A Tale of Two Cities

The Victors of the Bastille - by Paul Delaroche

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Could we find a more apropos quote for 2020 than the first few sentences of Charles Dickens’s 1859 immortal classic, A Tale of Two Cities? While the French Revolution is a thing of the past, these words should give us pause as to how we deal with the coronavirus moving out of summer and into fall.

For most optical shops and optical companies, 2020 has certainly not been fun. While we all hoped this pandemic would be short-lived and we could go back to the world we all knew, that sadly probably won’t be the case for some time. COVID-19 has hit every corner of our world and our economy. Thousands of businesses have closed and thousands more will in the months ahead. Even Starbucks, the king of coffee shops so many can’t live without is shuttering some 400 locations. One of the bright spots in the economy is Sonic, whose revenues increased some 30% in May due to the fact they are set up as a drive-in chain where no one needs to leave the safety or air of their own automobile. Proof that people will shop when and where they feel safe.

So, what are your plans for fall 2020?

We can all hope for a vaccine to be tested and approved in record time, but even if all the jigsaw puzzle pieces fall into place in the next several months, how many people will get vaccinated? How long will it take to vaccinate as many people who want it? Even if the overwhelming majority of medical experts agree that this vaccine or that is completely effective with the most complicated side effect being nothing more than a burp, the time it would take to create 300 million doses might take months. Consider this, if it takes just 5 minutes to do the paperwork and give a vaccine, it would take a total of 25 million hours to vaccinate 300 million Americans.

How many people will fight getting vaccinated, many tooth and nail When something so simple as wearing a mask can drive someone into a rage so severe that hundreds of Karens and Kens have lost their composure, lost friends, marriages and even their jobs and families over their recorded video rantings, how willing do you think these Americans will be to get vaccinated even if a safe and effective vaccine is found?

Let’s face facts, the coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. It didn’t go away with the turn of another page in the calendar or another 8 turns this year. It didn’t go away as Winter turned to Spring or Spring to Summer. It most certainly won’t go away as Summer turns to Fall.

Here we are in early August as I write this where the United States has surpassed 5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus with almost 170,000 dead. This is at a time where much of the country has its doors and windows open to bring in the fresh air. COVID-19 is at its essence a respiratory disease  The growing evidence is that it is most easily spread through the air we all share, hence the ensuing battle over masks across the country.

From political rallies to cruise ships. From bars and night clubs to churches. From restaurants to summer camps. Anywhere people have gathered indoors this Spring and Summer for any length of time have demonstrated an increased exposure to and the contraction of the SARS-CoV-2.

It is believed that one of the reasons the South has been hit so hard this summer is the reliance of air conditioning from California to Florida and how much of that air is recirculated. Traditional air conditioning has always been about cooling the existing air over bringing in fresh air to try and cool. There is little doubt that recirculated air carries more of the lethal virus than fresh air from outside. According to the EPA, long before the coronavirus, indoor air pollutants may be upwards of 100X higher than outdoor levels.

As we move towards Fall and the colder temperatures the season brings with it, how will your store or practice deal with having doors and windows closed to the elements? We as Americans will be moving closer together. Most of us won’t be sitting outside on patios enjoying our dinners any longer. We won’t be enjoying lunch sitting by a fountain or on the grass at a nearby park. We won’t be drinking our coffees in sidewalk cafes once the weather turns cool.

Then there is the fact that as Americans, we are lazy and become easily bored and complacent. We will stop distancing and wearing masks at the very first sign of good news or the first sign of getting bored of looking out for one another. This is a script that has been repeated over and over the past several months. From the Memorial Day opening of swimming spots to kids summer camps. We are watching another example unfold this week in Sturgis,  South Dakota, as several hundred thousand have gathered for the 80th Annual rally, with barely a mask to be seen anywhere. Hopefully, the fact that much of the event takes place outside will mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Then again, people have been pretty packed together inside the bars and restaurants and at the Smash Mouth concert over the weekend.

Education during contagion.

A tale of two cities. Children will be going back to classrooms across the country. Some cities and school districts are already opening almost and running as if we’ve learned nothing these past 7 months. Others are mandating minimal standards of distancing, such as conducting classes with desk distancing of only 3 feet. Still, others are making plans to do as much distance learning as possible. Those with small children already know how hard it is to keep kids socially distanced when you are only watching one or two. How about a teacher who has to watch 20+ at a time? Care to venture a guess how many parents will be telling tales of sending their children to school in a Paw Patrol mask only to have them come home wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask? Every parent I know dreads what colds and flus are spread every time kids go back to school in normal times. How many children will be coming home stricken with or the unwilling carriers of the coronavirus?

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that nearly 100,000 children have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks, and the school year has barely started across the country. North Paulding High School in Georgia, made famous by a widely shared social media photo of students crowding the halls with less than 20% wearing masks has already shut down temporarily after nine students and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus just days after starting the school year. Cherokee County School District in Georgia has ordered 826 students and staff to quarantine for two weeks due to possible exposure. At least 34 cases at 22 schools in Mississippi have been reported so far. A recent story in the IndyStar shows at least one case in the past month in every local school district.

While COVID-19 is not the flu, we can learn a lot from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. While the first wave of the flu in Spring and Summer of 1918 was bad, it was the 2nd wave that appeared in September and skyrocketed through November of 1918 that saw 195,000 Americans dies in three short months. That 2nd wave was five times as bad as the first wave. The 3rd wave in the Spring of 1919 was still twice as deadly as the first wave in the spring of 1918.

Spanish flu mortality timeline with a marker of where we would be standing today as a means of comparison

This fall will be a tale of two cities or two types of cities as there will be two types of businesses. There will be those who are along for the ride waiting until after things happen to try and catch up to events after they have happened. Then there are those who planned ahead and are ready with contingency plans to handle whatever happens. The same can be said of businesses. Some will open their doors every day and hope for the best. Others will plan ahead and be ready for most anything that is thrown their way.

Now is the time to plan.

How will your practice or store deal with an employee who gets the virus? This is more than the compassion of sending home an employee who tests positive with pay for two weeks of quarantine. Who will take their place for those two weeks? Can you afford to lose 1/4 of your staff for an extended period of time? What about 1/3rd your staff? Even 1/2?

How will you distance customers and patients?

How will you do curbside pickup or dispensing in the snow?

How will you deal with coats and hats that could be carrying the virus?

How will you deal with a shutdown should your state or local government put one in place if things get bad?

How will you market your store or practice if people are afraid to go out shopping in person?

What remote technologies will you have in place to do exams or sell eyewear?

How will you pay rent, salaries, and your vendors if you are shut down again?

No matter who wins the day on November 3rd, you can pretty much bet a lame-duck Congress will have little reason to spend money to help businesses or citizens regardless of how bleak things might look until the next Congress is sworn in next year.

It seems somewhat sacrilegious to place the lyrics of Fatboy Slim in the same story that quotes the great Charles Dickens, but Right Here, Right Now is the time to be planning ahead for the rest of 2020 and the start of 2021.

Now is the time to put your plans in place whether the rest of the year becomes the best of times or the worst of times.