Reality Bites: Oy Corona!

If you have been wondering what is the big deal about COVID-19 (you’re not alone), here is the scoop: COVID-19 spreads so fast that, if unchecked, experts worry the sick could overwhelm hospitals, forcing them to ration care, having to choose who receives services (ergo lives) and who doesn’t – an equation favoring the young, healthy, and wealthy. This occurred in Wuhan, China, and is occurring throughout Italy. The resulting strain on our medical system weakens our society’s ability to respond to other catastrophes.

If seeing is believing, the circumstantial evidence (and science) indicates COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Within five days of a conference held in Massachusetts last month, 50 out of the 175 attendees had flu-like symptoms and 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases could be linked to the conference, according to the Boston Globe. In Italy, one person is thought to have infected 43 people, according to Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, a Yale professor who studies networks, in an interview with WBUR. China went from 266 cases on December 31, 2019, to 80,000 by mid-March 2020.

Hospitalizations among the infected are high – ranging from 15% in China to more than 50% in Italy according to Liz Specht of STAT; the percentage of infected requiring critical care (e.g. placed in ICUs) range from 5% in China to 10% in Italy according to Ms. Specht. Estimates of the number of infected who will require hospitalization in the U.S. range from 10% to 20%.

Yet, U.S. hospitals do not have the resources – beds, equipment, and people – to care for everyone who would require treatment if the virus spreads unchecked, according to experts like Eric Richards, MD, an infectious disease specialist serving six Denver area hospitals. The U.S. has less than 3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, or less than 0.3% of the population, according to the OECD. That translates into 8,400 beds in the Denver metro area, 12,900 in the Boston metro area, 13,100 in the San Francisco Bay area, and 19,600 in the Houston metro area – covering over 19 million people – if none are in use. When I spoke with Dr. Richards on the morning of March 13, he said the six hospitals he serves were already “full to capacity” without having a single COVID-19 patient in their beds.

In Wuhan, people requiring care were being turned away from hospitals because there were not enough beds for the sick, resulting in death as the sick convalesce at home. In Italy, experts are concerned about this and a collapse within the medical system.

According to Dr. Richards, more than 50% of the population falls into one or both of the two groups with the highest risk of complications or death from COVID-19: (a) those over age 65 and (b) those with compromised health. You’re bound to know someone who could be at risk if infected.

The U.S. has been struggling to test for and thereby track and contain the spread of the virus. As such, the only way to protect ourselves and the ones we love is by separating ourselves – the social distancing you might have been hearing about. As word of the crisis began to trickle in from Asia, many self-imposed their isolation. Now, it is being mandated by several levels of government.

As millions sacrifice for the social good, much as great generations have in the past, eyes are turning to D.C. and state and local governments for thoughtful leadership to provide relief and prevent a secondary national crisis.

While payroll tax reductions will help, they will not arrive in time to avert the crisis nor in amounts large enough to save homes and credit. They cannot feed children of furloughed employees while the sacrifice is being made.

The biggest priority for most families will likely be job security, their health and welfare, being able to feed their families, buying medicine, and keeping their homes. As thousands become unemployed (or, for the 10% of the workforce that is self-employed and the 20% of the workforce employed by them, lose revenue), promptly implementing policies such as the following could ease their turmoil.

  • Relaxing requirements for unemployment benefits;
  • Creating a paid leave program covering this period;
  • Creating a temporary safety net for the self-employed;
  • Extending deadlines for all tax payments coming due in the next three months, including income, property taxes, sales/use taxes, and payroll taxes;
  • Extending filing deadlines for all tax returns coming due in the next three months;
  • Deferring payments on government backed loans; and
  • Providing treatment for COVID-19 regardless of a person’s insurance coverage.

If you’re bunkered at home waiting for the pandemic wave to ebb and looking for ways to lighten the experience, here are a few ideas.

  • Sleep in an extra hour
  • Check on your neighbors
  • Help those in need
  • Serenade your neighbors
  • Binge watch TV with your family
  • Write a story, develop an app, or design a game with your kids
  • Make your friends laugh with videos
  • Watch more hilarious videos by John Garrett

TaxForward will be taking the following steps to assist you and our community during this saga.  

  1. Moving the March 25 Master Tax Mixer and webinars to May 6, 2020, to protect the health and safety of our speakers, attendees, and community. Registrants will receive the option of a credit towards an event or a full refund.
  2. Extending the early adapter pricing for the Spring Tax Detox to April 15, 2020, to provide time to decide as the situation stabilizes.
  3. Providing and referring materials, including webinars and articles, that will address critical questions for businesses, such as the following, on our website and social media. If there are any webinars and articles you’d like us to recommend, please send the information to Info@TaxForward.org.
    • How to advise employees;
    • Travel and leave practices;
    • Interaction with clients and vendors;
    • Whether and how to cancel events;
    • Whether and how to change store practices (including setting purchase limits);
    • Distribution channel and productivity concerns;
    • Continuity plans;
    • Cash flow options; and
    • What insurance options are available to help mitigate potential losses and risks.

We wish you and your family good health and safety!


Ashby Walters is Executive Director and cofounder of TaxForward and Future Tax Leaders. She has served as head of or leader in tax for Peet’s Coffee, Inc., Quizno’s, Staples, Dish Network, and other companies. Over her 20-plus year career, Ashby has helped organizations from Fortune 200 companies to start-ups, save more than $200 million in cash taxes, millions in G&A, and thousands of production hours collectively.

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