Laurence Peter Berra. “Yogi,” as he is better known, was the transcendent catcher for the New York Yankees, a baseball team that was the epitome of the American culture after World War II and deep into the twentieth century. Yogi was a once-in-a-lifetime baseball talent but also famous for saying charming nonsensical quotes such as “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Like COVID. It ain’t over.
For most things in life especially in the sporting world there is a start and there is a finish. The checkered flag indicates that the race is over in NASCAR. The mournful foghorn ends a soccer match.
Unlike sports, we don’t have any clear markers signaling the end of the pandemic. There will be no magical date, no running down of the clock, no switch of the calendar after which the pandemic will no longer be here. This issue is especially problematic with the emergence of virulent mutations that could well be more lethal than the pandemic nightmare we are living in.
We are well advised to be prudent and watchful and on guard. Listen to credentialed organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) and the infectious disease experts at the National Institutes of Health.
But the buck stops with us. Is a trip to some exotic part of the world worth it when even the experts cannot anticipate the implications of the viral pandemic?
Yes, we are all sick and tired of this pandemic thing. There was a jubilant celebration that reasonably safe and effective vaccines would finally return us to the Land of Normal. But then something happened on the way to the airport. And that thing was a curveball from COVID. So what would Yogi say about that?
He would probably advise us not to count our chickens, to take that fork in the road, and that none of us can predict the future. And the virus will not simply disappear. We need to be vigilant. We will not suddenly wake up one day and there will be a “peace treaty” with COVID.
It is highly unlikely that there will be an an event, a circumstance after which we can breathe a sigh of relief, tear off our two masks, and get on with life.
According to some experts there will be a slow slog with fits and starts, and, like seasonal flu, COVID will always be with us to some extent.
So how will we know when it’s over? How will we know when we can get back to some semblance of normalcy as we once know it? The answer is this: we will never know for sure.
Let me share a medical example. We may live in some fear that any new ache or pain or sneeze could be COVID, and anyone showing up in the ER with vague symptoms will be assumed COVID positive until tests prove otherwise. But let us look at what is now happening as a cloudy vision of what the future might look like:
If the vaccination rate and the number of patients in the hospitals continue to look favorable, restaurants will lighten some of their restrictions. Patrons may be limited to 75% of occupancy with limited traffic at the bar. Some restaurants will continue to restrict dining hours to approximately 90 minutes per table. A marketing tool will be for restaurants to document that they follow CDC guidelines and theirs is a safe place in which to dine.
Corporations will loosen restrictions on face-to-face meetings with a limited number of encounters spaced by six feet in boardrooms and meeting rooms. Some industries may encourage face-to-face interchange from a standpoint of collaboration and synergy. Haven’t we all had enough of Zoom meetings for a while? Business travel may resume somewhat.
If resorts and attractive venues can market themselves as a COVID-free zone with aggressive mitigation methods, they will have a tremendous marketing advantage. And vacations may resume.
If current trends continue, there will be a slow, subtle reemergence of activity in corporate warrens. This point was made by a current trip to our accountant. The office fills the first four floors of a glass and chrome human fishbowl. At one point there were football fields of cubicles and thousands of workers doing tax-related work. This tax season the venue was completely dark, quiet, and devoid of any human presence. If the COVID trends continue in a positive direction, I would anticipate a limited percentage of workers will be invited back, and they will help support the local restaurants, the hair salons, coffee shops, and the dry cleaners and all those mom and pop businesses that rely on the corporate worker for their economic survival.
At some point there will be an expectation of a vaccine passport. This is a complex issue with profound legal and ethical implications, but without doubt I would suspect that most workers would feel more comfortable working in an environment where risks were mitigated such as being tested and vaccinated and having a document or app to prove it.
It is highly doubtful that those conventions and music events attracting 50,000 participants will have a resurgence. But some meetings on a smaller scale will undoubtedly have new life. Frequent checks on temperature and symptoms, aggressive hand washing, and double masking will be requirements for participation.
At the end of the day, we cannot rely on some executive order from the governor’s mansion to tell us that, finally, the pandemic is over, and we can get back to normal. That simply will not happen. Each of us must make that commitment to be street smart and savvy, put the odds in our favor, and get on with life.
Nothing will ever be the way it was. Like Yogi said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”