Possible Future Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Communities During the COVID-19 Situation

We’re living through a crazy time. I recently read an expert (current NIH director, I think) say that we may be 8-11 days behind Italy. That is, Americans will eventually experience what Italians have been. Rationing of medical resources, which the Italians have been doing, is what worries me the most. I say this to communicate that I think we’re in a dire situation.

I want you guys to know that because I’m about to discuss something that may seem insensitive or foolish. Namely, I think the pandemic has created (possibly) unique opportunities, and those who think imaginatively can use this time to be very productive. I’ll give some examples in the comments section.

8 thoughts on “Possible Future Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Communities During the COVID-19 Situation

  1. Every organization or business will be faced with novel opportunities. For example, in my department, since we’ve shut down our programs, the personnel time to do other things. The first thing that comes to mind is planning–maybe special projects or activities. An example of a project could be developing a certification program for coaches and referees. The idea is to create a “factory” that produces good coaches and referees. (This could apply to fine arts instructors as well). Another idea is to develop a marketing plan to promote the department. Or maybe look for and work on grants.

    For the business sector, I noticed that the NFL is providing free access to game pass service. Here’s the situation: many people are going to be staying at home. This could be a great time to gain market share for streaming or other internet services. Give them out for free to gain market share. That’s probably obvious, but could there be ways businesses could take advantage of this situation?

    What about uber modifying it’s business to function as a delivery service? Or do they do that already? I wonder if churches could step in now and provide a delivery service, especially for elderly.

    Anyway, you guys see what I’m getting at. What are some other ideas and opportunities?

  2. Let’s project several months to about a year into the future. And let’s suppose that much of the nation is still engaging in social distancing–a scenario that could very well occur. Here are at least two safe assumptions:

    1. The economy will be in shambles. It’s hard to imagine employment being in good shape. Many individuals and families will likely be in trouble;
    2. People will get tired of being cooped up in their homes, and a several other negative effects associated with this–e.g., childcare and education of children may deteriorate.

    What can be done to address both? I’ll suggest one idea below.

    Pop-Up Communities

    Small communities (e.g., Waipahu, Pearl City, etc.) or neighborhoods (sections in communities like that) create meeting areas for people who never leave their community/neighborhood. Essentially, people going to these spaces should only be around their family (who also doesn’t leave the community) and this make-shift community space. In these spaces, services can also be provided. Businesses, like restaurants can build pop ups, to stay in business. The idea is to create a pop-up marketplace/”mall.” (The area could be a strip mall and a few buidlings near the strip mall.

    Additionally, this space (or another) can be created as a pop-up work space. Initially, I thought the work could be centered around the community—e.g., public improvement projects—but it could also be products that could eventually be used outside the community. People who are employed could get temporary jobs paid for by the government (like FDR federal works program). Government services could also be provided in this space—services like public education, child care, recreation. (Make-shift recreation sports leagues could be created.)

    The general idea for work is that people will work in their communities, instead of going out of it. So construction workers, teachers, bank tellers, etc. would go to a office or location in their community to do some form of work. Some communities may not have people who live in their communities with the expertise needed. In these cases, perhaps the “main office” would send workers into the community and these workers would live in these communities. For temporary housing, maybe hotels can send their employees to run these living areas, including providing food. (This assumes that government will providing financial support to these businesses. This might be a way for the businesses to provide a service for this payment. On the other hand, if individuals or groups can actually make normal financial transactions, they can go ahead and do that as well.)

    The entire concept of this pop-up mall is based on the basic premise that certain communities will isolate themselves themselves from other communities (e.g., Kalihi people will not leave Kalihi). And as long as that can be guaranteed, then the people who can interact and function in a normal way–within a designated area within their community.

    This could a) provide social interaction and alternatives to staying cooped up at home, and b) this could help mitigate economic slow-down and unemployment. And c) this could actually lead to improvements in the community and increase social capital.

    Challenges with implementation

    How do you ensure individuals have never left community? Or better—how do you ensure they do not have the virus?(The idea might be more viable with better testing and surveillance of the virus.) If testing is improved one answer would be to get tested before being able to enter and then to have some verification for that.

    Variation: Individuals can agree to not leave their community for a certain time—e.g., one month. And during that time, they can come to the pop-up center. Each individual would receive an card or some indicator that would give them permission to enter these pop-up areas.

    The communities may have to be more like neighborhoods (i.e., smaller than Pearl City). For example, Pearl City might have two or more of these pop-up malls. This should make for less people, making it easier to screen. Also, the people should be more familiar with one another.

    Who is going to administer and manage these pop-up malls? I’m not sure. Maybe a group of community groups and leaders, including someone from local and state governments.

    Government and private businesses would have to begin reorganization their organization–namely, to be able to send their people to work in the communities they live in–e.g., police, firemen, teachers, etc. would now be temporarily stationed in their communities.)

    The concept seems overwhelming–as it seems to involve a lot of different private and public activity. Maybe it should start just as a meeting place, with maybe a few local restaurants and play space for kids.

    Conclusion

    The idea sounds radical and difficult to pull off. But if we’re into the fall or early months of next year maintaining social distancing, we may have to make a radical adjustment. Or can the government just continue to hand out aid to support businesses and individuals?

  3. The new coronavirus economy: A ‘gigantic experiment’ reshaping how we work and live from WaPo is relevant to this discussion

    The article suggests that there will be even greater shift to online activity, including remote work, and that these shifts will be permanent. My sense is that this actually creates some opportunity for brick-and-mortar businesses in well-designed built environments. Even if technology can enable people to meet many of their needs from home, I believe there were will be a powerful need for social interaction–if not actual conversation, then proximity to other people–and a well-designed places will continue to attract people—unless something fundamentally changes in people.

    Then again, if what I say is true, then why haven’t we seen more well-designed places, especially in Hawai’i. There’s been an effort in Kaka’ako to do that, which is a positive sign, but it’s far from a shining example of a well-designed space in my opinion. If what I’m saying is true, the market should provide the type of space I have in mind. Or maybe even if the space were built, it wouldn’t generate enough profits to make it worth it. Or maybe the cost and time it would take to build such a place is prohibitive. I don’t know. I do have a fairly strong sense that if you build it, they will come.

  4. This article, Hong Kong appeared to have the coronavirus under control, then it let its guard down from CNN, made me think of this thread.

    My vague sense is we’ll have to maintain some level of social distancing or at least be ready do this quickly from now until we develop a vaccine–i.e., the window is about a year or little more. Maybe if we develop good testing capacity we can largely return to normal, as good testing could quickly identify and isolate key people quickly. I don’t know.

    The idea I’m suggesting is a kind of a compromise between total isolation and normal functioning. Think of it as a phase 2 after complete social isolation and shutting down of the economy. (Phase 3 would be to return to normal.)

    A part of me feels that a society developing a capacity to relatively quickly move into phase 2 might be something worthwhile to develop, as we may experience this in the future. To my mind, one way to increase this capacity is to invest in well-designed built environments. For example, build well-designed main streets in every town, a kind of gathering place for citizens that also have a mix of private and non-profit activity.

  5. I heard someone else say the window is 12-18 months until we’re “safe.” Who would oversee and coordinate Phase 2?

    That’s one of the challenges I raised earlier. I thought of some possible answers–namely, the military or organizations like FEMA, red cross, Southern Baptist Convention, and other groups that provide coordination and logistics during a disaster. There may not be devastation to physical structures, but what if we treated the situation in a similar vein? That is, these groups could be activated to help build, beautify buildings and infrastructure of specific communities (or any type of project that would improve the community or economy; maybe training and adult education classes could be given at this time). Basically, we’re looking for any activity or project that could improve people or the physical communities; don’t waste this time.

    But who would pay for this? First, if the government has to support businesses and individuals during this time, why not make them do something productive? In the Denmark proposal, the government would be paying businesses to keep their employees, but their employees are essentially being paid to stay at home. I’m suggesting something similar, except to pay employees to do something productive in their communities. (If we can test and identify people who are immune, non-carriers, we could allow them to work in other communities, but you’d have to have a process for assuring the people who were actually immune were doing this.) Non-essential government workers can also be part of this pool. Again, imagine if the we experience total devastation from a catastrophic event (e.g., nuclear war) and the survivors had to build up civilization again, and people would get to get to do this. That’s sort of what I’m saying, without the visible devastation.

    New laws may have to be written for this time.

    Brainstorm:

    For example, perhaps a law penalizing people from leaving their community, unless they are immune and non-carriers, at least for until a vaccine is made and can be widely distributed.

    If the virus hits the police force, maybe crimes during this time will receive a stricter penalty. Or maybe prisoners who are released can get a reduced sentence if they stay out of trouble and contribute in positive ways to their community.

  6. More thoughts.

    Possible boundaries

    I asked about the possible size of these quarantined towns. For example, would Wai’anae have to be separated from Kapolei, or could it be included with Kapolei, Makakilo, and Ewa? If the latter that’s quite a big area. There are also strip malls with all types of businesses. While only be able to stay in this region would not be ideal, it seems like living this way for several months to a year is doable.

    Other regions:

    Mililani
    Wahiawa-Whitmore
    Waialua-Haleiwa-Kahalu’u
    Waipahu, Kunia, Waikele, and Waipo
    Pearl City, Aiea, Halawa(from LCC to the Halawa)
    Salt-Lake-Moanalua-Mapunapuna
    Kalihi-Kaimuki-Kahala
    Aina Haina-Hawai’i Kai
    Maunawili-Kailua-Waimanalo
    Kaneohe-He’eia

    Transferring from regions

    One problem that came to mind. What about people who to take care of aging parents or grandparents and the latter lives in a different region? That’s going to be a problem. Perhaps, people can move from one region to the next, but they can only make this change at certain intervals–e.g., once a month, a quarter, etc. If the testing is faster or readily available those who move can be tested. With better testing the intervals could be shorter. So maybe one person could live with their parents for a month, and then be replaced by a relative in the next month. Of course, this potentially take people away from their work.

    Big problem: Many people work outside of the communities they live in

    The proposal would be more feasible if people worked in the region they lived in. But that’s not always the case. Maybe some government agencies and businesses could make adjustments to accommodate this. For example, think of a business like Zippys. Maybe they could station people to branches near their homes. In theory government could do this, too, but I could see a lot of problems with this. Think of a school, for example. Part of the success of the school (or any government agency) is that you have to be able to work well with your people. There are relationship and chemistry built over time. This can get really messed up with the type of changes I’m suggesting. Then again, I could be overestimating this factor. Plus, the time frame for this proposal is relatively short (i.e., not multiple years).

    Threat to the Economy and Health Care System is Potentially Catastrophic, but This May Not Be so Palpable Now

    I want to say something about the feasibility of my proposal. So far, I think the effects of this pandemic may seem to warrant the major endeavor I’m suggesting. For example, imagine if there were nuclear bomb that hit Hawai’i or a mega-tsunami, basically destroying a large percentage of the structures and people. I would think more people would be open to the proposal I’m making–they would be more willing to go through the inconvenience of it all. From our current vantage point, what I’m suggesting seems unwarranted.

    On some level I agree with this, but here are some things that would change my mind: Suppose we try to return to normal, and utilizing testing and tracing as way to control the virus, until a vaccine can be developed. If shutting down the entire economy (for a state, let’s say) is not a low-probability and if doing this would devastate the economy, both in the short and long terms, then the proposal would be more compelling–assuming, of course, that the chances of shutting down the entire economy is really low and that the overall proposal is feasible. The other potential virtue of my proposal could be the need for less government subsidy, assuming the government could function much closer to normal and the changes I’m recommending aren’t too costly. If the proposal is feasible, it’s something they should be planning right now.

    Edit

    Speaking of that last point above, from WaPo today:

    As a result, an administration that has lagged behind at nearly every step of the pandemic still has no consensus plan for when or how to reopen parts of the economy, even as the president and many advisers push to do so as soon as May 1. There is still no concerted plan for getting vital medical supplies to states, which are left to fight among themselves or seek favors from Trump. There is also no developed plan for what happens if cases or deaths spike as people begin to return to work, or how to respond if the coronavirus surges again in the fall, as many public health experts and administration officials fear.

    Also from the same article:

    Outside advisers to the task force and experts have also warned that if a drug to treat the coronavirus is not available by the fall, the country will have little to defend itself against another catastrophic wave of infections and will not be able to keep the economy up and running. But there is no clear plan or guidance from the administration on how to be ready for such a challenge.

    This excerpt makes the proposal more compelling–or at least it’s something the WH, governors, and mayors should investigate the feasibility of the plan.

  7. The Next Year (or Two) of the Pandemic (New York Times the Daily podcast. The transcript is also included.)

    The podcast features thoughts about what we can expect in the next year or two from Donald G. McNeil, Jr., the NYT science reporter, who I believe has covered several epidemics. Here’s the opening:

    So Donald, we have come to you at just about every turn in this pandemic to understand what’s next, and the portraits of the future that you have painted for us each time we talk have been strikingly accurate. You told us all the way back in February to prepare for lockdowns. Those happened. You told us to prepare for high death rates. You said that people we know would die, and that, sadly, has happened. You warned us of shortages of medical supplies. That too has happened. Just about everything you said would happen has more or less happened. So I want to turn to the next installment of this rolling conversation we’ve been having with you….

    …And start with a question that I think is on everyone’s mind right now, which is when and how we start to reopen our society and what that would look like.

    A couple of takeaways from this, both can or will be relevant to this thread:

    1. According to McNeil, the fastest time for a developing a vaccine has been four years (for polio, I believe). It’s possible that developing a vaccine for COVID-19 could take more than a eighteen months. We should not be shocked if it takes two or more years.

    I’m not sure about the probability of these scenarios, and I’m sure if thes probabilities can be calculated, but if they’re relatively high, then we should think about a plan that would best equip the society and individuals to handle this scenario.

    2. McNeil mentioned two social classes emerging if the threat of the virus continues–specifically, immune and non-immune groups of people. The immunes will be more mobile and will likely be more employable. Will this lead to social strife, prejudice? Also, McNeil mentioned that some people may start intentionally infecting themselves to gain immunity. He says this is dangerous, as even young, healthy people can die from the virus.

    Both points are germane to this topic, if the proposal above can allow people to live a normal life, without taking the risk of intentionally infecting one’s self. Additionally, if the development and widespread distribution of the vaccine takes up to two or more years, then making the rather significant changes in the proposal above might be worth investing in. This is especially true if it allows far less disruption to the overall society if and when outbreaks occur.

    By the way, testing and tracing (not necessarily via cell phones) is still critical in this proposal, as is developing treatments.

    Finally, here are some other problems and challenges with this approach:

    1. What will happen to private school kids? I’m pretty sure many live a far distance from the schools. Will the parents of these kids reject this proposal? Could private schools (and schools in general) create “mobile schools,” farming out schools to communities. But even with this approach, I don’t think private schools could create a “branch” in every community.

    2. What about deliveries that have to be made? Obviously, people driving these vehicles will be traveling between communities, sometimes on a daily basis. Could we limit these deliveries to certain times of the week or month?

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