Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Will there be a second COVID wave?

Posted in advice, economy, Health by commorancy on May 11, 2020

big waves under cloudy sky

This seems to be a burning question on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, the information on this front will not be good news. Let’s explore.

CDC and WHO Guidelines

Both the Center’s for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have fairly stringent guidance as to how the world should reopen during this pandemic. Even the White House has come up with its own 3 step plan. Unfortunately, the world’s leaders are far too anxious for their own good. I fully understand why. The economy is tanking, unemployment is now at an all-time high, and many business are on the verge of collapse.

With that level of pressure, any political leader would be anxious to want to reopen. The problem with reopening is not the reopening itself. It’s the second wave that’s looming. We’ve already seen, numerous times (here, here, here and here) that people can’t be trusted nor do they have any discipline to stay home, when given an inch. The only way this can happen is strictly by forced closure. It’s unfortunate that people feel the need to defy closure orders and safety advice, but here we are.

When restaurants open, when bars open, when stores open fully, when beaches and parks open, throngs will (emphasis WILL) head out in droves. It’s not a matter of IF it’s a matter of WHEN. There are many reasons for this defiance, but many who turn out believe that the whole COVID-19 problem is either a hoax or isn’t serious… or they are self-centered and simply believe it does not apply to them.

Whatever their deluded mentally deranged reasons, they head out in droves… and they will again. This is why reopening will lead to a second wave.

Second Wave Deaths and Reopening

Because many people are fed up with staying indoors at home, tired of being around their kids day in and out and eating the same home cooked meals, this sows the seeds for wave 2. After all, many people erroneously and foolishly believe, “It doesn’t apply to me. I’m healthy. I won’t get it.” Additionally, many also justify their actions by, “I’m healthy, why should I stay home?”

It is for all of these irrational thoughts that people flock to flea markets, beaches and other large gatherings… New York City Blue Angels flyover anyone? The point is, people cannot be trusted to stay home. If a crowd gathering event opens, people will come. It’s inevitable.

The point is, reopening of ANY sort will automatically trigger, in many people’s deranged minds, that it’s now okay to go hang out with the masses ignoring social distancing, ignoring face masks and ignoring any guidelines whatsoever. It’s clear, as I’ve shown above, there’s no way any early reopening ends well for the public. The public is not at all well disciplined enough for that.

Double Whammy

yellow dead end sign during day time

The bigger problem is the double whammy effect. People are fed up at staying home. Any chance they have to get their kids back into school or head back into the office, they’re going to take it like a kid grabbing candy from a stranger. That anxiousness will be on overdrive. It will override many sensibilities of health. People will be grasping at ANY straws that lead them into a feeling of comfort and safety when none actually exists.

At this level of desperation, people will begin congregating together in masses simply because the government leaders have relaxed the requirements even just a little. For many, “A little ain’t enough.” In fact, the other adage that applies is, “Give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” And yes, people WILL most definitely take that mile, and then some. Many people have no self-control at all. They’re social creatures and must live in the moment with other people around, regardless of their own safety or the safety of others (if they are infected).

It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. When is coming and very, very soon. With both the White House and the state governors feeling the pinch, not only are they feeling that pinch with their own state economies, they are getting the pinch from businesses too. It’s just a matter of time before the states, counties and cities succumb to these pressures and reopen out of desperation to placate businesses, but not to satisfy public safety.

Is COVID-19 subsiding?

In short, no. It is not subsiding. Distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have slowed its progress, but all of that will be entirely undone by reopening. Once people can travel, shop, stay at hotels, visit beaches and generally bunch up together like lemmings, COVID-19 will not only break out again, it will do so with a vengeance the second time around.

It won’t be a sparse set of cases in specific locales, it will be all over the country. Lifting stay-at-home orders is tantamount to ordering a second wave on a platter. In fact, COVID-19 may very well arrive on a literal platter for some.

Let’s consider the infection rate in the US. There are around 330 million people in the US. If 3.3 million people have been infected, so far, that means the United States has only seen a 1% infection rate. That means that 99% of the population of the United States remains susceptible to infection.

While some of those 1% who’ve already been infected may be out and about feeling confident about their ability to withstand another COVID infection, 99% have no immunity at all (assuming a past survivor has any immunity). That means that the vast majority of those who are out and about will be people who’ve never had COVID-19. It will be these people who will strike up the second wave.

Brutal

grey skulls piled on ground

While the first wave was somewhat brutal with potentially up to 3.3 million infected and around 80,000 deaths (and counting), this death rate will skyrocket come reopening day.

Just like 1918’s pandemic, people are now being lulled into a false sense of security because the numbers are dropping. Many justify that the lower numbers are because the virus is not intense, but that simply isn’t true. The virus is not only highly contagious, it’s extremely virulent and, to many, deadly. This is why the second wave will be brutal.

Because of the callous disregard for safety, people will chance their own lives in an effort to get back to some semblance of normal social interactions with their friends, co-workers, clubs, gyms and faith. It’s a chance that will end up in death.

For this reason, the second wave will be even less forgiving than the first. Partly, this will be because of the carelessness of individuals, but partly it’s because this virus has mutated 12 times in 3 months. The virus strain that has been going around Europe has made it onto US soil and believe to be what’s causing most of NY’s cases. It is this strain that may even see even those who have even survived an earlier strain back in bed again, let alone the remaining 99% who’ve never been infected who now get sick.

Hard Lessons and Death Statistics

Death is never a lesson that people should have to learn. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that many are learning, at least via their surviving loved ones. Even seeing the White House is not immune to close colleagues becoming infected, it proves just how easily transmissible this virus really is. If the White House can’t keep it out of their doors, then no one can.

Unfortunately, I believe we are now firmly following down the same path as the 1918 Pandemic which struck and killed somewhere between 20-50 million people worldwide. Yes, you read that correctly: 20-50 million people. The first wave of COVID-19 will seem like small potatoes next to the next wave that’s coming… and coming, it is.

Protecting Yourself

Unfortunately, many of us need to work. At the same, we need to protect ourselves. Many business owners / executives are not amenable to people working from home. For this reason, they may mandate people back into the office earlier than is safe. This is likely to be the first salvo for the virus. Workplaces are communal environments. There’s no way you can avoid becoming infected in such a communal environment. Worse, many rented office spaces utilize recirculated air. These systems can pose a risk to everyone in the building. It only takes one COVID infected individual to cough, sneeze or otherwise expel their bodily fluids and some portion of the building can become infected. This is the reason that people in one part of the building can become infected by others in that same building, but without having any personal contact.

Closed recirculated ventilation systems and other communal office spaces can see to the transmission of COVID-19 across individuals in buildings. You might even get infected by performing something as simple as using the copy machine or drinking from the water fountain or water cooler or touching the faucet handle. Though, transmission through the ventilation system is still a big problem in many, many commercial building structures.

As a personal example, I worked in a 6 story building for 5 years. In that time, I’d had maybe 2 colds the entire time I worked there. These illnesses were within the first year. The remaining years I got sick maybe once. I moved on from that business and hired into another company that rented office space in a 16 story building. I worked on the 11th floor. In the first year that I worked there, I’d had several colds, the flu and an extremely long bout of bronchitis. That building’s A/C system was incredibly bad and seemed to circulate air not only from our floor, but apparently it also circulated air between multiple floors through a common shaft.

This ventilation system left everyone in the building vulnerable to sickness. I’ve never been sick that often in any other business where I’d ever worked. This building was so poorly engineered and because the company encouraged sickness in the office via its exceedingly poor sick leave policy, I had considered leaving the company just from this alone. Even when I attempted such things as social distancing, avoiding the kitchen, bringing my own food, washing hands often and staying at my desk as much as possible, none of it helped. I still got sick too often. There was truly “something in the air”. I finally left that company and I’ve not been sick since. That building was just one big petri dish.

Sick Leave Policies

woman lying on bed while blowing her nose

The whole building situation was made worse by, you guessed it, HR’s sick leave policies. Many corporate sick leave policies are less than ideal. For example, some businesses choose to gang up sick time onto paid time off (PTO). This is a bad, bad idea.

This means that your allotment of PTO must cover for all out of the office situations, including when you’re sick. This means you have to use up precious PTO to be at home nursing a cold or the flu. Not many people are willing to give up their PTO (i.e., their vacations) to be at home sick. Hence, people arrived into the office sick and worked sick at their desks. This crappy sick leave policy actually encouraged people to come to the office while contagious, thus infecting everyone around them. This company also took no steps to send people home if they appeared to be sick.

Companies which choose to separate PTO from sick days off tend to have less problems with people working sick at the office. The company where I worked prior to this poorly ventilated building company had an “unlimited” sick time policy. Keep in mind that “unlimited” isn’t truly unlimited. What that means is that if you’re sick, stay home and get well and take however many days is needed to get better. However, if you’re at home sick often, your job is in jeopardy. This meant that as long as you were truly sick and your boss can see it (or hear it), staying home is an option. Although, even though you’re at home, that doesn’t mean you’re not working. While you have claimed a sick day, you could still be called to work on projects or issues while in the throes of the flu. While an “unlimited” sick time policy is novel, it still has limits and requires manager approval every time you’re sick. Getting this time off can be tricky with many managers.

I’d prefer companies give realistic hard set amounts of sick time off per year. Just define an amount (5 days per year) and hold us to it. Because it’s hard sick time, you don’t need approvals. Just use it when you need it. You will need to inform your boss that you’re at home sick to avoid “no show” problems, but you can use that sick time when you need it. If you run out of the allotted amount of sick days, you may need to consider disability leave or PTO instead. That’s a separate issue from ganging up sick time onto PTO up front, which is not a good idea and encourages the wrong behavior.

COVID and Corporations

Corporations are difficult slow boats. What I mean is that trying to get stick-in-the-mud executives to change corporate standards to help reduce or eliminate sickness in the office can be a real challenge. Human Resource staff might have a better time at steering that slow barge than those of us not in HR. The difficulty is, many executives don’t really care. They want butts in the office. They don’t care about people being sick. In fact, many executives don’t care about the welfare of their employees specifically. That’s left up to the HR team to handle. Many times, the HR team operates benefits from the cost perspective. If it costs too much, it won’t get implemented. This can leave situations like the above, where sick time is ganged up on PTO time. Yes, the HR team came up with that idea and implemented it.

Unfortunately, the costs outweigh the fact that such a policy encourages people to horde their PTO time at all costs. That means seeing people at their desks wheezing, sneezing, coughing, with runny noses and contagious with the flu. Staff simply won’t give up their vacation days to stay at home sick. They value that summer Hawaii trip way more. In fact, many of these people may even show up to work sick facetiously in an attempt to “get back” at the rest of the office for its asinine sick time policy. They are willing to let their co-workers, boss and other office staff become sick just to fulfill a vendetta against a perceived corporate injustice. Yes, this does happen.

COVID won’t be different

architecture barge bay beach

With many corporations, they can be exceedingly slow barges that simply can’t or won’t course correct their corporate culture and policies for something like COVID. Some might, but many won’t. If it’s going to cost the corporation even more money in benefits, then you can bet it won’t get implemented. This means that such antiquated sick time policies, such as the one stated above, will continue to be enforced in a post-COVID world.

Some corporations do legitimately care for their staff. Other companies really don’t give a damn. Only you can review your corporate policies to see if your company is trying to make positive changes with COVID or not.

Unfortunately, many corporate policy changes are simply for show. What I mean is that corporations appear to make policy changes simply to get free press from the industry. However, internally, these corporate changes are mere window dressing. This means that the policies remain exactly identical as before. What’s stated to the outside is not what’s being practiced on the inside. It’s more about making the company look good than it is about that company actually being sincere. There are plenty of companies that follow this asinine example. Yours may even be one of them.

Ultimately, what this means for COVID is more and faster infection rates. Corporations are itching to get their offices open with employees back at their desks so they can continue to sell and make money. It’s all about the money. Unfortunately, the money motivation can remove motivation from keeping employees healthy. In fact, many corporations see employees as disposable commodities. If a position becomes vacant, they believe they can fill it almost instantly. In an employer’s market, that might be true. In an employee’s market, that’s absolutely false.

Economic Impact and Employer’s Market

red and white signage

Here’s where we are. Because employers have furloughed or laid off millions of workers due to temporary closure, it is now back to an employer’s market. That means that any employer who is now hiring has an unfair advantage. This means the employer can demand less wages, poorer working conditions, longer hours, less benefits, more dedication with less rewards and on and on. Because people are now firmly out of work, this means employers who have positions to hire hold the upper hand.

While once we had days where employers were bending over backwards to get new talent in the door, we now have the reverse situation where there’s too much talent looking for work. This means that employers can write bad sick time policies forcing employees to use their PTO as sick time… or even worse, reduce PTO days.

As a result of the poor economy, we have now firmly moved back to an employer’s market where they can treat their staff with all of the careless disregard they so rightfully wish. That can only last for so long, but it’s here for now. The problem is, COVID can easily infect not only staff in the office, but the executives. Unfortunately, we’re likely to see most executives board themselves into their offices and never come out to see anyone. That assumes that many executives choose to even come into the office at all. Many executives may not even show up and, instead, choose to work from home. While those executives practice stay-at-home, they firmly will not allow their staff to do so. It’s a, “Do as I say, not as I do” situation. Unfortunately, these truly one-sided executive privilege situations occur with much more frequency in high unemployment markets, just as we face in 2020.

Worse, these callous self-centered greedy executives will treat their bottom end employees as entirely disposable. Because of the high unemployment rate, this gives them the opportunity to treat employees poorly while tossing them aside with frequency and impunity. If a few of their employees die to COVID, they don’t really care. This also means that COVID will spread with all of the careless abandon it needs to usher in wave 2. These poor corporate decisions will also be one of the primary reasons why wave 2 starts, though it won’t be the only reason why it continues to propagate.

That will be thanks to public transportation, beach gatherings, public gatherings, shopping in stores, restaurants and so on. All of the standard social fare that everyone has become accustomed to every day and on weekends, these will be the method of propagation of COVID-19. It may start in the office, but it will transmit through “open channels”. Though, as I said, it will also transmit due to poorly conceived office spaces combined with executives treating staff as dispensable in a high unemployment market. If someone in a corporation gets COVID, executives won’t necessarily take swift action. They might disinfect the workplace, they might not. It all depends on the corporation. Many corporations, as I said, don’t really give a damn about their employees’ health.

mask-businessWorse, far too many executives are sociopaths. They really don’t care one wit about anyone other than themselves. They put on a good face, but behind that is someone who doesn’t actually care. If someone gets COVID, they don’t really care as long as it doesn’t impact them directly. As long as they continue to practice stay-at-home, they won’t be affected. If half of their office staff gets COVID, they’ll simply fire them and get more staff. However, that might only work for so long until they have a huge lawsuit pending against them for improper staff treatment (and a number of COVID deaths). OSHA won’t take too kindly to sociopath executives playing games with their office staff in this callous and reckless way.

By the time any kind of litigation is forthcoming, the damage will already have been done. This means that COVID-19 will be firmly partway through its second much larger and deadlier wave. Those executives might be fired or the company might have to shut down, but not before the damage to the population has been done.

Second Wave Part II

Don’t kid yourself. The second wave is coming. As soon as the politicians decide that we need to reopen the US (and, indeed, the world) is the day the seeds for the second wave are planted. It only takes 14-28 days to incubate COVID-19. Within that period of time, we’ll see a ramping up, again, of the number of cases. Within 30 days, assuming the politicians keep the economy open, the cases will skyrocket. Unfortunately, we’re presently in the lull just before the storm. That 14-28 days will seem like everything is status-quo. That we’ve gone back to our older days. People will be out and about, happy, content and oblivious. All the while, COVID-19 is transmitting between many people. You can’t see it transmitted. You can’t feel it. It’s there, but it’s invisible. The only way to know is 1) getting tested or 2) getting sick.

Because we, as a nation, seem to have opted to go with #2 as a primary means of detection, this means that we have to wait until its far too late before understanding just how badly the whole situation is screwed up. The numbers of dead in wave 2 will far exceed the numbers of dead we’ve seen so far.

Grim Statistics

Here we come to how this may all pay out. It’s also the place where we need to review numbers. If numbers aren’t your thing, then it’s a good thing I saved the best for last. Let’s get going.

My guestimate is somewhere between 2% – 5% of the nation dead assuming an infection rate totalling at least 50% of the population (165 million).

At a 2% death rate at a 50% infection rate, that’s 3.3 million dead… and that’s just for starters. If the death rate reaches a whopping 5% (likely once hospitals reach capacity), that’s 8.25 million people dead. Those numbers are still less than the total number of dead from the 1918 pandemic at 20-50 million dead worldwide, though it’s much higher than the ~700,000 dead from the 1918 pandemic in the US. Keep in mind that in 1918, the population of the US was around 103.2 million people or roughly 1/3 of the population in 2020. Extrapolating the death rate from 1918 using 2020’s population of 330 million, the 1918 pandemic would have claimed 2.1 million people in the US alone. With COVID, we’re no where near that death rate yet. We’ve got a long way to go, which is why reopening now WILL only lead to a much more severe wave 2 death rate.

The sheer fact that we may not yet have even reached a 1% US population infection rate should be wildly concerning. We’ll need to reach an 85-95% infection rate across the entire US population before COVID-19 is considered “done”. We’re no where near those numbers. Opening the economy at this moment invites many, many more infections. You don’t even want to consider about the numbers of dead once we reach an 85% US population infection rate. Though, we’re quickly heading down this road.

Steps to Reopening

Unfortunately, we can’t stop the tide that is now turning. Politicians are going to do what they’re in the process of doing. If that’s reopen the economy, then that’s it. Come hell or high water, we’re reopening. That means that any published steps for how to safely achieve that reopening are mere suggestions. There’s no way that any leader will follow every step to the letter. Indeed, we’re likely to see some state governors open their entire state back up simply out of fear of political reprisal. Some deluded people have even called for recall of some governors. Governors are doing what they are doing to protect that state’s citizens, not because, as some people have put it, that those governors are “drunk with power”. It’s not a Kool-Aid issue. It’s an issue of public safety.

Though, some people don’t seem to get this. I get it. They’re out of work. They have no income. It’s difficult to make ends meet. I get that wholeheartedly. The problem is, what are we opening back up to if we do it now?

If “you” want to go to back to work face-to-face with the throngs of the COVID-bearing public, go for it. If you get COVID-19 and perish, that’s your choice. That’s a Darwinian Award level choice. While it’s fine to make such decisions for yourself, don’t drag other people into your quagmire along with you. If you have a death wish, that’s yours alone. Leave other people’s lives, health, safety and livelihoods out of it. If we choose to stay out of the public, that’s our choices. Don’t attempt make choices for or force choices on others. We all can make choices for ourselves. If the rest of the country chooses not to have a death wish, you must respect that choice.

If your employer chooses not to have that death wish, you must also respect their choice. If your company wants you back to work tomorrow and you’re willing, that’s also your choice. If your company wants you back at work and you’d prefer to stay-at-home as ordered, that’s a choice companies also need to respect without ramifications. If you can safely and effectively work from home, then a company needs to allow that choice. So long as stay-at-home orders remain, companies should be required to abide by those orders regardless of whether their business is now allowed to reopen.

Corporations and small businesses alike will do whatever is most cost effective to operate their business, rather than operate in the public’s best interest. The difficulty, with both business and government alike, is having a death toll approaching 3 million is catastrophic to any economy. If it gets to has high as 8 million (this is entirely possible), the economy will be way beyond problematic. It is, unfortunately, where we are presently heading with the early reopening that both the President and the governors are pushing hard, regardless of their documented steps.

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