Editor’s note: Industry consultant Kemp Anderson and Dr. Faith Oi, an associate extension scientist at the University of Florida, have joined forces to author a series of articles related to COVID-19 titled “Leading Your Company in Difficult Time.” In the series (also available in Spanish), Oi shares her insight on the quickly emerging science as it applies to our industry, while Anderson provides his analysis the economic impact this event is having on our industry and what we can expect looking forward along with business specific actions when applicable (download article 1 article 2, article 3 and article 4). In this article, the fifth in the series, the authors discuss how to prepare for the second (after opening) and possibly third wave (during fall)
“How do you know there will be a second and third wave?” The unsatisfactory, simple answer to the question above is that we know there will be a second and third wave because humans are involved. I know you know what I mean. When you are attempting to implement an integrated pest management (IPM) program, the most common frustration I hear from you is that you cannot get customers to cooperate in key areas such as sanitation and exclusion. Often the lack of cooperation is because our customers truly do not understand that pests are pests because of human behavior. We humans cause pest problems. Recall that IPM is also integrated people management.
The pattern of lack of understanding and cooperation continues with COVID-19. Not understanding the factors that spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are dire. It will only take a few people who do not understand and/or will not cooperate to negatively impact many others where the SARS-CoV-2 is concerned. (See this video of how COVID-19 could spread in 30 minutes using fluorescent paint on the hands of one-person dining with 9 others at a buffet. https://bit.ly/361V05F)
As an essential service, it is important that members of the pest management industry protect themselves, their families, customers, and community.
Data (and Science) is the New Currency
This statement could not be truer today. As I read the papers behind several of the models that have been discussed in the news and as we re-open, I couldn’t help thinking that opening too early would be like pulling a termite bait system from a house before the termite colonies were “eradicated.” There would be a re-bound.
It is true that not all communities have the same rate of SARS-CoV-2 spread, but it is hard to know if you are in a community that has low rates of infection without adequate testing.
The science behind the “second wave”
The first step in the scientific process is observation. We observed from Asian countries that reopened earlier in the year that they experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases and then, shut down a second time. They are now cautiously opening again, practicing social/physical distancing and wearing masks among the behavioral changes made. Hong Kong is now 15+ days without a new COVID-19 case. (Asia’s Lesson for Corralling Coronavirus? ‘Act Fast’ https://on.wsj.com/2YM2wjo). These countries are data-driven. Testing and contract tracing are central to their plan, in addition to social/physical distancing.
The next steps in the scientific process are developing a hypothesis and then doing the experiment to test the hypothesis. Our hypothesis (H1) could be that we also expect a second wave. In lieu, of real-time hypothesis testing which would result in unacceptable deaths, we look at epidemiological models. The journal articles I read, focused on “non-pharmaceutical interventions” as model variables. In other words, in the absence of vaccines or cures, how would human actions and decisions affect the spread of SARS-CoV-2?
The simple fact is that the fewer people we encounter, the lower the probability of running into someone carrying SARS-CoV-2. The models have predicted a second wave or at least an increase in COVID-19 cases, in part, because they accounted for people relaxing social/distancing practices. Since the lifting or partial lifting of stay-at-home orders, have you noticed more people moving about?
Figure 1, below, is from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and shows the U.S. with the highest absolute number of cases of COVID-19 and deaths in the world (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/cumulative-cases). Perhaps this is a way to look at what may be headed our way in terms of a “second wave” and beyond: Even among the top 10 countries with the highest case so COVID-19, the rate of cases in the U.S. is increasing faster than the other 9 countries. While the U.S. had some level of economic and social closure, culturally, our shutdown was less drastic, less enforced, and thus less effective (as the chart shows) even among the 10 countries that had the highest number of cases worldwide. These data help us forecast future “waves” of COVID-19 for our families, communities, businesses and beyond.
Figure 1. Cumulative cases of COVID-19 by date for the 10 counties with the highest number of cases. This website (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/cumulative-cases) will allow you to also look at the number of deaths.
What we cannot seem to answer with accuracy is how severe or how long a second and possibly third wave might last and here’s why: Models have limitations. You may have heard me use this quote before:
“All models are wrong, but some are useful…”
This quote is attributed to Dr. George Box, often called “one of the greatest statistical minds of the century. What did he mean? Models are approximations of reality, based on the data that we have at the time. In the case of COVID-19, scientists agree that the dataset is incomplete and changing rapidly.
An example of “data that we have at the time” comes from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 website (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). Just a month ago, I gave a presentation in the National Pest Management Association’s Back to Basics webinar series and used the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data to illustrate the magnitude of our losses. Since then, infections have more than doubled (2.2X) and deaths have increase by 2.6 times Table 1.
Table 1. The increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in three weeks.
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In our first article (April 8), we reported that it took 27 days from the first death to 1,000 deaths in the U.S. The second set of 1,000 deaths took 3 days. Since then, we have lost ~2,000 people per day since April 9. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)/Chris Murray model that has been cited by the White House as a resource (http://www.healthdata.org/covid) was updated on May 12, 2020. The US is projected to lose people in the range of 76 to 2,331 every day from now until July 1. Unfortunately, the projections for “total deaths” through August 1, 2020 went from a pre-opening total of ~60,000 to 147,040. We are sadly on-track to meet the higher death total.
This is strong evidence for the “second wave” that some may call a “long, slow simmer.” This “wave” is in addition to the one that epidemiologists predicted earlier that could coincide with flu season.
“The numbers vary widely. Does that mean the model is no good?”
Not at all. In fact, there is a “good news, bad news” scenario going on. These models consistently point out that we can change the trajectory of the model outcomes. The wide variability in predictions are because there is great uncertainty in how we will behave. (The models also use some pretty complicated math and several assumptions and estimates., and very clearly list the limitations of their models.)
What can we do to prepare for the potential second and possibly third waves?
Until there is a vaccine (18-24 months), operating in the era of COVID-19 will require innovation, discipline, diligence, and vigilance—all qualities that this industry knows well, because we are resilient. Tactics that can be immediately employed include:
- Take care of your employees. We have covered this topic in detail in previous articles.
- A good time to hire. There are millions of good people out of work. If you are hiring, this is a good time to find talent or level up.
- Build your Information technology (IT) capacity. IT will be key to survival for businesses and families. The digital divide is real. Not everyone can afford new computers, routers, web cameras, and the like. Please keep that in mind and donate usable and cleaned IT tools (phones, computers, tablets and so on) to your favorite local charity.
Greater automation was already occurring before COVID-19. In late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 60 percent of all jobs would see more than 30 percent of their key tasks automated, affecting 400 million to 800 million jobs around the world by 2030. According to the Brookings Institution, over the three recessions that have occurred over the past 30 years, the pace of automation increased during each. Covid-19 seems to guarantee an escalation in automation in all our lives and businesses.
- Data is the new currency. Data and information will support your innovation. Rely on sound sources as a foundation going forward. Trade journals, primary literature, podcasts by credible sources.
- Know what other industries are doing. Global consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company (https://www.mckinsey.com/) have excellent guidance. An article from May 6, 2020 feels very applicable to the pest control industry: “Fashion’s digital transformation: Now or Never” because some companies won’t survive the current crisis.
- Earn customer loyalty. Loyalty is directly correlated to customer retention.
Four dimensions consider for the mid- to long-term as you lead your company toward the “new normal” as governments around the world resume activity:
- In times of crisis, government plays an essential and expanded role, protecting people and organizing the response. This power shift transforms long-held expectations about the roles of individuals and all institutions. The pest control industry is not immune and we need to consider changes in our businesses with both customers and employees regarding social interaction around safety and commerce.
- . The COVID-19 crisis has propelled new technology across all aspects of life, from e-commerce to remote-working and learning tools. New working and shopping practices will probably become a permanent fixture of the next normal. For PCO’s the ability to treat residential and commercial structures in a non-invasive manner, including touch free transactions, and embracing technology at every opportunity, will be critical to drive your business. Will your company be prepared for these customer digital expectations?
- Around the world as COVID-19 gained momentum, several governments, including the U.S., invested in new tools to map transmission and rolled out huge economic-stimulus plans. Likewise, many companies in many industries and/or sectors have mobilized resources and redirected them to continue growth while others have not been so fortunate. The pest control industry is not immune. We as an industry need to listen to good sources and lead our businesses in the right direction (PPE, IT, new service protocols and so on).
- COVID-19 has exposed the world’s risky dependence on vulnerable components in global supply chains. China, for example, accounts for about 50 to 70 percent of global demand for copper, iron ore, metallurgical coal, and nickel. We could see a massive restructuring as production and sourcing move closer to end users and companies localize or regionalize their supply chains. This is critical for leaders in the Pest Control Industry to stay focused on your own supply chain as many of our daily products are made abroad and maybe difficult to get as globalization in many parts of our economy is reconsidered, we may not be immune.
In conclusion, as we think of a possible second wave of COVID-19, we believe the science suggests it is coming. When and to what degree may be anyone’s guess. However, we as industry leaders have more control than we may believe. The guidelines and observations we are trying to suggest should help. From a robust IT infrastructure you invest in, PPE for all team members, supply chain awareness, financial oversite, and simply listening to and meeting customer and competitive demands, we can drive our businesses through a second, third or even more waves of Covid-19. It is possible there is not a Covid-19 “cure” short term and as such, we need to consider how to lead our businesses and industry through this difficult time not only today, but for the foreseeable future.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for the general guidance of matters of interest only. The authors are not responsible for any errors or omissions or the results obtained from the use of this information. The information contained in this article is provided on an “as is“ basis with no guarantees of completeness, usefulness or timeliness. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors are not herein engaged in rendering financial, legal, tax, accounting or other professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with the reader’s professional advisers. In no event will the authors be liable to any person, company or entity for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information in this article or for any consequential, special or similar damages.