Future shock

OK, this is potentially some very, very bad news. I realize this is anecdotal evidence, not statistical study-based evidence, but…the source seems credible. But if it turns out that COVID-19 is a lot like dengue fever, getting the disease a second time yields more severe symptoms and a higher mortality rate. This would also mean that COVID-19 would be with us forever – no herd immunity and no consistent individual immunity. That would be a game world-changer.

Let’s do a little brainstorming on what happens to the world if COVID-19 stays with us for years or decades:

  • Makers of effective N-95 masks will have a new (though shrinking) market of eight billion people.
  • Masks and possible respirators will become the norm in all society settings.
  • Public spaces will have to be redesigned to provide compartmented filtered airflow. Restaurants are a prime example of this.
  • Universal health care becomes a societal must-have, just like clean water and safe food. (This would be an unfortunate way to get a good thing.)
  • Populations disperse from dense cities into less-dense suburbs and small towns.
  • Telework becomes the norm. In-person meetings become rare, expensive and small.
  • Tele-education becomes the norm. The school experience at all levels is transformed. (Or, campuses are restructured to offer individually air-filtered pods instead of desks and tables. Sounds expensive.)
  • Commercial real estate gets crushed. There will be no need for big office buildings.
  • Air travel will become very expensive – let’s say airfares will be 3-5 times what they are today. Planes will have to carry 3-5 times fewer people.
  • Privacy will suffer because phone and/or vehicle location-based contact tracing will be deemed essential for society.
  • Life expectancy will probably decrease, as the odds of getting COVID-19 once or twice simply increase the longer you’re walking around in a world where it’s a constant.
  • Cross-county road trips will become the preferred way of getting anywhere within a continent. Autonomous driving will make that less difficult, perhaps even easy. An autonomous-drive RV starts to look like the most popular vehicle for the 2030s and beyond. Imagine driving your vehicle to the nearest freeway then letting it drive itself for hours at a time between cities while you sleep, watch TV, work, etc. That’s the COVID-accelerated future for transportation.
  • Charging infrastructure and vehicle batteries for that same road trip boom will become its own boom industry. Hundreds of thousands of gas stations will have to become electric charging stations.

Wow, that’s quite a list, based on two simple assumptions – (1) that you get no immunity from COVID-19 after catching it once, and (2) that there’s no effective vaccine. It’s possible that the world has changed or is about to change much more than we realized.

Finally, to offset all the angst the above essay might cause, here’s some good news about the Republican stance on vote-by-mail.