My heart sank a little last week when the governor officially canceled school for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Not just for my kids, who won’t get to see their friends and teachers for another five months. Or for my wife, a preschool teacher who won’t be able to host a “graduation” ceremony for her students and their families. Or for me, a longtime soccer official who likely won’t see the field again until next fall.
No, my sorrow is reserved for the people whose lives have been turned upside down by this worldwide pandemic:
• The high school and college seniors who won’t be able to experience the long-anticipated rites of passage they have been looking forward to since they were kids. Senior year is supposed to be filled with fun and lifelong memories. But just like that, it’s over.
• The families, especially the parents and grandparents, who won’t get to properly celebrate the graduation of their loved ones.
• The athletes who will never get their senior seasons back. Some college athletes might be granted another year of eligibility, but the high-schoolers are just plum out of luck.
• The rest of the spring sports contingent, including coaches, high school underclassmen, middle-school athletes, Little Leaguers, club soccer players and lacrosse players. Spring is a time for people to be outside running around, not sitting around their houses eating Cheetos.
Tough economic times
Those are just my school-related laments. I haven’t even touched on the economic fallout that has beset every city and small town in America since the second week of March. Scores of people are now out of work — 17 million unemployment claims at last count — with few, if any, new job prospects on the horizon.
Right now, my heart goes out to the small business owners and their employees who have done everything right but, through no fault of their own, got caught up in an epic crap storm with no end in sight. The folks on my mind these days include:
• The restaurant and bar owners who can’t pay their leases because they aren’t bringing in enough customers due to the statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses. While I agree that this policy was necessary to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the impact of this decision has been truly devastating to thousands of businesses across the country.
• The servers, bartenders, hostesses, cooks and restaurant managers who, just one month ago, were enjoying the fruits of a bountiful economy and are now being forced to scrape together money for basics like food, rent and utilities.
• Others in the service sector, such as baristas, massage therapists, hair stylists, car salesmen and retail store employees, whose livelihood depends on a healthy economy. Not only are many of them unable to work right now, but when those businesses reopen (IF they reopen), there won’t be as much disposable income to go around.
• My friends in the newspaper business, who are experiencing yet another gut punch now that advertising revenue has dried up even more than during other economic lulls. I remember the dread we all felt at the Yakima Herald-Republic during the Great Recession of 2008-09. But things weren’t nearly as dire back then as they are today. Ten years ago, newsroom budgets were being cut to the bone; now, they’re disappearing altogether.
• Industries that are indirectly affected by sharp economic downturns, such as tourism, sports entertainment, music, theater, advertising, marketing, sales, ride-sharing and many others. When dollars aren’t flowing freely through the economy — which they were doing quite nicely over the past decade — everyone takes a hit. Sadly, this downturn could be a hammer blow.
Everyone is affected
Our $19 trillion economy is interdependent on the success of so many different types of businesses that when 17 million people are removed from the workforce overnight — and many more who have not yet filed for unemployment — everyone’s bottom line is affected.
Our state, county and municipal budgets will also be strained due to a dramatic drop in tax revenue, both from businesses and individuals. At the same time, more money will be needed to pay for things like public safety, social services and unemployment benefits. The governor already has trimmed a half-billion dollars from the recently passed state budget, and more cuts are likely.
These changes will eventually trickle down to the local level, where there will be less money available to pay for things like road repairs, parks and recreation, and K-12 education. Department budgets will suffer, and more jobs will likely disappear. Not to be a downer, but when you see numbers like we’re seeing right now, it’s hard to stay upbeat.
Stay the course
At the same time, I’m trying to remain optimistic. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I would love to see us resume normal life by mid-summer and head into the latter part of 2020 with this whole social distancing phenomenon in the rearview mirror. The thought of missing any more school, work, sports, vacations or family gatherings is enough to drive us all batty.
But for our society to return to normal, we have to stick with the plan set forth by the governor and our public health officials. We have to continue to trust the data and test as many people as possible so we don’t experience a resurgence of the virus in a few months.
No matter how many times people say, “this is just another flu bug,” that doesn’t make it true. Yes, an average of 30,000 people in the U.S. die of influenza every year, but that’s under normal circumstances with no widespread stay-at-home orders. COVID-19 has already killed 23,000 Americans and 120,000 worldwide, and we’re not even a third of the way through the year.
Plus, there are vaccines available for the flu; there is no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. If we had continued on with business as usual, we very well could have seen six- or seven-figure death tolls in the U.S. So, until we learn more about this virus and have a more thorough testing program, we simply have to stay the course.
Most people understand how important stay-at-home orders and non-essential business shutdowns are to preserving the health of everyone in our communities. We don’t have to like them — or the impact these mandates are having on our daily lives — but the majority of us are willing to sacrifice so we at least have a chance of returning to normal this summer and fall.
The best thing we can do right now is stick together and help others in the community when they’re in need. Trust the scientists, trust our public health officials, and trust that we’ll come out of this stronger than before.
• Pictured above is my 12-year-old daughter, Lenora, who is trying to settle in to a work-from-home routine after missing the past month of school due to the coronavirus outbreak.