The world is changing much too quickly for anyone to be confident about predictions right now, but that’s not going to stop people from making them.
And, FWIW, EssaySnark’s predictions have (fortunately/unfortunately) been spot-on in terms of the current situation.
Here’s us in 2018 warning about what would happen in the next downturn:
And here from 2017 which was (sadly) even more prescient, as we referenced in our post last week on Class of 2020 grads:
Today’s post is mostly EssaySnark thinking out loud, looking at the facts as we know them, and at historical trends, and trying to figure out where things are gonna go next, specific to the MBA landscape.
Sitting here right now, first of April 2020, the rate of deaths has skyrocketed, which is exactly what the health experts warned would happen. Things have become scary.
Most colleges and universities in America closed down in early March because the administrators recognized that they would not be able to support their student community once coronavirus hit on their campuses. These schools were the first institutions in America to take action, and it makes sense that they were the ones to do so first.
Academics study stuff, and if the scientists were saying that coronavirus was going to be bad, then the universities that they worked at knew to listen to that warning. AFAWK, the first college to close campus was the University of Washington [state], which happened because Seattle was the earliest hotbed of coronavirus in the U.S. Once UW took that step, it was apparently a wake-up call to other schools, and within a day or so, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Northwestern, Columbia, and many others announced provisions for extending spring break, and in many cases, requiring all students who could to vacate their dorms and go home. All campuses are still open with minimal services in order to support the students who could not leave, including reduced food service in cafeterias, and bolstered efforts in their hospitals and health care facilities. Research and labs have largely shut down. Admissions officers are all working from home, just like you are (supposed to be). Campuses are not totally deserted but they are eerily quiet. As you likely have heard, this will continue to the end of this academic year. Graduation ceremonies have been canceled at many places, with some schools looking to do an online event of some sort where the school president can say a few words, the intention to have a reconvening at some point in the future to honor graduates in person. When it’s safe to hold large-scale gatherings again.
So when will that be? What will it take for schools to re-open?
Obviously all of them will be mostly shut down for summer, as they typically are anyway, when students are away. So the timing was actually kind of good, in terms of being potentially less disruptive in some ways.
We know that all of us are subject to catching coronavirus, since nobody has immunity. That means that the only way it’ll be safe for large numbers of people to gather in person again is when everyone in the group either has had it, or has been vaccinated against it. They’re saying that we’re at least a year away (optimistic estimate) from when a vaccine will be available, and in all likelihood it’s going to be closer to two years before enough people are vaccinated (or already had it, and recovered) that a population can be said to have herd immunity. That’s because even if the scientists nail down a vaccine in record time, it still needs to go through clinical trials for safety testing and to prove efficacy, and even though they’ll do that on a hugely accelerated scale, a lot of it simply requires TIME. That’s because of how this type of testing needs to occur, both in the lab during development of the virus, and then once they start using it on people. Even though there will be TREMENDOUS pressure from the current president (if he’s still in office) to roll out an untested vaccine, the scientific community and the medical establishment will not let that happen. There remain enough checks-and-balances in our society to (hopefully) enforce a process of safety in all of this. Which is good.
The reason we’re trying to flatten the curve is to allow hospitals to manage the volume of patients — which we’re already seeing, in some places, has become incredibly difficult.
Here’s a little science lesson:
The way vaccines typically work is the scientists find a way to de-activate the virus and create a benign form of it, that your body recognizes as being the virus, but which does not create the full spectrum of symptoms. The vaccine therefore is the virus. This is why they warn you when you get a shot that you might feel crappy from it for a day or so. Any symptoms should be mild, because it’s not the “real” virus, and many people don’t feel any symptoms at all. And then your body then generates antibodies in reaction to it. Then, when the body encounters the real virus out in the world, it already has antibodies that it can deploy, which means that you don’t get sick from it. There’s differences depending on how dangerous the virus is. Rabies is a virus that’s so deadly that the vaccine is an inactivated or “killed” virus, so there’s no chance at all of the virus itself literally infecting the dog or cat (or person) who is getting vaccinated. Other viruses are not so dangerous and so the vaccine used is attenuated, or modified-live, such as the measles, mumps, and chicken pox vaccines, and those are therefore more effective at building immunity. Because you’re getting injected with the virus in a still-viable form, which means that the immune response your body builds is stronger.
But what if there was a possible vaccine for coronavirus that they think was going to work — and they rolled it out before doing enough testing to know? And then a few things could happen: It works great, and everybody is safe. Or, it actually doesn’t work, maybe because the virus mutates, which then becomes horrible because everybody who was vaccinated thinks they’re immune and they go back to the behaviors of before, and suddenly the virus kicks up again and many more people get sick. Or, it doesn’t work, and the vaccine itself makes people sick.
So as you can see: We need to have a proven and tested vaccine available before it’ll be safe to resume our pre-virus behaviors and congregate in person. Or, like, go to school and sit in a classroom with 30 or 50 other students.
Or, we need to have proof that we’ve been sick, which means (presumably) that we can no longer contract the virus and won’t come down with covid-19 in the future.
This opens up the possibility of this scenario: If enough people get sick, and recover, then those people can safely get together with each other, and also (HYPOTHETICALLY) with people who have not been exposed to the virus, and nobody will get sick. Even if coronavirus is still raging out there in the world. The previously-sick people now have immunity, and the never-sick people therefore don’t have anyone to catch it from.
We still need proof that someone who contracts coronavirus once can never contract it again. There are many viruses that lodge in the person’s system and never go away, and they cause recurrent sickness for life. The herpes simplex virus is one, and there are several forms of it. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is another, though they’ve made inroads — after studying it for 40+ years — where some modern treatments for HIV appear to actually cure the person instead of only putting symptoms in remission.
The flu virus is actually a whole family of viruses that mutate pretty much constantly, and that’s why we need to get a flu shot every season. The smart scientist folks analyze those viruses and make projections for how they think they will change over the coming winter season, and then devise a cocktail of vaccinations all combined into that single flu shot. You’re actually getting protected against multiple known mutations at once, but it’s not foolproof, because the viruses do change, and sometimes the smart scientist folks get their vaccine formula wrong, and then there’s a bigger flu epidemic that year, even though lots of people got the vaccine.
And of course, lots of people WON’T get the vaccine, whether it’s for the flu, or for novel coronavirus, because they don’t believe in vaccines (please do not get EssaySnark started on the problems with this mode of thinking), or they think they’re invincible, or they’re poor and have no access to healthcare.
Because who’s going to pay for it?
(Another topic that we could spend three days talking about.)
But no really? Like, literally, who is going to pay for 300 million people in the U.S. to get vaccinated? Or the 300 million minus the 250,000 that the administration is now acknowledging are likely to die in the next month? Are all these pharma companies racing to develop this vaccine in order to give it away for free when they have it? Is the U.S. government going to pay for everyone to get it? Are all these health insurers going to cover it at no charge? What about everyone who’s lost their job and their health coverage along with it?
Clearly, these are the questions that are causing Bernie Sanders to want to stay in the Democratic race for the nomination.
OK, so where does that leave us with the question of:
WHEN WILL THE BUSINESS SCHOOLS BE ABLE TO OPEN AGAIN FOR ON-CAMPUS INSTRUCTION?
We’ve established what it’ll take for everyone to start being able to gather in large groups again.
We’ve established the rough timeline and requirements for expectations around a vaccine.
If we put these pieces together, does that mean that schools will, or will not, resume on-campus instruction again by Fall of 2020?
EssaySnark has thoughts, and theories.
But we’ve become King of Long Posts lately, and this one has gone on long enough… so we’ll call it a day with that thought, and the promise to pick this up again tomorrow.
UPDATE: Next post here: Coronavirus and the MBA: When will business schools reopen for on-campus instruction?