At this point in the coronavirus epidemic, everyone should be aware of what to do in order to avoid catching the virus, and how to avoid infecting others. I’m not going to dwell on how contagious the coronavirus is, or how dangerous COVID-19 can be to all age groups. (Seriously, if you think this only infects old people like me, you may be in for a nasty surprise in the near future!)
We have more important things to talk about. Buf first, just as a reminder:
Tactics to avoid exposure to coronavirus
- Limit public exposure. If institutions aren’t closed by edict in your area, you should voluntarily stay home. Don’t go to restaurants, bars, nightclubs, weddings, funerals, or religious services. Keep your kids out of school, and work from home or take vacation time if at all possible.
- Think of exposure in terms of both quantity and frequency. Reduce the number of places you go; if there’s someplace you must go, do so as infrequently as possible. If possible, go at times when there are likely to be fewer people. If you must go to work, interact with as few of your co-workers as possible. Eliminate all work meetings, and work in smaller groups if possible.
- Practice social distancing. Stay at least six feet (6’) away from others; if possible, extend that to ten feet (10’). Don’t shake hands; by now everyone should understand why, and if someone seems offended it’s their problem, not yours.
- Wash your hands frequently and properly. Here’s a video on a very effective method. (Take off watches, bracelets, and rings first!)
- When possible, wear disposable gloves to place a barrier between you and infected surfaces. Remember that taking them off requires a special technique.
- Try not to touch your face with un-sanitized hands! (It’s amazing how hard this is to avoid, but when out in public you’ll need to pay conscious attention to it.)
- Disinfect surfaces that might have been exposed. This includes packages that come to your home, and packaged foodstuffs you buy. Shopping cart handles are teeming with germs; I advise disinfecting them and wearing disposable gloves.
Now that you’ve dramatically reduced your chances of developing COVID-19, let’s consider what preparedness steps take now and in the foreseeable future.
Unprepared? There are still things you can do
If you’re new to the world of preparedness, this has no doubt been a rather traumatic introduction to the topic. You may be feeling overwhelmed; there’s so much to do, and so little has been done, that the whole thing seems impossible.
Right now, though, there are a few things you can do to help you get through the next couple of months.
First, use this event as motivation to never be in this situation again. Make a vow that when things calm down, you’ll take your preparedness seriously and do what’s necessary to make you and your family less susceptible to future life-altering events.
Second, accept the reality that this could go on for another 6 weeks. In fact, I’m of the opinion that 6 weeks is an optimistic time frame. You have have to survive in the midst of increasing shortages and quarantines for at least that much time.
Third, prioritize. Focus on your most immediate needs: food, housing, and heat. Everything else is really secondary. The more limited your resources, the more ruthless you’ll need to be in your prioritization. Cut out all non-essentials; the less you have, the more deeply you’ll need to cut.
Fourth, gather the things you need to see you through the next month or two. I don’t mean go out and buy a truckload of toilet paper! I do mean go to the grocery store and stock up on food you’ll actually eat (plus the essential consumables you need).
Don’t buy out the store; if stocks are thin, buy a couple of week’s worth if possible. In a few days, go back and buy a couple more week’s worth. Do that until you have everything you need for the next several weeks. Don’t plan on being able to go to the store on a daily basis; even if you can, you’ll want to limit your public exposure as much as possible. If you can get this done in one trip, while being responsible with your purchases, do so. If it takes a couple of trips, that’s okay. Try not to make more than three trips in total.
Fifth, get some cash to keep on hand. I realize that many people don’t have ready savings, but if you do withdraw a few hundred dollars of cash (including smaller denominations) to keep in reserve. Should you desperately need something, you may find that the street slang “money talks — bullshit walks” is depressingly real.
None of this is pretty, but it’s better than starving and freezing!
For those who have prepared…
If you’ve been preparing systematically, as I outline in Prepping For Life, you’re starting to experience the peace of mind which comes from rational preparedness. You’ve probably discovered some holes in your planning, but having a full pantry goes a long way to reducing that stress!
Now’s the time to make a note of the areas where you were less prepared, and resolve to remedy those when things get back to some semblance of normality. You may also see with greater clarity some of the less intelligent preparedness steps you took. That’s okay; we’ve all done that. Resolve to revisit your risk analysis and use your experience to make better estimates.
One of the things I see a lot of people ignore in their planning is the potential for loss of income. For some reason everyone thinks that their job will continue during a major event, and many are now discovering that isn’t the case. Mandatory business closings have left a lot of people burning unpaid time off, while their rent or mortgage continues. We think in terms of accident and health insurance to cover us, but what happens when there’s no job to go to? This is where liquid savings — cash in the bank — is so important.
When this pandemic subsides, look at what you did and didn’t do in your preparedness and make modifications for the future. Don’t put it off, either, because this pandemic may come back in a few months to test those changes.
The near future
What’s going to happen? That, of course, is the $64,000 question. No one knows for sure, but after talking with a number of experts in the field here’s what I’m expecting (and preparing for) — assuming, of course, that we can’t significantly flatten the infection curve and end this soon:
Duration: As I mentioned earlier, I expect the most significant part of this pandemic to last about six weeks — regardless of what the politicians say. After that the infections may level off and start to decrease. It is very unlikely that we see significant reductions in infections sooner.
Restrictions: Expect increasing business closures, and even forced “shelter in place” quarantines. They’re already happening in a few places, but in the next couple of weeks you’ll see widespread restrictions. We may even see interstate travel restrictions. We could argue about the constitutionality of such measures, but in the meantime they’re likely to be a reality.
Health care: Expect massive over-crowding at hospitals, and rationing of care. The lesson from Europe is that a rapid increase in severely ill patients simply overwhelms existing infrastructure; only the most gravely ill will get attention, and everyone else is likely to get little to no care.
(If you think that won’t happen here because our American health care system is “the best in the world”, get ready for a shock: we have fewer hospital beds per capita than almost every other developed nation — less than Italy, but also less than Latvia and Estonia. Rationing is all but certain, and the larger the population where you live, the more likely it is to happen.)
The supply of prescription medicines, much of which come from China, will start to dry up. If you don’t have a supply of what you take now, stock up before it becomes hard to find.
Food supply: in the short term, food shortages will be localized and spotty. Some foods will be unavailable in some areas, but not in others. Should the pandemic go on for longer, large scale shortages will become more likely. Don’t be surprised if fresh items (produce, perhaps milk and eggs) are in spotty availability. If you have a food backstock, you’re in good shape; if not, do what you can to rapidly build up a 6-week supply.
Once you’re comfortably prepared for the next six weeks, it’s time to start thinking about what happens after the virus has run its course. From a preparedness perspective, I expect the long-term impact may be worse than the disease itself.
First, I’m told there is a distinct possibility that we may see another round (or two) of coronavirus infections this fall. It’s unlikely that we’ll have a tested vaccine by then, though I won’t rule it out completely.
If the virus comes back, it could be in a mutated form; the good news is that viruses do occasionally mutate to a less pathogenic type. The bad news is that they sometimes mutate into something worse. We won’t know until it happens, if it does. I would suggest re-stocking at the earliest opportunity after the virus has subsided, paying particular attention to any weaknesses you identified in this incident.
Second, I expect a severe and global economic slowdown. Many economic analysts are starting to use the word “depression” to describe what they see coming.
I’ve been warning people for a couple of years that, by every measure, our economy was sliding. But, because the stock market was in an extreme bubble fueled by cheap money, no one wanted to listen. We kept hearing about the “greatest economy ever”, despite the fact that all of the leading metrics were trending sharply down. Now our economic weakness is exposed for all to see.
The coronavirus isn’t the cause; it’s just the catalyst that set it off. If it weren’t this, it would have been something else. But we have to deal with it, now.
If you still have money in the stock market, this is the time to get it out. I don’t foresee a big enough rally to erase the losses of the last few weeks, let alone produce a real gain. It’s time to think “liquidity” and “safety” above all. If for some reason the economy magically rebounds by the end of the year, you can reinvest it. (I don’t think that’s going to happen, however. A better strategy is to use those funds to pay down any consumer debt you may be carrying!)
No matter what your job is, prepare as best you can for the possibility of unemployment. The beauty of preparedness the way I espouse is that it’s “multi-hazard”; a backstock of food works as well for a period of unemployment as it does for a quarantine or natural disaster. If you do lose your job, at least you won’t worry about where your next meal is coming from — which frees up scarce funds to pay your fixed expenses (rent, mortgage, etc.) It also frees your mind from a big worry, enabling you to see your way more clearly through the downturn.
Radically reduce your debt load. If you have car payments, now’s the time to get rid of them by selling off your newish car and picking up a reliable used vehicle — and pay cash for it.
Many people will preach the mantra of “refinance!” as mortgage interest rates start dropping. Do so only under two conditions: first, that there’s at least a 2% change from the interest rate you’re currently paying; and second, that you refinance ONLY the amount left on your mortgage.
As the economy sours, property values are likely to drop precipitously — particularly in areas that are currently “hot”. You don’t want to be caught upside-down in a property because you “took out the equity” by refinancing at currently-inflated home prices. I don’t think it’s terribly prudent in a good economy, and it’s downright foolish in a bad one.
With a down economy happening in an election year, political turmoil is a certainty. I don’t know if the President will be re-elected, but whether he is or isn’t the political fights will be severe. I wouldn’t be surprised if those fights turn physical, with actual shootings and deaths the result. If at all possible, staying away from large population centers from mid-year until at least Inauguration Day next year may prove to be a very prudent decision.
How long can we expect an economic slump to last? Probably 3-5 years. We’re going to be in this for a while, so start making prudent economic choices now.
That’s my analysis for today. Tomorrow may be different!
My best advice is to take deep breaths. If possible, take a walk in a nice park or put on your headphones and listen to soothing music. Hug your loved ones. The world isn’t ending, at least not right now, and with a little clear thinking (and some behavioral changes) you’ll come out of this in good shape.
In the meantime, wash your hands!
-=[ Grant ]=-