But as massive and sudden as these changes over the last hundred or so days have been, it’s the projections forward that are really interesting. One hundred days from now, we’ll be heading into the final days of September. Will the Sick Kids report be right? Will the schools remain safely open, or will my son and daughter again be settling for a few hours of work a week, the odd video-conference check-in and lots of time playing on iPads while their parents work?
I make no predictions here, beyond a very general one: human nature won’t have changed much, and in most things, we’ll revert to the pre-pandemic mean. To the extent there are many lasting changes to how we live, work and play, they’ll be more likely driven by the economic consequences of the pandemic than the virus itself. People will still want to go to the bar for beer and wings. That won’t change. What might change is whether their favourite bar is still in business. If it’s true that the office is dead, it will be because companies want to save the money they spend on real estate, not because the workforce decided they prefer working from home.
But that predicted reversion to the mean covers most things, not all. An event this huge, this widespread and long-lasting, will have enduring consequences. The challenge is predicting with any accuracy what they’ll be. Billions of dollars will be made and lost on guesses as to what will see major, permanent change and what won’t. Billions more will go to those who correctly guess what will come back, even if it happens gradually, and what won’t — spotting the difference between an industry or activity in gradual recovery and one slowly fading will be worth a fortune.
Beyond that, what more can be said? With the exception of long-term-care homes and manufacturers of personnel protective equipment on the one hand, and tourism and commercial real estate brokers on the other, picking winners and losers seems a fool’s errand. We’ll get through the next 100 days the same way we got through the last 100 — haltingly, one day at a time, doing the best we can with what information we have. (At least on that score — information — we are better off now than we were then. But there’s still plenty we’d like to know but don’t.)
As this column was being written, I reminded my colleague Rob Roberts, the Post’s editor-in-chief, of a conservation we had in his office in late January. China had locked down Wuhan just a few days earlier. A handful of cases had been detected outside of China. The big stories in the news then were the unfolding impeachment proceedings of U.S. President Donald Trump and the RCMP standoff with protesters opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in British Columbia.
Rob and I were torn. Was the “Wuhan virus” a story with legs, or something that would be quickly forgotten? There was no way to tell. We agreed that it was worth at least mentioning in the upcoming Saturday edition of the paper, and he left it to me to figure out what to say. We agreed that the piece had to serve two purposes: either putting down a marker for upcoming coverage if the virus ended up being a big deal, or turning a page on it if it was contained and then forgotten.
It’s easy to miss some of the updates during these crazy times. But separate COVID-19-related reports from the hardest-hit provinces give some sense that life may soon be returning to something more like normal.
In Quebec, officials announced that as of Monday, indoor sports venues and gyms will be allowed to open, and permits will be issued for the resumption of team sports. Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, meanwhile, released a report urging that schools be reopened in September.
Little leagues. Classrooms. New rules for recess. Almost 100 days into the pandemic (as of this Friday, it will be 100 days since the World Health Organization declared it such on March 11), we are starting to get a sense of what life will look like.
It’s changed a lot already, of course. For the first time in my life, a reusable, washable mask is a permanent fixture in my car, rolled up next to my sunglasses. The mask is the new must-have item, not to be left home without. Better to have it and not need it than the other way around, right? My wife has shifted her entire employment to home (as a teacher, this was new for her). My children’s education, likewise, is entirely home-based. We’ve only just begun being able to officially see our extended family, with Ontario’s announcement last week that family bubbles of up to 10 people across multiple households can socialize, so long as they stay within the same 10-person units.