Covid-19-crisis-induced mix of feelings

It has been a few extremely weird few weeks. I don’t think anybody is prepared for what is unraveling around us. Personally speaking, I have encountered mixed feelings while dealing with the current crisis. I wrote these down mainly because I know how it feels knowing that somewhere somebody is going through the same thing as I feel. It is helpful and that’s exactly what I want to do.

The most overwhelming feeling is gratitude. I haven’t caught the virus yet. Based on the coverage on what it can do human bodies, I count myself lucky not to be a patient. If you are safe like me so far, I wish you would stay the same throughout this pandemic. Plus, I am feeling blessed for having a full-time paying job that covers my insurance and helps me pay bills. It’s a luxury for many people and something that I definitely do not take for granted. I enrolled in a dual Masters degree in Omaha in 2016. If I had followed the normal path that numerous students did, I would have graduated in December 2019; which would mean that I would have been thrown into a chaotic job market where companies were trying to downsize and the chance that I would be sponsored would have been slim to none. I tried hard to graduate early simply because I wanted to work as soon as possible and get paid better. By no means, I predicted this would happen. I am very grateful for whatever forces there were that put things in place for me.

Like everybody else, I am worried about the future. The economy is shattered and looks to remain so, if not get worse, in the foreseeable future. Given the economic outlook, it doesn’t come as a surprise that companies, including my employer, seek to cut costs and downsize. Though I am employed at the moment, there is nothing set in stone, except the fact that any request such as pay raise or sponsorship may have to wait for a while.

Even though the virus has decimated dozens of countries around the globe, the US is now the most affected. Nobody knows the full extent of the damage done to this country. The government expects next week to the worst week, but what if it was wrong? A few weeks ago, the whole disaster was called a hoax. Masks were recommended only when you were sick. Now, the CDC recommends citizens wear masks in public places. The odds of being affected through community spread increase by the day. Self-isolation will continue for a while and personally, I don’t expect this crisis to blow over before June, if I am being extremely optimistic.

Living alone in America in this time is hard. I have only myself, my computer, my phone and my apartment to keep me entertained and occupied. Of course, I chat with my girlfriend and friends every day, but the constant stare at the screens and the lack of human interaction sometimes are unbearably exhausting and excruciating. On top of that, my family in Vietnam kept checking on me as the news on America in Vietnam worried them. I don’t blame them, but at the same time, I hate making them worried. On the other hand, I am worried about my family, especially my parents who have underlying conditions. The feeling of powerlessness, compounded with the angst and frustration and boredom, is tough to deal with.

Nonetheless, the crisis doesn’t necessarily give me only negative feelings. I tried to look at this in a positive light in a sense that it might be an opportunity. Personally speaking, this crisis presents a chance for me to step up at work. The pandemic prompted a barrage of requests with short turnaround time “in the office”. Everybody in my team has worked more urgently and harder these days. There were days when I felt completely spent around 4pm. However, if I could emerge from this as a reliable and valuable contributor, my boss or his boss would look at me more favorably.

Additionally, my personal portfolio has taken a beating. It’s definitely concerning to lose money on your investments. Assets’ values have gone down significantly, whether they are bitcoins, real estate or stocks. But if you look at it from another perspective, it can be a good time to buy. When the falling knives stop falling and if I can pick the right time, it’s a tremendous opportunity to snap up cheap assets.

Finally, this self-isolation can stimulate self-reflection and creativity. With fewer distractions and plenty of time on hand, all of us should be freer to think about the past, present and future, to reflect, to plan ahead, to live a little slower and to be more creative.

It’s impossible not to acknowledge the detriment of this pandemic. Yet, there is no reason for us not to find opportunity from it either. I hope you will stay safe and come out of the other side safe and better.

Weekly readings – 5th April 2020

Colonial-era Nile river treaties are to blame for the unresolved dispute over Ethiopia’s dam

Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus

Covid-19 impact on retail

How Apple is working from home

Source: Visual Capitalist

Phone companies are required to take measures to combat robocalls

Howard Marks’ new note

Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries

Work from home productivity data

A story of how Microsoft struggled to get Skype to be competitive in the communication app world

How WHO Became China’s Coronavirus Accomplice

Google released Community Mobility Reports of areas and countries around the world as folks are staying home amid the threat of Covid-19

Uplifting COVID-19 stories

I want to share with you some uplifting stories that put a smile on my face in this troubling time. I hope they will do yours as well.

A landlord in Wisconsin reduced April’s rent to $100 for his tenants

KETV-TV
Source: ketv

How Czech Republic got everyone to wear masks

Pandemic creates an inflection point

There is no need to talk about the havoc that this pandemic has brought on to our society. Everybody in the world should all feel it now. Terrible as it is, the pandemic presents an opportunity for us to look at the issues that we overlook in normal times

Paid sick leave

The US is one of the only few, if not the only country, where citizens don’t get paid sick leave. When there is a risk of a wide-spreading pandemic, the lack of this benefit forces workers to go to work even though they may be sick; which increases the threat of a spread. After this catastrophe blows over, perhaps it is time for us to bring this issue to the national spotlight and to pressure lawmakers into taking actions

Stock buybacks and corporate bailouts

The fact that corporations are asking for a big bailout after years of continuous stock repurchases and lucrative executive compensation is inexcusable and intolerable. While there is a case to be made that bailouts chop off a body part to save the body and corporations should be forced to return the money once healthy again, it doesn’t make it right the fact that tax payers’ money is used to bail out companies whose failure to prepare for a macroeconomic risk is the executives’.

Regulations over gig economy

For months, gig economy companies such as Lyft and Uber have fought regulations that would require them to treat workers as employees. What that means is that workers would be entitled to healthcare insurance, paid leave and other benefits that white-collar workers usually enjoy. Some folks I saw on Twitter, most from Silicon Valley, even blasted the regulations. However, a study by The Hustle may change perspectives on this. According to The Hustle, 57% of the surveyed drivers would still drive because that’s the only way to make ends meet. Some are not even making enough to pay for their rented vehicle. Furthermore, the lack of health insurance means that they and their family are vulnerable than ever. In light of this crisis and the impact on gig economy workers, is asking for a well-designed regulation to protect workers too much to ask?

Source: The Hustle

Healthcare system

The lack of tests in the US, compared to what is going on in other countries, is seriously shocking. Ask any American and it’s very likely that you will get told that the US has the most advanced healthcare system in the world. That’s true…for rich people and for very sophisticated treatments. However, when it comes to healthcare for ordinary folks and normal ailments, there is a lot to be desired for in the US. The country had disappointingly managed to fail to deliver a universal healthcare solution even before the pandemic broke. Now, the case cannot be made even more pressing. Recently, it’s reported that a woman was hit with a $35,000 bill for COVID-19 treatments and tests. How was that acceptable? It could happen and bankrupt any of the middle class Americans, or, worse, paycheck-to-paycheck folks.

Work from home

This one is polarizing. Proponents of WFH must be ecstatic to make their case when essentially everybody is required to work remotely now. On the other hand, some will experience cabin-fever, frustration and the drop in productivity. Personally, I prefer going to the office. I prefer meeting my colleagues face-to-face and have a setting that helps me focus on my work more than my comfortable home.

Furthermore, WFH presents an opportunity to test a company’s infrastructure. For most of last week, my colleagues and I experienced a laggy and slow connection. Even though home internet bandwidth can contribute to the issue, it’s undoubtedly our company’s network being not set up for a spike in traffic. Additionally, mass remote working can change how managers keep staff productive and keep track of their work.

Personal finance and change in lifestyle

Many of us now face, if you haven’t already, layoff or a drop in salary as companies are downsizing to survive the pandemic. Income may dry up, but the bills will still be there. Without a fund for a rainy day like we are going through, a financial struggle or bankruptcy is likely. The 11-year bull market since the 2009 crisis which many didn’t experience makes folks become complacent. After this COVID-19 disaster, it’s a great time to ponder hard decisions and establish sensible personal finance practices.

This is a scary and confusing time. But what happens in the next few months will be very interesting as decisions are to be made.

Weekly readings – 21st Jan 2020

The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’

Implementation of Mitigation Strategies for Communities with Local COVID-19 Transmission

Open Table Reservation Data

The economics of cruise ships

The NYC Subway’s new tap-to-pay system has a hidden cost – Rider data

How hand sanitizers were made

CDC report on Coronavirus with data up to 16 March

How coffee won the world over

A sterling review of the new Macbook Air

Vietnam’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic so far

After confirming 16 Covid-19 cases in Feb, Vietnam quickly took actions to quarantine the whole village where the 16 patients resided. The quick action stopped the spread and even earned a global recognition after the comedian John Oliver praised my country’s effort and an incredibly catchy song used to increase hygiene awareness.

Just as the country was one week away from declaring safe from virus, the 17th case appeared. A young woman returned home from a trip to Italy without informing the authority or going into self-isolation. The number of cases rose steadily, reaching 61 as of now and potentially going higher in the near future. It is worth noting that Vietnam has had no casualties so far and 16 recoveries. Overall, I have been quite pleased with how my country handled this pandemic.

As mentioned above, the authority successfully isolated the first 16 cases and stopped the spread. If there was a positive case, the government locked down the whole street or area to prevent spread. Furthermore, it was announced that citizens would receive tests and treatment of the Coronavirus for free.

The head of the Health Ministry’s Planning-Finance Department, Nguyen Nam Lien, confirmed that individuals will receive free treatment and testing for the viral disease, Saigon Times reports.

A Vietnam Social Security official, Le Van Phuc, explained that the entire medical bill will be covered by the national health insurance fund for patients suspected of having the novel virus, but tested negative. Those who test positive for the virus will have their tests and treatment covered by the state budget.

Those who are put into mandatory quarantine will also not be charged any fees for their medical care and stay. Within isolation wards, those quarantined will receive drinking water, towels, and mouthwash for free, as well as medically prescribed cautionary items such as face masks and hand sanitizer.

Source: Saigoneer

Flights to and from China were already banned in Vietnam as of Feb 1, 2020, a swift action given that the outbreak was going to worsen in China. Three days ago, the country banned visitors from UK and Schengen Nations as the number of cases in Europe keeps increasing at an alarming rate.

There are also disinfection cabins set up in the capital – Hanoi. To be clear, whether this initiative is truly effective can be challenged, but it’s still a step into the right direction, given what is going on here in the US

The time of crisis

In good times and when the sea is calm, everyone can sail the ship. Not everybody can when the sea is rough.

The last few weeks has been nothing, but extremely challenging. Uncertainty and fear take hold of our society. Stock markets suffer beating after beating, dragging along with it our 401k or saving with no signs of the plunge abating. Lives are disrupted or, worse, lost.

In times like this, we need leadership, starting with looking the truth in the face. Germany’s Chancellor honestly told everyone that 70% of the German population would be affected. Whether the citizens approve of the German’s government’s reaction to the crisis is another matter. Nonetheless, at least the head of the state didn’t lie or mislead its citizens. Another example is Dr Fauci. He admitted that the US’s healthcare setup was inadequate to handle the mass testing at the moment. That’s the honesty we need. No spinning. No lies. No misleading information. No claiming that we have nothing to worry about when the crisis is upon our door.

If you watched the series Chernobyl on HBO (if you haven’t, I highly recommend it since we are staying at home anyway), the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. However, lies and denial led to one of the worst catastrophes in humans’ history.

From the enterprise perspective, some CEOs and companies took little time in setting an example and helping out. Aaron Levie and Box are an example:

Or Zoom and its CEO:

Or from a Chinese that wants to help out fellow human-beings, despite the difference in nationalities

On the other hand, there are companies whose behavior in crises like this is highly questionable and deserves scrutiny. Take Whole Foods as an example:

On Wednesday, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sent out an email to grocery store employees with a list of benefits and options for those who fall sick during the coronavirus pandemic. Among his six suggestions was an option for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers facing medical emergencies.

“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours,” Mackey wrote in an email reviewed by Motherboard, “not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country.”

In that same email, Whole Foods also said that it will offer unlimited, unpaid time off during the month of March and two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus—a policy announced this week for all Amazon employees and contractors that has also been adopted by tech companies like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart.

Source: Vice

I believe that eventually we’ll come out of this and get back to where we were a few months ago. At the end of the day, this is not the first disaster humanity has faced in the last hundreds or thousands of years and we’re still here, more advanced than ever. The issue is whether we’ll be more prepared for the next disaster. Since 9/11, we haven’t had a similar incident like that, but we have had SARS, Ebola and Swine Flu and look how prepared we have been for Coronavirus.

This is a golden time for true leaders to show their worth as well as for us to know who are not.