by Richard Harshaw
Covid-19—the very term causes dread and fear now. (Covid-19 got its name from the way CDC names viruses. In this case, it was the Coronavirus virus disease of 2019, hence CoViD-19.) Everyone is shaken up, many people in abject fear about what may happen next. And while this could easily be a political column this month (as I could rant and rail about how we are having our civil liberties usurped without due process), I will avoid the politics and finger pointing for now. There will be more than enough time for that later.
Perspective May Help
But let’s put things in perspective first. I did some research on humanity’s worst pandemics (using the web site www.visualcapitalist.com/history_of_pandemic_deadliest) and found some startling statistics. Here is a summary of my findings in chronological order.
PANDEMIC YEAR (APPROX) DEATH TOLL MORTALITY RATE
Antoine Plague 180 AD 9 million Unknown
Plague of Justinian 540 AD 30-50 million 40%
Bubonic Plague (the Black Death) 1350 200 million 11%
Smallpox 1400 56 million ~2.8%
Great Plagues of the 18th Century 1700’s 600 thousand Unknown
The Spanish Flu 1918-19 40 to 50 million 10-20%
HIV/AIDS 1981 to now 25-35 million Unknown
SARS 2002 770 thousand 15%
Swine Flu 2009-10 200 thousand ?
MERS 2012 850 thousand ?
Ebola 2014-16 11.3 thousand 50%
CoVid-19 2019 to now 122 thousand 3.4%
Regular flu Today 1 billion get it annually, only 1 million die 0.1%
So as you can see, CoVid-19, while bad, is not nearly as bad as many of the other deadly plagues of the past (especially the Black Death plague). In normal parlance, “We’ve had worse—a lot worse!”
So let’s not panic. This is not going to end humanity. It will barely put a dent in the global population (but of course, that is of no comfort if you or your family have had CoVid-19 or, worse yet, had a fatality in your family). Here are some stark facts: CoVid-19 is going to be around for a long time—perhaps millions of years. If you don’t get it this year, you will probably get it in the future (but by then, we hope we have a vaccine that will either prevent you from getting it in the first place or cure you of it). Doctors tell us (and my daughter, being an ER doctor in Phoenix, AZ confirms it) that 80% of those who get CoVid-19 don’t even know they have it. Only 20% suffer strong symptoms, and of them, a few (mostly those with compromised immune systems) don’t make it. Sad, but one of those grisly realities about life—the “survival of the fittest” and “nature red in claw and tooth” thing. Eventually, humanity will develop immunity. Once you have this stuff and survive, you are immune to it from then on as your body has built effective antibodies and “remembers” that in your genetic code. (Of course, if CoVid-19 mutates from year to year—as it appears to be doing in some parts of the world—then you need to have THAT strain to be immune going forward, and so on. In fact, did you know that there are about 400 varieties of the common cold, and that once you get a cold, you are immune to it from then on? The problem is, of course, you won’t live 400 years to build up immunity to every cold virus out there.)
(By the way, if you have Amazon Prime and a Firestick or Fire TV, you may enjoy a miniseries made a few years ago called “Pandemic”. Very chilling tale that is scarily close to what we are seeing now. Also, if you are a reader, try Robin Cook’s medical techno-thriller “Vector.” A roller coaster ride about bio-terrorism and heroism!)
So What Can We Do?
As individuals, you can only control what you do and how you respond to the situation. You can’t control others, and as someone pointed out recently on Facebook, you can’t quarantine Stupid either. So what can I as an individual do?
Here is a short list (because I am running out of space):
I don’t know if you are a fan of Dave Ramsey or not (I am neutral on him) but he does have some good advice about a “rainy day fund”. He suggests you have at least six months of expenses (mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, food, fuel, car payments, etc) in the bank and to never let it drop below that level except in times of emergency like right now. Personally, I did this even before I heard of Dave Ramsey (I heard it from the other Dave Ramsey, my dad), and when I ran my consulting practice, I even did that for my business, having six months of business expenses (other than salary) saved up. Of course, if you are like the median American, your savings account shows only about $4,380 plus a lot of moths; and if you are average, you have about $16,420 in the bank; and neither figure will carry you for six months, unless you live in a monastery.
When consumers deplete their savings (and some already have) they won’t be able to buy HVAC service or equipment without credit. I am sure you are set up to make this possible with retail financing programs, but I worry about the rebound effect when the economy does reawaken and folks are now saddled with high interest debt service while barely making ends meet.
You can’t control the economy or the government (except through your vote) so stop bitching about them and figure out what you are going to do to stay alive. As General U. S. Grant heard his subordinate generals wringing their hands about how Lee had surprised them during Grant’s first encounter with Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, Grant listened for a moment, drawing on his famous cigar while he whittled on a stick, and then said, “I am sick and tired of hearing you guys complain about how Robert E. Lee is going to do a double hand spring with a twist and land behind you! For once, I want YOU to think what YOU are going to do to discomfort HIM!” (Or words to that effect—I am using some poetic license here for dramatics effect. But he did say this.)
This writes much easier than it translates but try to keep your employees through all of this, even if you have to furlough them. I know of no easy way to do this, but for key employees (service manager, installation manager, office manager, etc.) you may want to consider setting up a phantom stock plan. These are pretty complex and beyond the scope of this column but talk to your attorney and financial advisor (and possibly your company’s insurance agent) at a meeting and get their input.
Don’t buy ANYTHING right now. No trucks, no cars, no sheet metal shears or brakes, no jet skis, no turbo charged golf carts, no 70 foot power yachts. Learn to live on what you have for the moment. (Do as Castro is said to have done during a tough economic downturn in the early 1960’s. He said to Moscow, “Please provide more aid. We are starving.” Moscow’s reply was, “Tighten your belts.” To which Castro said, “Please send belts.”)
Expect a long siege. This will not end soon. The virus will now be here for millions of years. Either we will adapt to it or all die off (in which case this column will no longer be relevant). Set your face like flint and ride it out.
But above all else, have hope. Hope in each other, hope in the medical community, and yes—hope in your God (if you have one). As a Christian, I find Psalm 91 to be very encouraging at this time. Here are some of the most powerful lines from it:
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
No evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
My 50 years of walking with God have taught me that He can be trusted, that his word is always solid and rings true. I will not abandon that faith now.
What about you?