When was the last time you worried about polio?
COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has swept a path of fear and destruction across our planet. Our current situation is not as novel as it may seem. America experienced something similar, though to a lesser extent, with polio. Polio was at its height in the early 1950s, when it paralyzed over 15,000 people per year. There was no known prevention or cure. Fears that the virus was waterborne resulted in the closing of beaches and pools. Movie theaters, bowling alleys, and other gathering spots were closed. People kept away from crowds. Everyone was at risk, especially children.
My dad contracted polio as a boy in the 1950s. He was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan fishing with my grandfather and uncle when he fell ill. My grandfather rushed him to the Sister Elizabeth Kenny Rehabilitation Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan. He spent what must have felt like an eternity in an iron lung, and endured Sister Kenny’s painful rehabilitation therapies. Miraculously, he did not suffer any permanent physical damage.
Pessimism sounds smart in times like these. Much of what the pessimist says is self-evident. What the optimist says must be taken on faith, as there is no evidence. And yet the optimists have been right. Our world has steadily improved. Jay and I think that will continue.
Warren Buffett wrote, “A great investment opportunity occurs when a marvelous business encounters a one-time huge, but solvable problem.” Corporate America is a great business and the coronavirus is solvable. You don’t have to take that on faith. China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore have solved the virus. If they can, we will too.
April 12, 2020 was the 65th anniversary of Jonas Salk’s vaccine that prevented polio. We will have a similar such anniversary for COVID-19, hopefully soon.