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How Brands Can Respond to the ‘All Very Positive’ News About the Pandemic

Good news

In his first post on the AnyRoad blog, Ryan Whitney, Chief Sales Officer at AnyRoad, summarises a recent conversation with Dr. Monica Gandhi who offered advice to companies on ways they can conduct business post-COVID.

I recently had the opportunity to hear some of the more positive insights about the state of America, 13 months out from the start of our confrontation with COVID-19, than I’d heard just about anywhere else. 

“Things are going to look so different by July and August,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at University of California San Francisco. In terms of activities we will and won’t be able to take part in by mid-summer, Gandhi said pointedly, “The conversations we’re having in April are going to almost seem funny when we realize what’s going to happen in August.”

Her views came via webinar, “Recovery and Renaissance: The Return of In-Person Experiences,” with COO and Co-founder of AnyRoad Daniel Yaffe. As content as I was to absorb them, and as much as I wanted to start advising brands to coordinate in-person experiences for that time period, her forecasts do fall on about the most optimistic side of the spectrum. 

Measured optimism

During a media appearance of his own just a handful of days earlier, one of Gandhi’s colleagues, Chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF, Dr. Bob Wachter, communicated a more conservative message. He said that in his mind, the middle of June — the California governor’s promised statewide reopening date — was still “a long way off” and added: “We’re not completely out of the woods.” 

Gandhi did hedge her statements a bit by noting that her projections were reliant upon continued vaccination dispersal, and that different regions of the nation will open up at different times. (States like Michigan, for example, are experiencing far higher case numbers than elsewhere, and might have to wait.) Wachter also indicated that summer reopening forecasts are dependent upon people continuing to get vaccinated at a high rate. 

There has already been widespread concern that many eligible Americans won’t get the recommended shots, so perhaps brands should still take a more wait-and-see approach when it comes to planning in-person experiences. But with that said, there are few people in this arena better qualified to give such predictions than Dr. Monica Gandhi. Heck, even the San Francisco 49ers — a brand in its own right, and one that’s heavily reliant upon in-person experiences for revenue generation — has consulted her about when and how it can safely usher fans back into its stadium. 

So “all very positive” news out of Gandhi’s corner shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are a few more noteworthy takeaways from her talk with Daniel Yaffe: 

The Vaccines Really, Really Work

Gandhi said the COVID-19 vaccines “work incredibly well” and, citing recent data from the vaccine manufacturers, added that “a vaccinated person is a hundred percent protected from severe disease.” She also said the likelihood of a vaccinated individual spreading the coronavirus is very low, and, as a vaccinated person herself, she already feels safe “doing whatever I want.”

However, Gandhi does not predict a complete social discarding of the now ubiquitous facemasks. (She noted that after the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, many in that region have continued to wear facemasks to this day.) Out of sensitivity for others’ feelings and to follow local norms, Gandhi said, “I will still mask and distance in public because I don’t know who’s unvaccinated and who’s not.” 

But, she continued, as of April, “Vaccinated people can hang out with vaccinated people, without masks and distancing.”

Where There’s Herd Immunity… 

Gandhi believes this country will, with continued vaccination dispersal, achieve herd immunity within the next three to four months, reinstating a sense of normalcy. We don’t need to look further than two of the United States’ allies, the United Kingdom and Israel, for proof of concept. 

“They have very, very low cases and they have not vaccinated 80 percent of their populations,” Gandhi said. 

Sixty percent of people living in Israel had been given their first dose, as of March 15, while, as of late April, half of UK’ers have gotten the first stab. Both countries have also significantly eased restrictions on social activities. 

As of now, 40 percent of Americans have gotten their first vaccine shot; 25 percent are fully vaccinated. But with three million shots going into peoples’ arms each day, the U.S. is catching up to those countries across the pond.

Giants vs. Niners

In April, the San Francisco Giants, which played a grand total of zero home games in front of fans during the 2020 regular season, announced they would begin selling sections of tickets to “vaccinated-only” attendees. Gandhi believes that by the beginning of the NFL season in September there won’t be as many hoops to jump through. 

She said the 49ers’ committee isn’t even recommending that the team test fans prior to stadium entry, out of concerns over false-positive tests. She also revealed that the team is currently leaning toward an arrangement like that of the Giants, with vaccinated and unvaccinated sections of fans, but added: “If our cases are profoundly low by August, it’s possible this is all going to be moot.”

All of this translates fairly easily to brands that revolve around in-person experiences. At this point, Gandhi says if a shopper refuses to wear a mask in a retail store, it might be prudent for workers to “let it go” instead of “making a scene.” And if brands want to see the world get back to a state where larger in-person experiences are allowed, internally and with consumers, Gandhi says they should eagerly launch public health campaigns. 

“Talk endlessly about how these vaccines are beyond our wildest dreams,” she said. “They’re our only ticket back to pre-pandemic, hugging-all-over-each-other life.”

I can’t imagine she’s wrong about that last part, but it’s still incumbent upon brands to consult science, from the minds of people like Dr. Gandhi, Dr. Wachter, and those in the CDC, who offer a variety of projections, so that they make their own decisions on how to move forward with — or without — in-person experiences. 

For more information on post-COVID in-person experiences, watch the entire webinar here.

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