COVID-19. Social distancing. Sheltering in place. WFH, aka work from home. This is the language of 2020. None of us saw it coming, except for maybe Lawrence Wright whose forthcoming novel, “The End of October,” was supposed to be a work of imagination and not prophecy.
The fact is, we’re all forced to ride out this raucous story arc that appears to have far more in common with science fiction or fantasy than reality. It’s surreal. A serious suspension of disbelief. Maddening. Downright frightening. Pure exhaustion.
For working parents, the 9-5 juggle has never been harder with the kiddos at home on an extended spring break that could stretch into summer – and those are the ones who can actually accomplish tasks in fuzzy slippers. Anyone in blue-collar and service industries aren’t so fortunate. They’re being furloughed or laid off.
Small-business owners are barely staying afloat, terrified by broken supply chains and the prospect of a Chapter 7 filing. A strained health care system is exposed as never before. Stock exchanges are panicking. Nest eggs are cracking. The world economy has nearly ground to a halt as lawmakers and public health officials weigh the impact of their choices on health and business, prudence and prosperity, life and death.
Is this for real? Afraid so. Is it a new normal with more pandemics on the way? It’s anyone’s guess. Are we reacting in such hysterical fashion that the cure is worse than the problem at hand? Some say yes. Are we not adequately adopting a herd mentality, blinded by our obsession with individual desire at the expense of group consciousness? Some also say yes.
What’s clear is a looming epic battle between business and science that, like it or not, has become politicized. Our response to the coronavirus will test us in ways we never thought were possible. At a time when other countries may consider us the Divided States of America, the need to reunite has never been greater than any time since 9/11 and the Great Recession.
Politicians may be in charge, but infectious disease control experts are the ones who know best and should be running the show. And while partisan politics are once again holding up critically important directives, middle-ground solutions are a must before time runs out for mom-and-pop operations and corporate behemoths alike. Bipartisan support has lifted us through other crises. Now is no different.
Democrats may fret that Republicans are more concerned about protecting Wall Street than Main Street, but at least several businesses across multiple industries are stepping up. Here are some examples:
Bank of America is offering homeowners emergency relief on mortgages while major lenders are allowing deferred payments. Retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Nike will continue paying their store workers and taking online orders while they close stores for two weeks. Target will extend access to a backup family care benefit to all its employees. And in the face of massive furloughs and layoffs, Amazon will add 100,000 U.S. employees an unprecedented explosion in demand for online deliveries.
I can only hope in the days, weeks and months ahead that as a nation we’ll strike a better balance between the need for personal sacrifice and pragmatism for the greater good. The need for visionary leadership without divisiveness is nearing an apex. Let’s not miss a precious opportunity to regain control over our lives, preserve the American Dream and show the world that we’re still capable of greatness.