My last column in February targeted some politico/economic factors that could affect the global and domestic forging industry through 2020. What wasn’t on that list was any mention of COVID-19, the virus-induced petroleum price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the U.S. stock exchanges plummeting toward the earth’s molten core.
Not long ago Corona was something into which you put a lime wedge and drank. Today the term has far more serious, or even fatal, implications. Coronavirus (COVID-19) began in Wuhan, China, in late December. As of March 15, China had about 81,000 cases resulting in 3,200 deaths. Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain are the next-most highly afflicted countries. Combined, they have reported about 48,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths through mid-March.
In the nearly three months since the disease was first reported, it has spread around the globe. Looking at a world map, almost every country has reported cases of the coronavirus. The only regions thus far unaffected are Greenland, a string of countries in Africa’s interior and a few other small isolated countries. This will probably have changed by the time readers see this.
The U.S. reported its first COVID-19 case in late January. There were 15 afflicted by February 1; 76 by March 1; and 2,952 as I write this on March 15. To make things worse, the fatality rate of coronavirus is very high among the elderly and the medically compromised. At present, the states of Washington, New York, Connecticut and Colorado are the hardest hit.
Visitors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website are greeted by a guideline that recommends suspension of group events of 50 people or more for eight weeks. The site has a lot of information about COVID-19. But, as the website points out, this is an “emerging, rapidly changing situation.” That’s an understatement.
A lot is known about the virus, how it spreads and steps to take to avoid contracting it. There is also a lot that is not known about the disease, nor is there an immunization or cure. Therein lies the potential for panic should the numbers of the afflicted rise beyond the limits of our healthcare infrastructure.
We are currently amid evolving lifestyle changes, with all the travel restrictions, cancellations of public and sporting events, school closings, restaurant and bar closings, endless hand washings and widening interpersonal distances. I keep hearing variations on the term “alternative reality” used to describe our current world from newscasters. But I would suggest dropping the “alternative” from that designation. This is our reality, period, at least for now.
Our society is changing daily as federal, state and local governments and the entire healthcare system plot strategies to cope with what may be coming. Many who read this column are business leaders, and you also have a role to play in this current reality. The CDC offers some guidelines on how to keep your businesses running safely. Even if you are forced to shut down for a time, remember that your greatest business asset is your team of personnel. Please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html for information on how to operate your shops safely for yourselves and your employees.
When we were students, we learned how pestilence changed human history through the ages, but – given our modern medicines and technologies – I never expected to see one. I am amazed at how an infinitesimally small organism can bring a whole geopolitical infrastructure and global economy to its knees in a matter of a few weeks.
To be clear, I don’t believe the apocalypse is upon us. But, as Americans, we are never better or stronger than when beset by a common enemy. Let’s set our differences aside and bring all our resolve to bear on coronavirus or any other that comes along. When we succeed, the whole world benefits.