In this week’s edition of “Living In Strange Times,” we present a point-counterpoint argument for opening businesses and restarting the economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restarting the Economy
By Ariel Graham
Raise your washed, dried and chapped hands if you’re tired of being stuck at home.
That seems to be the sentiment these days as many counties and states are attempting to open businesses after a few weeks of “safe at home” orders. A few days ago, Governor Abbot gave the go-ahead for retail businesses to open again provided they offer a “curbside” services similar to what restaurants and bars are doing.
That’s all well and good for some retailers out there with well-established websites, even though the buying public is not allowed to go inside and browse. I imagine it will be a long time before we get back to that.
I miss being able to drive to my favorite stores and pick up a new sketchbook from Michaels or check out the latest scents from Bath and Body Works. I know there are plenty of owners and employees out there struggling for income because their business is closed. I understand their frustration, and I really hope they can safely get back on their feet as soon as possible.
But I’m not talking about the business owners today.
I’m talking about the people who are holding mass protests outside city halls and county courts trying to push states into opening back up. I’m talking about the ones holding up signs like “I need a haircut,” or “Let me go golfing again.” The people who blatantly and willfully ignore social distancing because somehow they don’t believe the virus can hurt them, or they don’t believe in the virus at all and think the whole thing is a hoax.
People like that scare me, people who don’t seem to understand that normal is not safe right now. The virus is still out there, and it’s just as deadly and contagious as it ever was. Pushing businesses to open prematurely will put more people in danger. Look at the Spanish Flu and remember the old adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I know people want things to go back to normal. I know they want their shops and salons and hangouts reopened. Believe me, I want things to go back to normal too. But we’ve got to be patient. This pandemic is far from over, the last thing we need right now is a second wave of sickness caused by impatience and ignorance.
Restarting the Economy – Counterpoint
By Stacey Starkey
I have a lot of fear about businesses restarting too soon with the coronavirus still spreading. To be clear, the illness caused by COVID-19 has long term health implications for survivors. Many of those who are cured will live the rest of their lives with kidney, heart, lung and even brain damage. Do not imagine this is the super flu or some other type of relatable illness.
However, only 20 percent of those infected, maybe as we have no real studies at this point, show any moderate to severe symptoms of the disease.
When we decided as a society to close all ‘non-essential businesses,’ the result was more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs.
When they were still employed, somewhere between 50 percent of workers making under $50,000 (Nielsen) to 74 percent (American Payroll Association, National Endowment for Financial Education) were living paycheck to paycheck, 30 percent of those making between $50,000 and $100,000 lived paycheck to paycheck, and 25 percent making $150,000 a year or more were living paycheck to paycheck (Nielsen.) Meanwhile nearly 30 percent of adults had no emergency savings (Bankrate’s latest Financial Security Index.)
The only way an economic shutdown was going to work was if the government stepped in and acted quickly to protect businesses and people from the devastating cost of not working. Despite promises and new programs, the government failed to act in a decisive way.
Newly unemployed people sometimes spent days trying to file for unemployment benefits, only to wait weeks on end to learn whether they might receive help.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) quickly ran through $350 billion, while paying $81 million, money that was supposed to be promised to small businesses, to large chain restaurants. Only 7 percent of Texas restaurants received any PPP funds.
Small businesses could also apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), which were promised to be processed and paid within three days. A $10,000 loan would be issued to businesses whether they qualified for the larger loan or not. EIDLs are processed through banks, which are stalling the process because they fear the loans will be forgiven and the government will not reimburse the banks. Basically, the EIDL is a mess. Oh, and the three day/$10,000 promise, well, that’s a non-starter.
So many Americans are watching bills stack up, demand letters from mortgage companies and landlords are threatening legal actions, and they are queueing up to receive free food for the first time in their lives.
People are left with a simple, desperate choice: stay at home and starve, or go to work and risk death. For many, the reality of starvation, bankruptcy, and foreclosure/eviction is 100 percent, while the risk of serious illness is, most likely, 20 percent. Most people would rather roll the dice and risk coronavirus even if it means that they, or their families, might become ill.
It is very simple, very dangerous math.
May the odds be ever in your favor.
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