Several local leaders gave us their thoughts last week about what they think our community and our nation will look like in six months due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

Of course, nobody really knows what will happen; we didn't expect the virus to totally upend our lives six months ago, either. Who knew the world would turn upside down overnight?

But, gazing into a crystal ball is an interesting exercise so this week, I'll add my two cents about what the "new normal" will look like:

MEDICAL: In six months, we will know a lot more about how the COVID-19 virus works. It is an unusual virus and scientists and doctors have been surprised by how it affects people medically. One of the great unknowns is why the virus is mild in some people but deadly in others. More knowledge will help doctors find treatments that will be more effective for those who have a "bad case" of the virus and end up in the hospital.

In six months, testing for the virus will be more available and the overall case numbers will soar due to better, quicker and expanded testing. As a result, there will be less focus on the number of people testing positive and more focus on the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

In six months, we are likely to experience another surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to the reopening of society and increased people-to-people interaction. These deaths will force schools, universities, businesses and governments to reconsider plans for another shutdown period.

In six months, we won't yet have a vaccine for the virus and the attention will turn to treatment more than prevention.

ECONOMIC/SOCIAL: The economy will see some recovery in the mid to late summer months as businesses reopen and people begin to attempt a "normal" routine. But unless the government extends unemployment benefits, the steam will run out by August or September as unemployment will remain higher than normal. Furloughs of government employees due to lower tax income will further destabilize the economy, especially in communities like Athens, which has a lot of government workers.

In six months, if there is a second surge of deaths, the economy could see another major downturn as mandatory closures are once again put into place. Such a situation could bankrupt some colleges and businesses that are struggling from this spring's closures.

Despite a troubled national economy, Jackson County could see some growth activity in six months due to the impact of the virus. E-commerce will boom and given its location and available warehouse space, Jackson County could see more Amazon-type businesses make Jackson a distribution point.

In six months, social distancing will have become second nature to many Americans. In some high-density places, mandatory masks will be required. Plexiglass dividers will become common between customers and business/government employees. Assembly line production will also have dividers installed. How we interact in the workplace and in the marketplace will revolved around new social distancing conventions.

Outside of that environment, however, people will crave social interaction with friends and family. Gatherings of people for social interaction will be controversial, especially if there are clusters of deaths that come from such gatherings. Governments will be under a lot of pressure to stop large gatherings, but will lack the resources and political will to enforce such limitations. Some sports and entertainment venues will reopen in the late summer, but by fall many will again shut down due to virus concerns.

As we've already seen, the impact of the virus will have a greater impact on low-income jobs and minority communities, partly because of housing and social structure arrangements. In six months, that divide will grow wider and become more stark.

POLITICAL: The virus will have a huge impact on the political dynamics of the 2020 elections, especially the presidential election. As the economy struggles and the virus continues to have clusters of outbreaks, the political rhetoric will become increasingly divisive. Far-right fringe groups will continue to protest business closures and social distancing mandates and will be praised for their actions by the president. That will, in turn, add fuel to anti-Trump rhetoric and discord.

Social media will become a sewer with political misinformation, much of it coming from Russian troll farms.

There will be a growing divide between what the federal government says and what governors decide to do in their own states. Trump will want to control the states, but governors of both parties will push back and ignore him.

State and local governments across the country will slash their budgets due to lower tax revenues. That will increase unemployment and rile up a lot of public unions, especially teacher unions that will resist cuts to education spending.

OVERALL: In six months, the nation will hobble along with political, social and economic problems overshadowing daily life. Shrill voices will dominate the agenda as the nation careens into a perfect storm of political, social, medical and economic dysfunction. Streets in major American cities will be filled with protesters of various causes, similar to 1968 and the anti-war protests of that era.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com

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