The scourge has been unprecedented, abrupt and sweeping. Since February, our world has been dramatically altered. Yet change always brings opportunities as well as challenges, and we are a resilient people. Here are a few likely long-term macro impacts from the pandemic.
Business and Economics. The economy will recover, but workplaces may be changed forever. Telecommuting will increase as much can be done remotely more economically and efficiently. Factory workers will be more dispersed to minimize contamination. Commercial real estate will decline. “Brick and mortar” retail stores, already hammered by online shopping, will close at an accelerated pace, while travel, tourism and hospitality, long responsible for most new jobs growth and now most jobs lost, must revise business models. Effective broadband connectivity will become indispensable — a daunting challenge for broadband-deprived West Virginia and Huntington.
For the overall economy, the inflationary fiscal impact of trillions of stimulus dollars looms ahead. If future federal budget cuts reduce support for states and localities, West Virginia, which receives much more than it sends Washington, could suffer greatly.
Cities. If more dispersed work and living arrangements become the new norm, it is cities that will suffer most. How will the dynamic, creative, entrepreneurial spirit long nourished in great cities be maintained? Will rural, low-density areas such as West Virginia and Huntington be able to capitalize on new trends in relocation? Growth of “Almost Heaven” will require strong public and private leadership and enhanced statewide respect for diversity.
Education. Assumptions will be scrutinized at all levels. What about optimum teacher-pupil ratios? Are they more critical in elementary and secondary education, whereas higher education can rely on more-motivated students better able to utilize remote learning? What has been lost by severely diminished in-person classroom instruction for protracted periods, and how will it be made up? What will be the effect of severe revenue losses on academic college budgets?
Sports. Popular professional and amateur sports are likely to refill stadiums, but college athletic department budgets and the full array of sports they support may take a long time to recover.
Government and Politics. The blame-shifting vulnerabilities of federalism have been underscored, although states and localities as laboratories have demonstrated their value. Tragically, federalism has helped thwart national pandemic strategies. Partisan ideological battles have continued. Conspiracy mongers have concocted irrational absurdist theories to promote a frightening “resistance” even to wearing masks. Everywhere, outmoded government computer systems need upgrading to handle extraordinary demands from unemployment claims, stimulus payments, education and health programs.
International. Without greater international cooperation and collaboration, historic jealousies and wasteful competition have been exacerbated. American abandonment of international pubic health leadership has worsened the pandemic, most of all, ironically, for the United States. A restoration of America’s leadership role is crucial.
Health and Medicine. Awe and gratitude for the heroic performance of our emergency and medical professionals are obvious. So also are onrushing changes, for example, the coming of the Age of Telemedicine. Online exams, of course, will also require universal broadband connectivity.
The pandemic shows that not all have equal access to adequate medical care, in contrast to countries with superior pandemic outcomes. Pressure will mount for a public, government-operated health care system. “Medicare for All” will be the rallying cry.
Finally, in Washington, in West Virginia, in Huntington and elsewhere, long neglected public health agencies should receive more resources and higher priority. Surely we now understand their vital importance.