At the time of writing this, the world seems uncertain and scary. Events unlike anything I’ve experienced are occurring. Massive sports leagues are stopping their season. People are banned from visiting certain countries. The stock market is plummeting. Freaking Disneyland is closed! So far I’ve felt relatively calm about the whole thing, but keep wondering “Should I be panicking?”. I wouldn’t be alone. Go take one look at the toilet paper aisle in stores and you know the world is scared.
Is the fear somewhat justified? Yes. Do I think the hysteria is being blown out of proportion? Yes.
The coronavirus is not new; the strain COVID-19 is. We’ve experienced outbreaks of the coronavirus before with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Most people will vaguely remember those outbreaks at best. So why panic about this strain?
For comparison, SARS was more deadly but less infectious than COVID-19 (1). What does that mean? It means if you get COVID-19 you’re less likely to die from it than SARS, but you’re more likely to spread it to others. Keep that in mind when you’re panicking about this new strain. The world has seen the coronavirus before, and we’ve lived through it. Viruses don’t run rampant until everyone is dead; that’s not how they work. Most people who have been infected have already recovered.
I’m not attempting to downplay that the virus is scary. Like all outbreaks, people will die. However, you don’t have to take either extreme side. It’s ok to worry for those most likely to be harmed by the virus without spiraling into outright hysteria.
While I agree with the concept behind all the memes & social media posts I’ve seen (trying to reduce panic) I disagree with the method. Making fun of those terrified will not benefit us. I don’t have the level of panic about the virus that I’ve seen in others, but I have also been disturbed by some of the anti-panic talk I’ve heard. Many young, healthy people are brushing it off entirely saying “Well I won’t die from it, so I’m not scared” and they’re likely right. However, what about those at risk of worse outcomes such as the elderly or immune compromised? Do you not have anyone you love that fits that description?
This isn’t a you versus them problem; it’s a humanity problem. Remember that one day you’ll likely be in the riskier category. Have compassion and take care of each other.
I’ll admit I’ve been shocked by the world response to COVID-19. In my lifetime I have never seen mega-corporations or leagues willingly shut down and lose billions of dollars of business to help prevent the spread of a virus. In most ways, I think it’s brilliant. How many times have we seen examples of people before profit? I can’t think of many.
If we can slow the spread of COVID-19 it gives our medical system the ability to keep up with the demands, so kudos to those doing their part.
How am I personally reacting to the pandemic? To be honest my life has not changed much.
Do I still go work my hospital job? Yes. Do I still take public transit? Yes. Am I washing my hands more? Yes.
You can be diligent without sliding into hysteria.
This is a financial blog first & foremost, so I cannot ignore the financial impact COVID-19 will have. I’m equally scared for how severe the financial ripples will be.
In our province we’ve been asked to self quarantine for 14 days if we’ve returned from international travel. I feel fear and sadness for families or individuals that don’t receive sick pay and were already living paycheck to paycheck. When asked to do the right thing by staying home and keeping others safe versus earning money to feed your family, what’s the answer?
I know other areas have been hit even harder with school closures so parents are unable to work, businesses having no customers, and companies laying off workers since they cannot afford to pay them.
It’s going to be a tough time for folks who were already living close to the financial edge, and there’s no easy solutions.
My financial advice for the average person remains similar to what I always suggest:
1) Really try to live below your means. Buy what you require rather than simply buying what you want. Save up enough cash that you can weather at least 3-6 months with no income. Life and disaster happen, and COVID-19 is another example of it. During the good times, build your financial house strong enough to survive the bad times. Storms always come.
2) For those individuals with investments in the stock market, when prices drop: Do. Not. Sell!!!
I understand that it can be hard to watch your investments plummet. I feel that right now myself. But market volatility is incredibly normal. This is the wild roller coaster you signed up for. Those that can handle the ride tend to finish well because markets always go up.
This graph is slightly behind times as markets have fallen further, but it is an amazing visual. Markets tend to drop with every outbreak, but they recover. As financial advisor Tim McCabe says “History may not repeat, but it does rhyme”. There’s no reason to believe the market will not recover from this.
You would not buy an item at the store, sell it at a loss when the price goes down, then re-buy it later when it’s more expensive. So don’t do it with your investments!
Don’t touch your face right now, and don’t touch your investments.
3) If you’re in a position of financial affluence, remember those that aren’t. This isn’t a time to be hoarding things at home and only thinking about yourself (including toilet paper). When the world is suffering it’s an amazing time for the world to come together. Offer to deliver staple items to the elderly or immune compromised that may be scared to shop. Check in on how your neighbours are doing. Ask other people if they need help.
Life will normalize again.
Take precautions and wash your hands. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Try not to succumb to the hysteria.
This pandemic will pass like all others before it. Rather than focusing on things outside your circle of control, focus on how you react during these times. Be someone you’ll look back on and respect when the pandemic is over.
Should I be panicking? No. Should I put my head in the sand? No.
Above all, remember to be a good human. That’s what we need right now.
(1) https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses accessed March 13, 2020