One Year Later: What We’ve Lost, And Learned, During COVID-19. What’s Next?

Healthy and energetic, Cliff Morrison flew to the University of Miami last winter to attend a film screening and receive an award. And he was busy in his career in health care administration, quickly implementing strict COVID-19 precautions at two centers for the developmentally disabled.

But now Morrison, infected 10 months ago, has joined the ranks of a growing number of so-called "long haulers," who battle a lingering and mystifying assortment of symptoms, such as headaches, chronic fatigue or cognitive problems.

"I still tire very easily. I still have some shortness of breath. I still have 'brain fog,' I have difficulty remembering details and names," said Morrison, 69. "Every day is a struggle for me at this point. Still."

Big questions remain. How common are these persistent symptoms? What's driving them? When will they recede? A research volunteer, Morrison is donating blood, saliva and personal information to UCSF's Long-term Impact of Infection with Novel Coronavirus (LIINC) study, which will be complete in December 2024. It will take a long time to understand the full clinical spectrum of this disease.

An exodus — and return? Like many young tech entrepreneurs, John Gardner spent last winter at a desk, working hard to launch his startup Kickoff, an online fitness coaching company. The economy was hot, and the state's jobless rate was a low 3.9%. Space in San Francisco's commercial real estate was scarce, with a vacancy rate of 4.5%. The average one-bedroom apartment in the city cost an eye-popping $3,500 a month.

Despite the challenges, "it was awesome. I was taking advantage of the Bay Area's concentration of techies, innovators, entrepreneurs and other companies. It was like being in Florence in the 15th century," recalls Gardner, 35.

"But then COVID hit," he said.

When offices closed in March, Gardner and California's other urban tech workers assumed they'd have just a brief hiatus at home. Then weeks turned into months, and many fled for cheaper and easier places, often far from the Golden State, to telecommute.

He left his one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco's Hayes Valley, went home to Atlanta and then took to the road, growing his company from a laptop in a rented RV as he hiked, biked and kayaked through the wilds of Utah and Colorado.

Now cities like San Francisco are struggling with a high commercial vacancy rate of 11.2%. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco has plummeted to $2,690 — a 24% decrease. The average rent in Los Angeles has fallen 15%.

A growing number of companies — Facebook, NetApp, LinkedIn, Adobe, Uber, Slack, Airbnb, Microsoft, Target and others — now say they'll start bringing workers back in July or August. Google is looking at a September return date.

There is tempered optimism in California's jobless rate, which has fallen from a high of 16.4% in May to 9.0% in December. The state has regained about 44% of the 2.6 million jobs that were lost due to the pandemic in March and April.

Employers are planning how to change their offices to ensure workers' safety. They'll likely allow more flexibility in work-from-home arrangements. But some talent may be gone forever.

"I do hope to come back to California, but I will not be moving back full time," said Gardner, who is putting down new roots in New York. "There's been a seismic shift. Where you are — it just doesn't matter as much now." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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