemic means 100% testing, a vaccine available to everyone, treatment that works, and as much protective treatment as we can produce.

What happens next? There are three possibilities:

1) The COVID-19 infection and fatality rate decreases.
2) The COVID-19 infection and fatality rate stays the same.
3) The COVID-19 infection and fatality rate increases.

Is it possible that the COVID-19 infection and fatality rate decreases? I suppose. Maybe the virus becomes less active in hot weather. I have seen no science to suggest this, only wishful thinking. But there isn’t anything else that would cause a decrease in infections and fatalities. A vaccine is not going to be approved anytime soon. And once a vaccine is approved, it is going to take a long time to make enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who needs one. I waited over a year for a shingles vaccine. We are going to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, even after it is approved.

Is it possible that the COVID-19 infection and fatality rate stays the same? Yes. Staying the same as the last 58 days means that every day for the rest of the year (220 days), an average of 27,000 Americans become infected, and 1694 Americans die. At the end of 2020, that would means that in the next 7 months, an additional 5,940,000 Americans become infected, and an additional 372,797 Americans die. For a total 2020 total of 7,654,137 infected Americans, and 472,797 fatalities.

Is it possible that COVID-19 infection and fatality rates get worse? We are going to find out in about 2 weeks. Restrictions have been loosened in all 50 states. People are going to beaches, clubs, and restaurants this weekend. People are out and about, making contact with other people.

Imagine what “getting worse” looks like, if “stays the same” means “For a total 2020 total of 7,654,137 infected Americans, and 472,797 fatalities.”.

Happy Memorial Day.

Hal