Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Re-Emerging from “A Quarantine State of Mind”


The milestone statistic yesterday was startling. Over 500,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19. This is truly a staggering loss for the loved ones of the deceased and for the United States as a whole. What a loss of potential and human capital as people of all ages and occupations with different skills, contributions, and talents are gone.

When I made the final revisions to my new book, Flipping a Switch, on May 30, 2020, just over 100,000 people had been taken by the pandemic. At that time, I wrote “Even more frightening is the fact that the duration, severity, and lethality of COVID-19 are unknown at this time.” Unfortunately, that statement is still true today, almost nine months later.

Nevertheless, there are glimmers of hope and progress. According to an NPR article, updated today, more than 64 million vaccine doses have been administered to 13.3% of the U.S. population. Of that group, 5.9% of Americans have received both doses. Absent winter storm delays, the current rate of vaccine distribution is over 1.6 million shots per day.

It is now time to start looking ahead to life after COVID-19. In fact, some people are already starting to do that.

In the 55+ community where I live, some residents are fortunate enough to have already received their two vaccine shots. They are now starting to ask questions on the residents’ Facebook page like “Is it OK to travel again?” and “When will it be safe to hug my grandchildren?” Conversely, many younger adults have questions about their own vaccinations, children’s school schedules, job prospects, and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on careers, work practices, and finances.

Fact is, we have been living for almost a year with a “Quarantine State of Mind.” A challenge we all face is gradually easing up on pandemic practices and finding a comfortable space somewhere between our pre-COVID and quarantined lifestyles. In addition, many people will need to rebuild financial lives shattered by job loss, death, medical bills, and other events. 

Below are six thoughts to ponder as we look ahead to the time when COVID-19 is in the rear view mirror:

¨       Emergency Funds Need Replenishing- This will not be easy, especially for people getting back to work after months of reduced income, furloughs, or unemployment. Many have completely drained their savings. That being said, any savings is better than nothing, even if it takes a year or more to get back to a comfortable place. One way to save is to complete the 30-Day $100 Savings Challenge. At the end of each month, you’ll save up $100 and, after a year, you’ll have $1,200 saved. If you can scale your savings up to $300 monthly, you would have $3,600 set aside.

¨       Bottlenecks Will Occur- An article in the Wall Street Journal, “Consumers Open Wallets, and Factories Can’t Keep Up,” noted that many manufacturers went into their typical recession mode playbook and cut payroll costs and production. What they didn’t anticipate was high demand from employed consumers who were unable to spend money on travel and entertainment and wanted to spend it elsewhere. International supply chain issues also caused delays. Bottom line: consumers may continue to experience limited inventory and longer wait times for deliveries.

¨       Financial Numbness is Real- Many Americans have been living in “financial limbo” for a year. Some observers have called this “financial numbness” or “stuck-in-a-rut-ness,” as people stayed in a “holding pattern” and put off decisions like putting their house on the market, funding a retirement savings plan, or making plans to do something in the future. We will all need to start feeling comfortable making plans again and taking action to move forward.

¨       “Baby Step” Planning is Okay- Many people were burned by non-refundable travel expenses and travel insurance policies that did not cover pandemics. Some experienced other plans that “blew up.” It is totally understandable to be wary of making advance plans for work, travel, and events. Personally, I probably will not pay any long-range advance deposits for a while. More likely, I will pay for activities and services closer to when they actually happen.

¨       Time Pressures are Real- All of us will have lost over a year of opportunity when COVID-19 subsides; opportunity to earn income, see friends and family, travel, and more. No one feels this more than older adults, whose greatest (shrinking) resource is time. My neighbors talk, not about “losing two years,” but losing two QUALITY years as they acknowledge their health status may decline. There will be lots of pent-up demand to work on “bucket lists.”

¨       Confusion is Almost Inevitable- We ought to consider now what we will do when family members and friends have different views about how to "re-emerge” after COVID-19. For example, when to travel, get together, go to crowded spaces, and/or hug others. Like different views that people hold now about mask-wearing, post-pandemic practices will likely be confusing, controversial, and/or complicated because people have different levels of "cautiousness." Hopefully, we will get clear guidance from public health officials but it will likely be interpreted in different ways.

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