It’s all well and good to hope for a quick turnaround for the U.S. economy, but those of us in the Manhattan area better get ready for the opposite.
President Trump Tuesday said he wanted the U.S. “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” and let’s give him credit for optimism. But people who have to make decisions about bringing groups of people together are not going to want to be responsible for death. So local authorities around the country — as well as private employers — are liable to continue to require social distancing for the foreseeable future. That means the economy is liable to remain in neutral.
In Manhattan, we face a very serious problem, perhaps the most difficult we’ve ever faced: We’re a college town, and college is premised on the idea of bringing lots of people together in one place. Online distance education might work reasonably well for students, but it isn’t going to work well for businesses that rely on the presence of all those students and the faculty and staff who serve them. That’s a pretty hefty hunk of the local economy.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that the scientific experts are correct, that it will take 12 months to 18 months to develop a vaccine. That means we’re talking about next winter, at best.
Let’s also assume that social-distancing policies slow the spread of the virus in the next couple of months, and the virus weakens some in the summer.
But at that point, decisions have to be made about re-opening college campuses, and — just for starters — college football stadiums.
We’re just guessing that public health officials will be saying that the virus could come roaring back at any time.
If you’re the university president, or a member of the Board of Regents, or the governor ... are you going to take on the liability of bringing 20,000 people together in one tight circle with each other? Are you really going to operate dorms? Are you going to tell football players that they ought to run tackling drills? Are you going to fill a stadium with 50,000?
This is a virus that is pretty easily transmitted from person to person, and it can remain viable on surfaces, and people who have contracted it might not know it. It kills people.
Odds are, if you ask us, there isn’t going to be a football season, and there isn’t going to be a 2020-21 academic year up on campus, at least not in the way we think of it here.
We don’t mean to be a wet blanket, or to create any more pessimism. We can get through it, and we’ll come out stronger for it somehow. President Trump’s optimism is, in some ways, the right approach to life over the longer run.
But this Easter, or for that matter next fall Homecoming? Seems unlikely to us. Better start planning for a really rough patch here for the next academic year.