Thursday, March 19, 2020

Musings From Within a Pandemic

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down. It seems only appropriate to jot down a few notes to my future self. Self, when you recount these days, folks simply aren't going to believe you.

Thought 1: our 'new normal' has descended upon us at break neck speed. Two weeks ago I was shaking hands with folks at shul and discussing whether coronavirus would be more dramatic than the flu. Last week, we held services with each of the chairs spaced three feet apart, I washed my hands three times during services, and the Rabbi repeatedly reminding us not to touch each other or the Torah. This week, shul is closed indefinitely. We've had friends' Bar and Bat Mitzvah's go from happening, to 'we understand if you can't make it', to called off all in a matter of weeks.

What seems impossible one day, schools closing for months, Metro working tirelessly to lower ridership, DC shuttering all bars and restaurants, is our normal the next. The CDC continues to lower its recommended maximum group assembly count. It's gone from 500, to 250, to 50 and is now at 10. It would shock no one if we awoke tomorrow with instructions not to leave our homes at all.

If a movie came out three weeks ago suggesting a mysterious illness required the world to shutter schools and businesses and mandate groups of no more than 10 assemble, I'd have written it off as ridiculous. Yet, that's where we are today.

Thought 2: the impact on businesses, especially small businesses, is catastrophic. Walking down Columbia Pike and seeing closed business after business is heartbreaking. Being online comes with its own challenges. Suddenly the customers you serve have no income, making your business prospects just as bleak. The more essential the service you provide, the more likely you'll have to offer it at no charge. While this generous gesture will earn you good will, it won't bring in funds to pay your employees or operating expenses.

As terrifying a time as it is for entrepreneurs, it's also every bit exciting. I'm seeing organizations refashion and even invent new business models seemingly on the fly. Companies are seizing the opportunity to help others and continue finding ways to eek out an existence. The very small businesses that are getting crushed are also going to help us get through this. In a small way, it's very heartening.

Thought 3: we're still in the calm before the storm. As of today, we have 14 known cases of coronavirus, a number that seems low when compared to the unprecedented measures being taken (see above). Yet, we're all bracing for this to get bad. Really bad.

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