An Urban's Rural View

Where We Go From Here

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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People want to get back to normal, but the changes may be more long-term, such as when people go to museums they often have to reserve in advance, as the number admitted at any one time is limited. (DTN photo by Elaine Shein)

We have reached the six-month mark in this nightmare called COVID-19, a good moment to take stock of where we've been, where we are now and where we're going.

Some 7 million Americans -- at least 128,000 of them farmworkers -- have been infected and more than 200,000 have died, more than the combined American battle deaths in its last five wars, including Vietnam and Korea. (https://www.cnn.com/…)

No, no one has rigged these figures for political effect. If anything, 200,000 is probably an undercount. Yes, the U.S., with only 4% of the world's population, has had 20% of the deaths. (https://COVID.cdc.gov/…)

Once a New York problem, COVID-19 has been a national one for some time. The Sunbelt has had breakouts, as has the Midwest. Adjusted for population size, Florida leads the nation in cases as of this writing, followed closely by Louisiana; Mississippi and Alabama aren't far behind. (https://news.google.com/…)

Rural America hasn't been spared. According to the Daily Yonder, 45% of the nation's rural counties are in the "red zone," the area of greatest coronavirus risk. (https://dailyyonder.com/…)

There's little reason to think the dread disease is going away soon -- not when the country is experiencing more than 40,000 new cases and nearly a thousand new deaths every day. Goldman Sachs has been telling clients that we're still in "the acute phase" of the pandemic, which won't be over until the first half of next year at the soonest.

There is some good news: declines in the percentage of infected people dying and the percentage of those testing positive. Eight vaccines are in advanced trials and doctors are becoming more skilled in treating patients infected. Still, the new-case and new-death numbers are far too high to justify saying COVID is under control, and with close to 90% of the population still vulnerable we're nowhere near "herd immunity." (https://COVID.cdc.gov/…) (https://www.nytimes.com/…)

The economy has bounced back a bit but is still sagging under the weight of the pandemic. The unemployment rate, which jumped from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April, fell to 8.4% in August, thanks to massive government relief programs. Whether this improvement will continue is open to question. The relief programs have expired and Congress hasn't been able to agree on new ones.

As much as it's put the economy in the red, the virus has blackened the nation's mood. There's a cloud over all of us all the time. We're divided, it's true, into two psychological camps, which in a previous post I called the fearful and the fearless. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…) But we're united in our disgust with what the virus has done to us. We're all sick of it.

People want to get back to normal. They suspect that what's "normal" will have changed, and they're right. Many of the changes we can't yet see. Some we can. For example:

Americans will be cooking more meals at home and eating out less.

They'll be ordering more groceries online and doing less shopping at the supermarket.

They'll be doing more online shopping generally.

They'll be working from home more and from the office less.

Some will continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently for years to come.

When they go to museums or theatres or other large public gathering places, they will often have to reserve in advance, as the number admitted at any one time will be limited.

There will be more road-trip vacations and fewer fly-aways.

There will be less business travel and more Zoom meetings. (I serve on a national board that has always met three times a year in person and once online. We're now talking about how much to change that ratio when we can finally meet face-to-face again.)

Vaccines are coming, and they'll help people feel safe, but some will still be wary. Even now, even among the fearful, there's a spectrum of reactions. My wife and I have once-cautious friends who are throwing small dinner parties, and others who are still quarantining their groceries and not seeing anyone socially except their children and grandchildren.

After the vaccinations become widespread there will likely still be a spectrum, although hopefully those on the conservative end of the spectrum will have eased up a bit.

The big question right now is when we will have the vaccines. Some of the trials are far along and it's possible there will be an announcement that one is ready before the election. It isn't likely many of us will be vaccinated until well into next year, however.

Meanwhile, we are going into winter with COVID-19 very much not under control. God help us all.

**

Editor's Note: COVID-19 is also affecting the business structure of agriculture and rural America, from supply chain disruptions to financial woes. A session at this year's DTN Ag Summit, featuring global business experts from IHS Markit, will delve into how the pandemic is currently influencing the ag business world and what the future will look like for 2021 and beyond. Ag Summit is virtual this year -- you can learn more about registering for this session and others at http://www.cvent.com/….

Urban Lehner can be reached at urbanize@gmail.com

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