I thought it might be interesting to write some notes on my experience of the COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 pandemic so far. There are no doubt many of these on the internet, but so far I’ve found each of them interesting to read. It seems worth writing mine down as well.
In January I first starting learning about the emerging disease in China, but didn’t immediately pay it close attention. On February 8th, I was killing time reading the news while waiting for a friend. Somehow, a specific series of news stories about the situation led me to think through possible outcomes in a way I hadn’t previously. I can remember making a few logical leaps in a row. First, it seemed unlikely that containment efforts had been completely effective. Wuhan has more than 10 million residents: preventing the travel of every single contagious individual sounds like an impossible task. Second, the apparent rapid spread of the disease combined with the likely inability of other governments to impose containment as vigorously as China would lead to inevitable spread in other countries. Third, the interconnectedness of the global economy meant that a meaningful economic impact would occur everywhere regardless of how widely the virus spread.
This felt like seeing something that could not be unseen. Over the course of the next few days, I felt plenty of anxiety and sadness. I also took a few immediate actions. I adjusted my savings to be more resilient to a financial downturn. This basically meant selling shares of a Vanguard S&P500 ETF and buying a short-term government bond fund. I also changed my plans around looking for my full-time work. Rather than waiting to look for a job for few more months, I started my search immediately. Hindsight bias makes statements like these barely worth the “paper” they’re written on, but I’d say I was considering at least a 20% chance of a recession comparable in magnitude to 2008-2009, and maybe a 50% chance of a noticeable but more mild economic downtown of some sort. At the time, when I brought up my point of view with a few friends, most of them more or less agreed with my logic, but also thought I was being overly concerned. That week, I also went and purchased a 32oz bottle of hand sanitizer. There were dozens of them on the shelf.
On the first weekend of March, I flew to Miami for a short trip with a few friends. The following week, one of them came down with a fever and dry cough. That, despite not having any exposure to known cases or international travel. After a week’s delay, he managed to get tested for COVID-19. Around then, I noticed I was feeling unusual shortness of breath going up stairs, a mild cough, and some chest tightness. When his test came back positive after five days, it seemed extremely likely that I had the virus as well. Luckily, my symptoms were extremely mild. I had about two weeks of similar fatigue, but no fever. I’m still not even positive I had the disease, because getting tested in New York was virtually impossible at the time without going to the hospital.
I’m writing this on April 28th. Luckily, I’ve managed to land a job offer, despite hearing of many companies conducting layoffs and having several companies I was in contact with pause their hiring processes. Overall, job searching felt like the part of musical chairs after the music turns off. It seems many of us have started to settle into our quarantine routines. After the short-term anxiety and new developments every day comes the long-term anxiety of waiting to see when things will start going back to normal, and wondering what “normal” will look like.