(Note added August 10th, 2021): In this article, I suggest that Lambda is vaccine resistant, and will cause a major spike. Since writing this article, further research has shown that Lambda does not seem to be vaccine resistant. However, this does not mean that the events I describe will not happen. It only means that they will not happen right now with that one particular variant. The general point remains valid.
A month ago, I looked at the data available to me and predicted that within a month or two, we would see masking come back and possible lockdowns. Now that these have come to pass, I want to be more intentional in sharing what I am seeing.
Covid is not only not over but what is coming in the next 18 months will be worse than the previous 18 months. The difference is that the warning signs are here and businesses have time to prepare, if they know what to prepare for.
I’m not going to talk about the politics or the underlying causes. The purpose of this article is to share with business owners and anyone else who needs to prepare a general idea of what we might expect in the next 18 months, and what you can do to prepare your business.
Delta is giving us a preview of what variants will do. It’s high infectivity and partial vaccine resistance are causing numbers to rise again, mask mandates to return, and uncertainty in people’s plans and activities.
On the horizon, we have Lambda, first found in Peru, which may be as infective as Delta, almost completely vaccine resistant, and just as deadly as the original. It has already been found in the UK, meaning that it will soon be in the US and every other developed nation in the next few months.
There are two factors at play which will generate the outcomes I am describing. Virus mutation and lack of effective response.
Virus mutation is a fact of viruses. The more they spread, the more they mutate. This is why you can get a cold or flu over and over. As the virus runs around the world, it mutates so that when it comes back your body no longer recognizes it as the virus you fought off last year because, through mutation, it is now actually a new and improved virus.
Covid has been allowed to spread, and thus mutate, broadly.
Lack of effective response has a number elements. Although we know what we need to do and we have the capability, people won’t do it on a large enough scale for it to work for various reasons. Thus, the virus will continue to spread, both in communities and across borders.
When Lambda arrives in the United States, it will spread like wildfire. A large percentage of the population has tuned out Covid news, believing it to be over. They heard something about Delta being serious, but since it didn’t lead to bodies in the streets, they assumed it was overblown, and they’ll receive the news of Lambda the same way.
This won’t be everyone, but it will be enough to give Lambda a wide path to sweep the nation like a pop sensation.
The response will be a muddled mix of lockdowns, mask mandates, advisories, and straight up denialism.
Assuming Lambda has the same mortality and morbidity rates as original Covid, we will see hospitals overwhelmed, possibly passing the point at which some sick will die due to lack of medical treatment.
We will see this across the country, because even in areas with more responsive governments, most community spread occurs at private gatherings which are very hard to restrict. Even in areas with harsh lockdowns, infection rates will skyrocket as people either ignore or are not aware of new rules.
Based on what I have seen so far, we should expect Lambda in the United States in significant numbers within 2–5 months, so between September and December, 2021.
Worst of Both Worlds
A formal lockdown, such as we see in Australia, is painful for businesses, but has the payoff of controlling the outbreak and allowing a return to normal business.
We will never see that level of response in the United States until the general public sees Covid as a real threat (which I’ll discuss later). Instead, we’ll get partial lockdowns in some places which will devastate business without actually solving the problem or we’ll see people voluntarily restrict their activities due to fear and uncertainty.
Most businesses operate on a fairly slim margin, so losing just 10% of their revenues could be catastrophic if they are not prepared.
Worse, it won’t be a single event. We will see a return to the periodic cycle of lockdowns and slowdowns of the past year.
For planning purposes, look at your data from March 2020 to November 2020, and you can reasonably expect this next phase to play out similarly.
Mask Mandates Save Businesses
For a business, the best scenario is to be in an area with a well followed mask mandate. Regardless of the variant, the virus spreads through the air and masks are very effective at preventing it.
People make personal decisions based on infection numbers. Governments make lockdown decisions based on infection numbers. Mask reduce infection numbers.
Thus, the use of masks reduces the number of people who will stay home and reduce the likelihood of lockdowns.
What Does This Mean for My Business?
If your business was affected by Covid last year, it will be affected again. You’ve been through it before, so you know better than I what the actual impact is.
The good news is that you know it’s coming.
For planning purposes, I would recommend that any business plan for the same direct impacts that they had in the first few months of Covid. They might be worse. They might be less severe. It’s hard to say, but they will be in the same vein.
Response is the same as well.
If your workers can work remotely, start making plans to go back to remote immediately, and have them ready to implement quickly.
Find ways for customers to buy from you online. Pivot into additional lines of business that do not require in person or in store gatherings.
For example, if your business is running conferences, develop ways to run more robust virtual or hybrid events.
If your business is a restaurant, find more ways to have outdoor dining, in home dining, or even pivot into related fields such as prepare at home food kits or cooking education.
Think back to April of 2021. There is something that you said “if I knew this was coming three months ago, I would have…”
It’s coming, so do that thing.
If you’re not sure what you should do, or if you are worried that this next round will knock you out for good, let’s talk. I help businesses find their hidden resources and potential pivots. I’d be a happy to do a free coaching session with you to find some of those best next steps.