Lindsay Tausch

I am an economics major finishing my last semester of Georgetown. Before Georgetown went to online classes, I shared an apartment with four of my friends. They are now spread around the country, in Washington State, Connecticut, Mississippi, and South Carolina. My boyfriend, Sam, majors in computer science at American University and is staying in Maryland during the pandemic. I plan to work for my dad after graduation, beginning as an executive assistant. As I learn the basics of investing and portfolio management, I’ll begin helping with more interesting projects, such as buying and selling houses. I’ll be able to work remotely on my computer, which is great because I love to travel.

 

About the Collection

For this project, I wanted to focus on consumer experiences in the U.S., both because it is something I can speak to personally, and because it provides an opportunity to examine the impact of COVID-19 at different scales. At the individual level, almost everyone in the U.S. is a consumer in one way or another. In documenting my own experiences, I can provide an individual account of what it’s like to be an American consumer during this pandemic. Focusing on consumer experiences also allows for insight at the local and national scales. Consumer reactions to COVID-19 can reveal the quirks of local areas. Corporate responses and national trends demonstrate ways in which COVID-19 impacts the entire country.

I divided this project into three types of content, which together help provide a fuller picture of what it’s like to be a person and an American consumer during the COVID-19 pandemic. They include:

1) Updates from news sources and medical professionals, which provide a general picture of how the virus is impacting the country.

2) Reports on consumer trends, corporate responses, and new restrictions on economic activity. I include a variety of sources, such as screenshots, photographs, news articles, personal experiences, and anecdotes from other people.

3) Journal entries about my own experience as a college student and during this pandemic.

 
 

Browse News and Scientific Information

 

Browse Reports on Impact on Consumers and Corporations

 

March 15, 2020

News and Scientific Information

Saturday, March 15, 2020 10:35 a.m.

Global confirmed cases: 142,539

U.S. confirmed cases: 1,678

Global coronavirus deaths: 5,393

Source:  World Health Organization

The COVID-19 virus was first contracted by humans in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Some suspect that COVID-19 was first transmitted from animals to humans in a market in Wuhan, but no one knows for sure. Since its inception in Wuhan, the virus has spread outside of China and become a global pandemic.

According to the WHO, most people who become infected with COVID-19 will develop mild to moderate symptoms and can recover without medical intervention. Some develop serious symptoms, which are sometimes fatal. Older people and people with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms. There are no treatments specific to COVID-19. However, patients with severe symptoms can be hospitalized in intensive care units, where ventilators can help them breathe while their lungs recover naturally.

Journal Entry

Saturday, March 15, 2020 9:46 a.m.

Two days ago, I woke up late, and saw a flood of texts on my phone. There were tons of messages from my friends, mostly “Noooo” and “I can’t believe this” and “They can’t do this,” and just one from my dad––“It looks like you got your independence earlier than expected.”

Their combination of reactions could only mean one thing: here was the confirmation of what everyone had anticipated. Sure enough, I checked my email, and saw that Georgetown had extended online classes through the end of the semester. I had graduated, almost. I was filled with a combination of adrenaline and worry. Feeling confined at school and in D.C., I was ready to begin my life after graduation. At the same time, I wondered about the implications of the catastrophe that had caused Georgetown to take such extreme measures. How bad was this? Barely awake, I scrolled through my Google News app with unusual interest. Checking the news usually made me feel like a detached observer. Now, it felt like a vital window into the world.

 
 

Impact on Consumers and Corporations

Saturday, March 15, 9:40 p.m.

This week represented a huge shift in our country’s attitude toward COVID-19. Trump banned travel from Europe. Colleges began switching to online classes. People started to prepare for the possibility of working from home. This new attitude has prompted a recent trend of “panic-buying.” Concerned that stores will run empty in an apocalypse-style food shortage, people have begun hoarding supplies, such as food and personal hygiene products. Ironically, the panic buying has itself begun to cause shortages, completely unrelated to the impact of the virus. The panic-buying got so intense that today, during a press conference, President Trump urged Americans to stop hoarding supplies. Trump assured people , “You don’t have to buy so much…Relax, we’re doing great. It all will pass.”

The biggest panic-buying scandal has centered on toilet paper, followed by hand sanitizer and food. Practically every major news source, including TIME, Forbes, CNN, and CNBC, published an article this week speculating about the reasons that panic-buying has focused on toilet paper in particular. Scottie Andrew of CNN speculated that “people resort to extremes when they hear conflicting messages,” and “panic buying begets panic buying.” CNBC interviewed psychologist Paul Marsden, who said panic-buying is about “taking back control” in a chaotic world. Jeffrey Kluger of TIME claimed that the scandal was about the “primal––even infantile––associations” of toilet paper. Whatever the reasons, the toilet paper scandal offers a humorous break from the more sinister realities of coronavirus.

 

Journal Entry

Saturday, March 16, 2020 8:32 p.m.

No updates from Georgetown today. I figured out how to exercise indoors, in the living room. It’s pretty unpleasant, but it does get the job done. Contrary to what I would have assumed, it seems that I really don’t need to leave the house at all. That level of caution may be unnecessary at this point, but does create a sense of safety and independence. I had briefly daydreamed about driving to Canada next week, but with all that’s happening, I’ll stay put. Travel is off the table for now. I keep anxiously checking my email and the news for nothing in particular.

March 16, 2020

News and Scientific Information

Saturday, March 16, 2020 2:58 p.m.

Global confirmed cases: 168,019

U.S. confirmed cases: 4,226

Global coronavirus deaths: 6,610

Today, restrictions on daily life continue to heighten. Headlines this morning:

● Canada will close its borders, with exceptions for Canadian citizens, permanent residents,

U.S. citizens, and certain special cases.

● First participant in coronavirus vaccine trial given dose.

● Effective 8 p.m. tonight, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will prohibit crowds of 50 or more, including private parties, and force restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters to close.

Impact on Consumers and Corporations

Sunday, March 16, 2020, 3:15 p.m.

I went grocery shopping today. It was my first time shopping since Thursday, four days ago. On Thursday, the supermarket I visited had been completely out of chicken and bananas. People were taking pictures of the empty shelves where the chicken was supposed to be. One woman

was on the phone with her friend, shocked. I was slightly shocked too. Today, the supermarket was mostly out of chicken, or at least chicken that anyone seemed interested in buying. The store had posted a sign limiting toilet paper purchases to two items per customer. It seemed like a useless sign, because the shelves were already empty.

 
 
 

March 22, 2020

News and Scientific Information

Sunday, March 22, 2020, 8:41 p.m.

Global confirmed cases: 267,013

U.S. confirmed cases: 15,219

Global coronavirus deaths: 11,201

In the past week, six states have issued “shelter-in-place” orders, requiring people to remain at home until further notice. So far, the governors of California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have taken this measure. People are still allowed to exercise outdoors, and to visit essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, hospitals, and laundromats. The states have required non-essential businesses close. The grim future of COVID-19 is becoming more tangible, and more concerning. Across the country, people are realizing that our current situation is not a short-term pause to daily life. Rather, we are likely at the beginning of a months-long change to life as we know it. Two days ago, a statistical analysis website, FiveThirtyEight, published a survey of expert opinions on the trajectory of coronavirus. The expected number of cases remains uncertain. Most experts predict that there will be about 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. this year, with the number ranging anywhere from 19,000 to 1.2 million. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear that we are only at the starting point of this pandemic. Only 15,219 Americans have tested positive for coronavirus; there are nearly 327 million people in the U.S. Experts estimate that 40-70% of the world’s population may eventually become infected with COVID-19. German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this statistic ten days ago, warning that up to 70% of Germans could get coronavirus. The restrictions on daily life may remain for months, if not longer. On Monday, President Trump said that the U.S. could relax its quarantine efforts by July or August, best case. Last week, the CDC asked people to limit gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Consistent with the CDC’s guideline of eight weeks, a Washington Post article estimated that the restrictions may begin to soften in two to three months, based on China’s experience with the virus. This week, it also seems that the economic implications of this reality have finally begun to sink in across the U.S. People are afraid to leave their homes and an increasing number of states are issuing “shelter-in-place” orders, with no end in sight. Businesses are failing, and people are losing their jobs. On Friday, Goldman Sachs predicted that 2.25 million newly-unemployed Americans will file for unemployment benefits this week, the largest single-week increase in history. Based on the declines for the S&P and Dow Jones Industrial Average, according to the Washington Post, last week was the worst week for the stock market since the 2008 financial crisis. Today, the Treasury Department will finalize a $1.8 trillion stimulus deal to send direct payments to Americans. The government will send checks to lower- and middle-income families (about $750 per person, on average), extend loans to businesses, and raise unemployment insurance.

Journal Entry

Sunday, March 22, 2020, 10:14 p.m.

I am fortunate to have not been as severely impacted by the virus as have many others. For now, I have a safe place to stay and remain financially stable. I am trying to proceed as usual. Last week, I spent most of my time getting acclimated to life with online classes. I am finding myself more productive when I have the freedom to structure my day as I like, which is a good sign for what it will be like working remotely after graduation. Life around here seems to carry on, though there is a somber, intangible silence that was not here before. Browsing online, I found a company that offers short-term rentals at a 40 percent discount because of the pandemic. I am generally a frequent user of AirBnb and other short-term rental services, especially looking towards the future after graduation. Given different circumstances, I would have been thrilled to find such a great discount for an apartment where I could work remotely. I told Sam last night on the phone. His reaction tempered my enthusiasm. “That’s a bad sign––this is serious.”

 
 

Impact on Consumers and Corporations

Monday, March 22, 2020, 8:24 a.m.

 

The virus has clearly had a big impact on companies that offer travel services. The corporate rental company, Sonder, started offering a 40 percent discount on apartment rentals.

 

March 27, 2020

Journal Entry

Friday, March 27, 2020, 9:49 p.m.

I had planned on going to Barcelona with my roommates for spring break, but cancelled out of concern that the international travel restrictions would become stricter. At the time, it seemed overly paranoid. In fact, however, the crisis heated up so quickly that my two roommates who did fly to Barcelona had to book new tickets to return early, so I was glad I stayed home. As an alternative to Barcelona, I went to Merrimack, New Hampshire, where I rent a small room and keep my car. My dad owned a house in this town for many years, which he sold recently. The town feels like home to me, and I like the regularity of having a place to return, even during periods when I am travelling much of the time. Certainly, now, I am glad to have a secure place where I can stay during the pandemic.

Impact on Consumers and Corporations

Friday, March 27, 2020, 10:14 p.m.

I’ve continued to check AirBnb's website out of curiosity for how it’s been impacted. On March 19, the company released a new policy that allowed people to cancel reservations made before March 14. About a week later, On March 27, AirBnb launched a charitable initiative to house 100,000 COVID-19 responders. The company began asking for donations to house healthcare and relief workers. People can donate directly or volunteer to host for free.

 
 

March 28, 2020

Journal Entry

Saturday, March 28, 2020, 10:15 a.m.

I talk to my dad on the phone frequently, often about the economic situation in the U.S. Like everyone else, he is concerned about how the business closures will impact the economy. He’s stuck in Manhattan, which seems like one of the worst places in the country to be right now. He says there is a strange energy in the city. One woman, walking her dog, yelled at him to get back inside when he was going for a walk. People are on edge.

 

March 30, 2020

Journal Entry

Monday, March 30, 2020, 8:39 p.m.

This week, it seems like the extended quarantine has hit a new stage, both for myself and for the people I know. It’s been at least two weeks since people began to avoid public places and businesses began to close. It looks like the “quarantine lifestyle” will have to continue for at least another month, perhaps longer. For me, being homebound is starting to feel like the new normal, not a temporary situation. It’s forced me to pay more attention to how I structure my days.

Normally, when I am busy with activities outside of the house, it’s easy to fill my time without much conscious planning. “Free time” is limited enough that I can watch Netflix or chat with friends without it dragging on long enough that I get bored. Now, however, I am trying to figure out how to fill my time with more substantial activities, and to pace my days to avoid boredom and burn-out. It requires a different kind of self-discipline to stick to an entirely self-constructed schedule. In order to remain motivated and productive, I need clear reasons why I am spending my time on certain activities. I’m the only enforcer, so I have to be convinced of the value of what I’m doing. It seems like a healthy thing to learn, especially because I will be working remotely after graduation.

 

March 31, 2020

Impact on Corporations and Consumers

Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 10:45 a.m.

Today I went to Target to buy a book. I’ve been having my groceries delivered, so I hadn’t been to a store in practically a week. The streets were emptier than I is typical for this area, though there were still people outside. I’d guess that about 5 to 10 percent of people were wearing face masks. Target was somewhat crowded, though you can definitely sense a certain ominous energy about how people carry themselves in public nowadays. The perishable food shelves were half empty, and many things were completely out of stock.

Target had started limiting the amounts of milk, butter, and eggs that each person could buy. I’m not sure if foods are running out because people are panic-buying, agricultural production has slowed down, or there’s been a shift from eating at restaurants to cooking at home. It might be a combination.

 

News and Scientific Information

Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 12:15 p.m.

Global confirmed cases: 828,305

U.S. confirmed cases: 176,518

Global coronavirus deaths: 40,735

A lot has changed in the past week. Effective Tuesday, March 24, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instituted a lockdown on all nonessential businesses in the U.K. Also on Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a 21-day lockdown for all of India , home to 1.3 billion people. The lockdown has been especially devastating for India. Many people are threatened with the inability to buy food if they can’t work. The U.S. has become the global epicenter of the virus, with New York at the very center. The U.S. passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill on Wednesday, March 25, to address some of the economic damage from the widespread closures. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders or closed all but non-essential businesses. The growing list includes Kansas, North Carolina, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and my home state of New Hampshire. This week, over 3 million people filed new unemployment claims, raising the total number of unemployment claims from 281,000 to 3.3 million. The president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve estimated that the unemployment rate could hit 30 percent .

 

April 6, 2020

Impact on Corporations and Consumers

Monday, April 6, 2020, 10:39 a.m.

Life goes on, and the U.S. seems to silently descend into an ever-greater atmosphere of seclusion and panic. I visited the grocery store again to stock up, and I would estimate that about 25 to 50 percent of people I saw were wearing masks. I saw one man who was wearing a legitimate gas

mask ask an employee to help him find something, and they just wandered throughout the store as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I feel fortunate to not be in a high-risk group for this virus. From what I’ve read, it seems like a serious health risk for certain people and only a minor issue for others. It is still important to take every precaution to not infect others, obviously. Even so, the situation has gotten me thinking about my own evolving perspective on coronavirus-related risk. The virus is such a conspicuous example of the many small dangers that permeate everyday life. It’s so easy to be anxious about plane crashes or bear attacks, but it’s harder to internalize the greater dangers of car accidents and cancer.

As a consumer, I was once again unsurprised to see that the grocery store was out of paper towels. At this point, I think it would be more shocking if there were still paper towels left in stock. In other consumer-related news, I saw that UberEats has removed its delivery fees and is encouraging people to choose the “Leave At Door” option. AirBnb, hotel, and apartment rental rates continue to drop. I was curious about how the prices of plane tickets have been affected, so I checked the round-trip rates from Washington, D.C. to Manchester, New Hampshire, which is a trip I have made frequently in the past. Despite the airline industry being devastated by the virus, the ticket prices were actually not any lower than usual. The Federal Aviation Administration has changed its rules to prevent the airlines from having to fly empty planes to maintain their takeoff and landing rights. That helps to explain why ticket prices have not fallen as dramatically as demand.

On a larger scale, major companies are taking shocking measures in response to the economic shutdown. The Cheesecake Factory furloughed 41,000 employees and announced that it will not pay its rent in April. Macy’s closed its stores and furloughed most of its 130,000 employees. Usually such massive closures are exceptions, but now they are becoming the norm. Furloughed employees do not get paid. In theory, they will be hired back when the economy recovers, but there are no promises. People have lost their incomes and are having to depend on their savings. When the government allows stores to reopen, will consumers really be spending enough money at Macy’s and the Cheesecake Factory for those companies to hire back all their employees? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

 

© 2020 Dr. Ananya Chakravarti

Thanks to Rajeev Kozhikattuthodi for his help in building this website.

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