It's hard to believe that we've been battling the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year and half at this point. Yet here we are. Earlier this summer, it seemed as though vaccines were cutting transmission on a national level and bringing society closer to normalcy. But then the delta variant took over, setting us back from a health-related perspective.
Now there are numerous mask mandates in place, and the CDC continues to advise even vaccinated individuals to don masks indoors in areas where the transmission rate is high (most of the country falls into that category at this point). This massive step backward isn't just making people sick and scared -- it's hurting small businesses.
Many local establishments have closed their doors permanently in the wake of the pandemic. And with coronavirus concerns potentially keeping customers out of stores, the fear among real estate investors is that more establishments will be forced to shutter due to a lack of business before 2021 ends.
Of course, it's not just that small businesses are struggling with revenue. They're also having a hard time hiring. And while much of that was chalked up to the $300 weekly boost in unemployment benefits the jobless were getting through early September, hiring hasn't ramped up all that much over the past few weeks even with that extra money being gone.
All told, it's a precarious time for small businesses and the landlords who rely on them to pay rent. But there's one piece of positive news that recently emerged: Pharmaceutical giant Merck (NYSE: MRK) has announced that it's developed a pill that can reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths by as much as 50%. And that alone could be a game changer.
A ray of hope
While the COVID-19 vaccines on the market have been shown to do a good job of preventing hospitalization and severe disease, breakthrough infections are growing increasingly common. And that's not a failure on the vaccine's part.
People routinely get flu vaccines and still wind up with the virus. The only difference is that instead of potentially being bedridden for weeks at a time, they're better positioned to recover quickly.
But there's another reason the flu tends to be less severe -- and less feared -- than COVID-19. There are treatments on the market, like Tamiflu, that can be administered at home to reduce the severity of the virus.
So far, no such treatment exists for COVID-19. While there are monoclonal antibody treatments that can be administered to prevent severe illness, they have to be given intravenously and in a hospital or healthcare setting. That not only taxes these facilities but acts as a barrier to patient care.
It's for this reason that Merck's pill could truly bring us one step closer to normalcy in the face of COVID-19. Having an effective at-home treatment is likely to mitigate COVID-19 fears, and it may also limit the transmission of the virus. The result? People can return to normal life.
From a small business standpoint, that means consumers can shop in person with fewer fears, and local establishments can not only enjoy more revenue but potentially have an easier time hiring. Right now, many businesses are struggling to hire because people don't want to put themselves in harm's way for minimal wages. But if there's less fear of getting sick, that attitude could shift in a way that benefits local businesses -- and real estate investors -- tremendously.
What's next for Merck?
Right now, Merck's pill isn't available to the public -- but it could be soon. The company intends to apply for emergency use authorization imminently for its new drug. If it gets approved, it has the potential to make a big difference in the fight against COVID-19.