COVID-19: The Long Slog Ahead

Even the best-case scenarios now suggest that it will be well into 2021 before the U.S. recovers from the coronavirus.

While sorting through the latest studies and projections about the path of the coronavirus this past week, I was hit in the face with a veritable two-by-four by this piece in Medium by my old friend and colleague Sam Hill. Sam, an all-around smart guy who may be known to some of you because of some high-impact consulting he's done in the insurance world, writes that, even under the best of scenarios, we're probably looking at the end of 2021 before the world might return to normal.

Let that sink in for a minute. More than 16 more months of this, in one form or another.

In some ways, Sam's piece strikes me as quite optimistic. He is counting on having three viable vaccines for the virus in the market by the end of this year.

But it will take months to manufacture and distribute enough to vanquish the virus. Some vaccines may not work or may have disastrous side effects, leading to caution both among public health authorities and among those of us considering getting the virus -- "In 1976," Sam writes, "one person died of a flu strain that appeared to be like the 1918 flu. We rushed a vaccine through. It killed 250 and paralyzed 500."

Even if the vaccine works, it may only be 50% to 60% effective, not 90%, as we've come to expect with smallpox, measles and polio, so a lot of people would be left vulnerable.

By the time you crank in all the steps that have to be completed before life returns to normal, Sam puts the over/under at roughly the end of 2021.

And that's the best of the three scenarios he lays out.

As long as I'm quoting people this week, here are the two smartest observations I've seen recently on how to navigate these crazy times. Both come from Kevin Sneader, the global managing partner at McKinsey:

"The first piece of advice I’d offer a CEO is, forecasts are out, dashboards are in. The notion that you can now forecast the economy, healthcare and other aspects of what can disrupt life, I think, is gone. Now we’re in an environment where we’ve also learned that what you really need to have a handle on are the metrics, insights and what’s actually happening on the ground—the dashboard of daily life.

"You really do have to think like an attacker all over again. Even if you were the incumbent, even if you were the leader before this pandemic, you’re now the attacker, so you must take the steps that attackers take. Think very differently. Look for new opportunities, new markets. Reshape the portfolio and, yes, look at mergers and acquisitions. Plan to do things quite differently as the future unfolds."

Stay safe.


P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight from the past week:

Why Work-From-Home Threatens Innovation

Non-insurance competitors such as Amazon, Google, Tesla, Comcast, General Motors and many others are not standing still, and neither should insurers.

How Insurers Are Applying AI

Insurers should not invest in technology-driven projects; instead, look for use-case-driven projects.

‘Scalable Compassion’ in Workers’ Comp

As much as claims representatives want to help individuals, there has been no feasible way to provide compassion at scale.

Panic Pricing May Be a Bad Idea

While raising rates might be how the industry has responded to uncertainty in the past, there are reasons not to do so now.

The Problem With Virtual Events

People routinely consume TED talks online and love them -- because they don’t bear any resemblance to boring, low-energy Zoom presentations.

5 Things Here to Stay, Post-Pandemic

While responses to where and how people work have varied, several effects on workplaces from the pandemic will persist even once it subsides.

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.