Alright, it’s time to talk about this new coronavirus.
Let’s start with the fact that this disease is no joke. The problem is that it is potentially fatal to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions, and also that it is so contagious because many people who get it barely show any symptoms at all.
The result is that you can have a situation, as happened in Italy, where the virus spreads undetected but then suddenly the healthcare system gets completely overwhelmed. The end result of that is a staggering 6.6% death rate so far in Italy–and nearly a 1 in 4 death rate for those over 65.
So if there is still anyone trying to pretend that this new coronavirus is merely as bad as the flu, please stop.
As for myself, I display no symptoms. And I am mostly isolating myself anyway. In particular, as long as this outbreak lasts, I will not be coming into contact with those over the age of 60 or those considered at-risk. So my work as a pastor is now on hold, since everyone I pastor for is at-risk, one way or another. I also will be avoiding even medium-sized gatherings, not to avoid getting the virus, but to avoid potentially spreading it.
What’s the point?
The point is not to stop the spread of the disease. We are past that now. It has spread.
The point is simply to slow down the disease so that the health care system does not get overwhelmed, and we can buy time to get a vaccine. The death rate in Italy got so high in part because they literally ran out of doctors and medical equipment to treat the deluge of patients.
There are lots of worst-case scenarios, but none of them are inevitable. Countries like Taiwan show that it is quite possible to avoid serious damage from viruses like this. Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan has pretty much contained the virus, stopping it from spreading. Of course, they learned their lesson during the last outbreak. We, in the United States, did not.
So far Seattle is reacting fairly well, although not well enough. On a national level, there is still way too much denial.
Economically things will get worse before they get better. The only way to slow the virus down is to cancel events, tell people to avoid businesses where they will come into contact with others, and tell people to work from home. That will have an impact, and no one knows how severe the impact will be.
As always, the stock market will be predictive, not reactive. It will go down before the real catastrophe occurs, and it will start going back up well before most people are feeling optimistic. That means the worst time to sell is, as always, when everyone else is being pessimistic. (On the other hand, now is a great time to start investing! Or to refinance your house.)
Also, the total uncertainty about how bad coronavirus really is means there is no way to even come up with a good guess as to how long this bear market will last. It could end tomorrow or it could end two years from now. It will eventually end, as all things do.
I worry more about mental health than I do about the stock market or even the economy. We are already suffering from isolation and a lack of human contact.
But perhaps now is the time for technology, social media in particular, to live up to its expectations. We have more opportunities now than ever before to stay connected. Let’s use them.
I guess I’ll end this with a personal note. My bathroom has never been cleaner. I’m writing a lot. Folks, this could be the new normal for a while. Get used to it.
Take care, stay well, and stay the course.