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My Coronavirus Hopes, Fears, and Predictions

(a tweet storm turned blogpost)

My hope is that we figure out how to contain the spread before it gets much worse. Maybe look to SE Asia for answers. Singapore has had cases since December, but the spread has been relatively slow, especially given the population density. Is it humidity? Containment measures?

My fear: We have collectively squandered months of lead time since outbreak began. Our governments spent that time pretending this is “just the flu” and trying to calm the markets instead of building hospitals and more ventilators, or buying and distributing masks and supplies.

The only real response has been to limit travel from some countries, but it’s too late. The virus is already everywhere. In a few weeks the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed. Hospitals fill up and patients are turned away.

Highly contagious virus combined with shortages of PPE mean that many heroic doctors and nurses sacrifice everything. At the same time, most of us are not willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of society. “It’s not going to affect me… Why should I have to quarantine”

This is due to our highly individualistic nature and also because most of us in the West don’t have experience with outbreaks (like SARS) so we don’t take them very seriously. Outside of Asia, I’ve never had my temperature taken in public or seen locals wearing masks when sick.

Containment measures will be challenged legally due to NIMBYism (“you can’t quarantine those people here”) and politics (“Trump is trying to stop us from voting”) as well as practically due to confusion between city, county, state, and federal agencies. Leaving it up to…

…Private companies and individuals. Office workers will work from home (Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, Google have already done this). Schools and universities go remote (Stanford has cancelled in-person classes). Concerts, sporting events, and conferences will be cancelled.

Businesses will suffer, starting with travel industry. Cruise ship operators go bankrupt, then airlines and hotels. Sadly many local businesses (restaurants, salons, spas) close too. They have tight cashflow in good times and no cushion to survive even a few weeks of no business

Each of these will have ripple effects that take down other businesses and industries. Like 2008, the banks and insurance companies holding the policies and loans will be businesses hit hardest of all. But what happens to hourly and gig workers and uninsured people?

Trump will do everything in his power and more to prop up the economy for as long as possible (fed will print money/several rounds of QE). But you can only do so much to stimulate demand if people are locked inside. “If only the economy can hold on until after the election…”

Speaking of election, aren’t all the candidates men over 70 (highest risk group) traveling around the country shaking hands and kissing babies? Seems like only a matter of time until a politician or someone famous contracts the virus. Maybe then we will start taking it seriously.

My hope, part 2: I could be 100% totally wrong. I pray that I am. After all, God only knows what the future holds. But assuming that I am wrong, it seems sensible to prepare and defend against #BlackSwan #LongTail threats that have a non-zero chance of killing millions of people.

If my fears do come to pass, hopefully there will still be a few bright spots in all of this (every crisis brings an opportunity). #CoronaVirus Winners:

  • eSports
  • Twitch
  • TikTok
  • YouTube
  • Streaming (Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Spotify, Amazon Music + Prime Video)
  • Amazon Kindle / eBooks
  • Apple and Google’s app stores and digital content (but will they still be able to release new devices?)
  • Software as a Service (like SalesForce.com)
  • Remote work and related tools (Slack, Zoom, Asana, Trello, Basecamp, DropBox, etc)
  • Telemedicine
  • Online therapists
  • Meditation and relaxation apps like Calm and Headspace
    Online education
  • Peloton (although it might be hard to sell new bikes and hold in-person classes)
  • Online yoga videos
  • Grocery delivery services (but for how long?)