We got a number of questions about our Q2 report regarding our estimate that 2021 was going to be much like this year. Our expectation is that normal running of races will not happen again until 2022.
There will be some real races this year and in 2021. And the number and size will probably continue to increase slowly on a national level, but in fits and starts on local levels. But looking at our data, the transaction volume behind real races is down about 75% from last year, and we expect it to be down compared to 2019 throughout all of 2021.
Why So Long?
Just like when we posted on March 11 about why we were moving so fast, the simple answer is math. The Replication Factor R(t) is greater than 1 in 43 states right now. That means the virus is increasing at an exponential rate in those states.
And data is always backward-looking, given that infected people can spread the virus and not feel sick for 14 days.
The virus has proven to be prone to spreading except when there is extreme social distancing, testing and contact tracing. Human nature, especially in the US, has proven that we have a habit of forgetting the past. We also have a habit of thinking it will not happen to us.
As an example, NY and NJ were the first to experience a spike. Many other states had a reaction that indicated it could never happen there and it was the fault of people who lived in those states. Of course now the virus is growing in 43 states. NY and NJ put very strong lock downs in place, but then began loosening them. You can see from the R(t) curve, NJ rates are growing again.
We expect this pattern to repeat with other states, putting increasing lockdowns to make sure hospitals are not overrun and getting into the green area of the curve, but then loosening and growing again.
Our expectation is that these swings will become smaller. For example, NJ just delayed indoor dining from opening so we will not see the replication factors of early March returning.
So the swings in this curve will flatten, however it seems we will be in oscillation mode to varying degrees and timelines across regions of the country.
Is There Hope?
Of course! There are multiple things that will happen that will allow outdoor events like races to happen in larger groups and more events to happen.
Learning to Put on Safe Events – We see this happening all over the country now, and we have documented a number of them like Vacation Races. Timers and Race Directors will get better and more efficient. Todd Henderlong talked at our symposium about how he is learning to grow from 25 people every 15 minutes to maybe 40 every 10 minutes. This will allow more people and more races to happen. However, until there is either proven herd immunity or a vaccine, large races and high volume and low cost and beer parties will be very rare.
Higher Volume of Medical Care – The medical field is learning how to handle cases better and better. They are reducing hospital stays, improving recovery times, and improving the ability of the healthcare system to handle more patients with higher success rates.
Herd Immunity – While we do not hold out much hope for this, the number of people who have had the virus is increasing. If you take the rough numbers of 3 Million tested positive and there may be 10X that number, that means there may be about 30 Million people who have had it. Almost 10% of our population. Assuming we get toward the 500,000 – 1,000,000 new cases per day (50-100K reported), that means we could have herd immunity of greater than 70% by Q1 of 2021. Of course there are a couple of problems with that. First, there is speculation that antibodies may decrease over time and leave the possibility of some people contracting it twice. Second, there is some likelihood of a new strain of the virus which would be immune to those antibodies.
Vaccines – This is our true hope. The great news is that there are many parallel efforts going on to get this out as soon as possible. So many smart and wonderful scientists from around the world are working on this, there are likely to be multiple vaccines coming out. And many governments in addition to the US are paying $Billions to drug companies to build out manufacturing before any vaccines arrive. Maybe wasting money, but also accelerating the ability to produce and distribute billions of vaccines. But the obstacles to a true solution are many. “Which vaccine should I take?”, testing, manufacture, distribution, administering the shots, etc. will take time. If things go well, we could all get our vaccines by this time next year. However, will everyone feel safe even then? Will some of the 300 Million people get sick from the vaccine or something else and cause confusion and doubt (there are plenty of people today who work against vaccines for polio and measles for example).
So that leaves us with maybe getting back on level ground by the fall of 2021. Just in time for another flu season in addition to lingering doubts. And that is if things go well.
So we expect by March of 2022, we will be something more close to what we saw in 2019. Much will change between 2019 and then.
And we could be wrong. It could magically go away. A vaccine could arrive sooner. We could accept the health toll and move toward herd immunity much faster. We could follow European and Chinese examples of stricter lockdowns, testing and contact tracing (although I doubt they will be holding mass events for quite some time in those countries either).
But from an organizational perspective, each of us needs to plan for a long time in our current state. We need to find new ways to make money and save money, which is what RunSignup/GiveSignup are working hard to build technology to help the endurance and nonprofit communities do. And if we are wrong and there is a big spring 2021 racing season, then we will be ready!