Everything changed. In the future it's easy to look back and say, "Why didn't you see that coming?" Predicting the future is hard in the best of times but our brains are clearly designed to resolve patterns of data and the future is all about trajectory. I saw the future yesterday and I didn't like what I saw.
It's as if all the politicians are speaking in code. They provide devastating hints of what life looks like when the lock down ends. Expect waiters with masks, expect one-time use menus, require businesses to reconfigure to ensure 6 feet of separation or require employees to wear masks. And forget about going to a sporting event any time soon. We're told that it's not time but clearly there is some expectation setting to let us all know that even when we reopen, life will look very different. I've been processing what I heard long into the night last night. I don't think I've thought it all the way through yet, but a few things seem obvious now.
This isn't over until we have both a treatment and a vaccine. Short of these two steps which are likely over a year away, the virus will continue to live, travel and infect. So what does the world look like between now and then. Here's what my vision of the next year looks like as I sit here in the past:
Airplane Travel. A mask will be required at all times, middle seats will be blocked off.
Sports. The only way sports works (at least professional sports) is if they are tested weekly and isolated from everyone who is not tested weekly. That means at best "no fans" and more likely no ability to go home and see their family during the season. Is that even possible? If you look to college sports, these requirements make even less sense. My prediction is that there will be no college football this year...at least in California.
Retail. In short order we've seen retail (mostly food retail) respond and adapt very quickly. It's clear that we're already moving toward spacing reminders for lines, limits on the number of people allowed in the store, sneeze guards at checkout and masks everywhere. I suspect retail will do relatively well by comparison.
Movie Theaters. I suspect Hollywood will abandon the movie theater chains and start distributing their product directly to some paid in-home solution. I don't see how this industry (and many similar) can survive. I'm not sure how Hollywood goes back to work WHILE maintaining social distancing and protection. Essentially it's 6 feet and masks for the next year...not sure how these restrictions can result in great cinema.
Office Work. And there is my world. I work in an office. If anyone can easily work from home, it's me. I suspect that people like me will be the LAST people to return to a normal life. I have little interest in wearing a mask at the office and the whole reason for going to the office is to interact with others. We physically don't have a way to meet and stay six feet apart. Working from home will increasingly become the norm providing relief for our roads and our environment.
Business will change. A year is a long time. No one is saying it will be a year. Some are suggesting it might be two years before we have the technology to return to normal. The prescription is not just 6 feet and masks and lots of disinfecting...to get released we all need weekly testing, we probably have to sacrifice our medical privacy, we need teams of contact tracers throughout the country. China is making this work by scanning everyone, monitoring every move, and tracking health data plus who is contact with others. We'll all likely need a "health card" on our phones that let others know if we are safe and that require regular testing to stay "green." This is going to be a long and transformative era. There will be both good and bad as a result. More bad. We shall see.
Lego. I completed my third night of my 1200 piece Lego project. It's amazing to me that with 1200 pieces that they can do such a good job of quality control. The piece count is always perfect. Interestingly they give you a few extra pieces and I'm confident that this is planned and it's interesting which pieces they choose to give you extras of. Always the smallest pieces. Always one extra of each--never more. Only an extra for less than 5% of the pieces. Again, I'm amazed by the quality of the plastic, the precision of the manufacturing, the amazing simplicity and precision of the manual (there is not better instruction set). And yet I digress. I bring up Lego today because after three nights working on Lego while watching TV, I've invested about 4.5 hours into this project and I love the control that it provides at a time when we all have less control than we would like. The ability to create something that feels bigger than the individual pieces, is providing emotional strength at a time when it's in short supply. I was enjoying this project so much that I went online to see what my next project might be and then I saw the gift I'm working on was $80 and I concluded that emotional strength is overrated.
Stocks. I purchased stock a few years ago for a Chinese eCommerce company. Not the number one Alibaba, but the number two which is JD. The stock is highly volatile and the moment I purchased the stock, it went on a steady decline. I kept buying to lower my effective cost. And after a year of this I concluded I don't know how to pick stocks. About 9 months ago the stock started a modest come back (I was stubborn and didn't sell) and initially it was pummeled along with everything else but even as the US stock market has bounced around, JD has consistently increased. Today it's at a 52 week high and, more importantly, above my cost basis and it continues to look green even as everything else looks red on the third week in a row of record unemployment claims.
Death Per Capita. I've talked about my need for the precision of numbers. It seems to me that the best numbers to understand which countries, states or even counties are doing better and which are doing worse. San Marino is an island country surrounded by Northern Italy and their 38 deaths on a population of just 33,000 as a per million death rate of 1,120. Landlocked in one of the worst regions of the world this is where the virus has had the most impact killing at least 1 out of ever 1,000. Moving down the list, the first big country (Rank = 3) is Belgium at 419 deaths per million which is well ahead of the more publicized countries of Spain (409) and Italy (358). These are numbers that grow as long as death grows and the US is climbing quickly but is still back at 13th with 99 deaths per million. Germany has done a good job and they sit at 46 deaths. New York sits at 797 deaths per million clearly worse hit than most of Europe. California sits as the 31st worst state using this metric with 23 deaths per million and my county of San Mateo sits at 27 (the best news locally is that we've had no new deaths in a week). There will be a lot to learn about the roll of government, climate and no doubt a bunch of other factors with outcomes that vary so widely.
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