Working in the time of coronavirus
Facing global pandemic, businesses move online
It was the week everything changed.
On Saturday, March 7, Virginians woke up to learn that the novel coronavirus sweeping around the world had spread to the Old Dominion, with the news that a U.S. Marine at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax tested positive for COVID-19.
By the following Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam had declared a state of emergency, closing K-12 schools across the commonwealth, and Virginia recorded its first death from coronavirus.
It was a week that saw the World Health Organization declare COVID-19 a pandemic and U.S. President Donald Trump declare a national emergency. It also saw stocks spiral dramatically, sending the already-volatile Dow into its worst day since the 1987 “Black Monday” market crash. As of March 20, Virginia Business magazine’s press time for this issue, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 114 coronavirus cases in Virginia, with two deaths. Worldwide, there were nearly 250,000 cases and more than 10,400 deaths.
And so Virginia — along much of the rest of the world — quickly settled into an unsettling new normal, with businesses sending workers home to telework and universities pushing classes online and canceling graduations.
Meanwhile, the restaurant and hospitality industries took the most immediate financial blows, suffering plummeting revenues, layoffs and closures as events and conferences were canceled and people hunkered down, avoiding social gatherings and public places.
Grocery stores and retailers saw shelves stripped bare of essentials such as toilet paper. Surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitizer were almost impossible to find.
Commuters accustomed to battling bumper-to-bumper Beltway bottlenecks became more concerned with data traffic jams holding up their broadband connections. The D.C. area’s Metro transportation system drastically cut service. Highways were suddenly less congested and it was much easier to score a great parking spot, no matter where you were.
And many wondered just how bad things would get, how much their lives would be disrupted — and for just how long. Worst-case scenarios predicted that U.S. fatalities could span anywhere from 200,000 to 2 million and no one seemed to know how long emergency social distancing measures would last.
What a difference a week makes.
Follow the links below to read the rest of the stories in this Virginia Business special report about the impact of the coronavirus crisis: