One Year Later: Reflections on Covid-19 

By March 16, 2021Insights

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

David A. Wein, M.D. is the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Tampa General Hospital, System Medical Director for TeamHealth, and an Associate Professor at USF Morsani College of Medicine.

Exactly one year ago today—on March 16, 2020—we published our first Covid-19 Q&A with Dr. David A. Wein. The pandemic had only just started to overturn Americans’ personal and professional lives, so the focus of that first post was squarely on the present—offering science-informed context on how to stay safe and provide good counsel to tenants or team members. In subsequent Q&As (this is the tenth in the series), we looked to the future, including a discussion in April 2020 about whether, in 18 months or two years, we could possibly be fortunate enough to have a vaccine.

 As we mark a full year since the first Covid-19 lockdowns—and as we embrace the hopes inspired by the rapid development of not just one, but three remarkably safe and effective vaccines—we wanted to take a moment to reflect on this milestone, with a quick look at what stakeholders in commercial real estate can do to help in the months ahead.

 

Rachel Elias Wein: David, we recently looked at our photos from this time last year at the start of the lockdowns. For some people, that would be images of weddings, parties or vacations, but that’s not what your images looked like.

Dr. David A. Wein: Right. For me and my Tampa General colleagues, the pandemic had become a central focus several weeks prior. My photos are full of whiteboard sketches—‘Here’s how we’re going to handle it if we see an overwhelming number of patients.’ It was diagrams of where people could go and things like how we could repurpose outdoor areas if there were more people than we could handle in the ER.

We had done this kind of preparation before—with the first SARS virus, MERS and Ebola, for example—but by the first week of March 2020 it was clear that nobody was going to be able to contain Covid-19 in the same way. This was a global pandemic that posed a serious threat to public health.

And what about you, Rachel? What did you see on your camera roll?

REW: Some of my pics were from what was then a routine event —a national commercial real estate conference, on-site and in-person. In this case, it was ICSC’s Open Air Summit in Nashville. We were just starting to think about the implications of what was happening. In fact, at that conference we talked specifically with Joe Zidle of The Blackstone Group about how a pandemic would drive up sales in the grocery sector but hurt sit-down restaurants, and how the sectors that were leading going into a pandemic—technology—would lead the recovery. That was accurate, to say the least.

Meanwhile, I had just kicked off another engagement with my longtime client Kamehameha Schools, reimagining investment strategy in Hawaii. I had a ticket to fly to Hawaii on March 12, which obviously wasn’t going to be possible.

DAW: And what are some of your reflections from the past year?

REW: Well, with the two of us having young kids and you on the front lines, we have been through a lot as a family. And I know the same is true of so many of our colleagues and friends. So, on the one hand, I’m proud of the courage and compassion that I have seen—the way people have adapted, including colleagues and clients who have shown such resilience.

At the same time, we could have done better as a country in confronting this virus. I along with others thought we would emerge like Asia. That was the basis for sunny predictions about a rapid recovery, which couldn’t have been further from reality.

People missed just how much better Asian countries would prove to be at containing the spread of Covid-19. But I’m encouraged by President Biden’s announcement of opening eligibility for all adults by May 1. I hope that will happen and that the vaccine acceleration will be a prelude to a larger, permanent reopening on or around the Fourth of July.

DAW: I agree that the key to getting back to normal is vaccination—it’s our only way out of this pandemic.

Up until this point, the number of vaccines has been the limiting factor, but within the next four to eight weeks, we’re going to go through a profound shift: Instead of supply being the limiting factor, it will be people’s willingness or unwillingness to get vaccinated.

We need to vaccinate enough people in the United States and globally to control the spread of Covid-19. That is precisely how we eliminated the likes of smallpox and polio. We are fortunate to have these vaccines and need to take maximum advantage of them as quickly as we can. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort.

REW: But what we know is that in the United States mandates can backfire. If you’re an employer in commercial real estate, how can you encourage vaccination in a positive way?

DAW: There may be some who feel it is appropriate to require their patrons, employees or other stakeholders to get a vaccine, but I agree with you about the importance of being positive. At TeamHealth, we’re asking all of the physicians who have been vaccinated to wear pins. The idea is to spur conversation during patient encounters and among hospital employees. The message is: ‘Yes, I was happy to get the vaccine, and you should be, too. It will protect you, your loved ones and your community.’

REW: Along the same lines, some retailers are offering a paid day off so that employees can go get vaccinated, or they’re allowing them to stay home with pay if they feel side effects after getting a shot.

DAW: That’s a great point. Removing obstacles to getting vaccinated is another very positive thing employers can do. You don’t want people to skip being vaccinated just because they’re concerned about losing income from a missed day of work. Employers can also try to build a culture around vaccination. Leadership can share their vaccination status if they’re comfortable and work with their communications teams to make sure everyone knows that those obstacles have been cleared away. You want to create the sense of a common mission.

REW: I like that mission: Each of us should try to set a personal example of what we want to see in our communities. If we all do that, maybe we can celebrate March 16, 2022 with champagne, and without gathering restrictions.

DAW: Absolutely. Let’s make it happen.

Rachel Elias Wein

Rachel Elias Wein

Rachel Elias Wein founded WeinPlus, a strategy and management consultancy focused exclusively on retail and real estate organizations, in 2009. Ms. Wein serves as the principal strategic advisor for industry-leading public and private real estate owners and national retailers. With over 15 years of management consulting experience, Ms. Wein’s expertise is focused on leading enterprise-level strategic change.