Brown Brothers Harriman recently hosted a webinar with Juliette Kayyem, national security analyst for CNN, author and former assistant secretary for Homeland Security, on navigating the COVID-19 pandemic today and into the future. Here, we provide Kayyem’s insights on several top-of-mind questions.
1. How much longer can this go on? Take us through the timeline for the months – and potentially years – ahead.
Let me start at the end. Most people believe that the only tool to kill the virus is going to be a vaccine, so there is an international focus on this. We are hearing good news from companies working on vaccines, but once we get an approved vaccine, companies need to go into production, and prioritization needs to happen. Given the world’s focus on this, I estimate that we will hit this point in two years.
That does not mean that we are going to be living like we are today for two years. The period between the reopening and the vaccine is what I call the “adaptive recovery stage.” With most disasters, you have the event, it ends, you respond, and then you begin recovery. The recovery could be a day or a week later, but at some stage, the apparatus understands that it is now building back up. What we’re about to enter for the next two years, at a minimum, is adaptive recovery because we will have to live with the enemy among us. The good news is that we are going to have more tools than when this started a few months ago. We will have better treatments, more testing and learn new skills on how to best social distance as states begin reopen.
2. Speaking of opening up, how are schools and daycare facilities going to make decisions about reopening?
There’s no discussion about opening up the economy if half of the population cannot leave their home because they are taking care of their children.
Daycare is really interesting. As most people know, we’re not seeing many cases among kids, so you’re more concerned about protecting the adults. There may be protocols in place that involve limiting adults in the building.
Looking at schools, I think that K-12 public schools will go back in the fall with interesting scheduling and masks. On the boarding school front, if they can get private testing, they will likely be able to go back and with the ability to control the population. College is going to be the most difficult one because you cannot control the population. On the other hand, these colleges need tuition, so I think you are going to see a push to get students back on campus in a modified fashion. Class sizes will be smaller, and faculty may decide to teach virtually. Testing is going to be critical.
3. What does going back into the office look like?
This pandemic has changed how we think about the office. The top way to avoid the virus until we have a vaccine is to avoid the problem, and the problem is exposing your employees to the outside world. If your employees are being productive at home, why force them to take public transportation and come into the office? In cases where employees are going into the office, companies are adapting and having certain groups of people come in on certain days. There is also going to be a healthy building movement – how you keep your building healthy through design and cleaning. The last and most important thing is personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees will be coming to the office in PPE unless we have a strong testing capability.
In this interim period, I advise CEOs to think about a few ways that they can reduce the risk and up the defenses for employees, but the top thing to think about is whether you actually need employees back in the office. I think a lot of employers who were not sold on virtual work are getting more sold. However, one of the challenges here will be onboarding. How do you create corporate culture with new employees when there’s no physical office?