The survey was emailed to 513 Georgia leaders, 124 or about 24% of whom responded. Participants were asked a series of questions about their expectations with regard to the pandemic and the long road back to something that bears a resemblance to pre-COVID days.
About 90 percent of the business, political and community leaders believe their organizations will be changed permanently by the pandemic. More than a third said that many of the practices such as virtual meetings that have become common in their workplaces are likely to remain.
Some argued that the pandemic has made it clear that business for now on must emphasize health and safety. “As we move forward it’s imperative for corporate and small business leaders to continue to adopt the best health and wellness practices into everyday life and to assist in the vaccination of team members,” said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “Simply put, no matter what your company does, everyone is in the health and wellness business now.”
Julia Bernath, the president of the Fulton County school board, said whatever the “new normal” will be, it still won’t be the same. “I don’t think we will ever see the ‘normal’ that people remember,” she wrote in a comment with the survey. “I think we have been permanently altered in certain habits, activities and practices,” Bernath said. “However, once the vaccine is plentiful enough for those who want to take it to be able to do so easily, I hope that my family and I, as well as others, will be able to resume those activities with which we are all comfortable. I miss the hugs most of all!!”
Alvin Wilbanks, the Gwinnett schools superintendent, cautioned that “normal” may be elusive for parents and students. “I think the phrase ‘get back to normal’ will take much longer on a few things than others,” he wrote. “Since I am an educator, I think the impact the pandemic has had on students could take two to three years or more for many students to get to where they should be in their achievement level.”
About half the respondents believe that 60 percent of Georgians would be vaccinated by the end of summer, with the balance expected it would take until sometime in 2022 to reach that level.
Billy Grogan, the Dunwoody police chief, worried that the issue probably won’t be a lack of vaccine supply. “There will likely be enough of the vaccine available to give to 60% of Georgians,” Grogan said. “The question … becomes will 60% of Georgians take the vaccine?”
Some of those polled lamented the nation’s response has been politicized.
“The American people aren’t stupid,” said Randy Lewis, the managing director and co-owner of Fitzpatrick & Lewis Public Relations. “They can easily see that every aspect of this virus has been politicized and weaponized for political gain. In the process, we have let the bully organizations, like the teacher’s union, corrupt both health and education policies. Even worse, the last year has fully exposed the CDC for the political hacks they are. The virus has exposed the underlying corruption of nearly every American institution.”
Ben Chestnut. founder and CEO of Mailchimp, hopes the focus shifts to helping people get through the pandemic: “I’m more hopeful now that the way we talk about the pandemic, handle the vaccine rollout, and approach safely reopening businesses will be less about politics (which is distracting at best, and deadly at worst) and more about getting all of our people access to the care and support they need, back to work, and moving again.”
Lisa Borders, the former Atlanta City Council president and former president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, called for balancing important interests as the country emerges from the crisis. “The new paradigm will presumably prioritize people (equality & equity on every dimension), passion/purpose (recalibrated reality) and our planet (climate change consensus & proactive problem-solving).”
Jessie Goree, board chair for Clayton County Public Schools: “Our citizens must understand that we must work collectively to eradicate the virus by wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands and getting the vaccination if we fall into the category. Teachers need to be moved to a priority status if we want schools to open safely.”
Glenn Stephens, Gwinnett County Administrator: “Gwinnett County government has operated without interruption during this pandemic. We have learned how to work in the office and work from home, some of which will continue post COVID as a benefit to our employees. Flexibility and resilience has been learned and taught to others and must be extended to our community as we wait for more plentiful supplies of the vaccine. Education as to its safety and need to all segments of our population in partnership with our community will be key to meeting the 60% threshold.”
Nick Masino, President and CEO, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce: “Choose your attitude and press on. The Gwinnett Chamber was the first large Chamber in the U.S. to reopen and begin safe in-person events. You can safely go to work and have events if you choose to. Today is 288 days back to work COVID-free. We have safely hosted thousands of guests COVID-free.”
Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer, Partnership for Southern Equity: “It’s going to be a long road to recovery.”
When do you expect that life will return to a semblance of normal?
1st half of 2022 29.8%
How will the pandemic permanently alter things?
Masks will remain common 3.3%
Businesses will keep a lot of virtual practices 34.4%
Large gatherings will always raise concerns 0.0%
Travel is likely to remain more complicated 4.9%
All of the above 57.4%
How much do you believe your business or organization will be permanently changed?
A lot 36.9%
Not much 10.7%
Not at all 0.8%
How long do you think it will take to vaccinate 60 percent of Georgians?
Beginning of summer 16.4%
End of summer 50.0%
End of the year 14.8%
Sometime in 2022 8.2%