A Path Back to Normal

A Path Back to Normal

Many Americans are tired of living in shutdown mode and ready to get back to work. It is evident across the nation, notably in the massive drive-by protests in Michigan and other states.

The sentiment echoed by many is that quarantine is for sick people and lockdown is for criminals — so let us get back to work!

Tens of millions of jobs have been lost since March. Additionally, “Forty-three percent of small businesses say they will have to permanently close within six months without some sort of quick cash infusion or fast improvement in economic conditions,” writes Andrew Keshner of MarketWatch.

One protester in Michigan wisely observed that we need to step back from thinking in terms of essential services and broaden the economic perspective to include safe services. After all, if the grocery store and restaurant pickup can be done safely, why not other retail establishments and workplaces?

Gloves, masks, hand-washing and distancing work just as well in any place of business, and many U.S. companies and consumers are ready to give it a try.

“I continue to be very concerned about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but we must be able to find a balance between protecting public health and the need to get businesses opened back up and our residents working again,” stated Riverton, Utah, Mayor Trent Staggs. “These goals aren’t mutually exclusive. In an effort to achieve that balance, I’m excited to announce the Riverton Economic Recovery Initiative.”

Staggs reflects the belief of many that concern for and protection of the most vulnerable should continue while more widespread economic activity can begin to ramp back up. His plan involves five key elements:

  1. Business License Fee Elimination Extension — The city eliminated licensing fees for businesses in 2018, and will extend this through the 2020–21 budget.
  2. Temporary Signage Approval — Local signage restrictions have been temporarily lifted “to allow businesses the opportunity to better advertise products and services.”
  3. Eat Local Campaign — Residents are encouraged “to support local restaurants who offer pick up, carryout or drive-thru options, and a coordinated effort is being made to promote these businesses.
  4. Virtual Business Roundtable — The city and local chamber of commerce “will host a virtual business roundtable for Riverton business owners and managers “to connect businesses with available state and federal resources, gather input, take questions and outline Riverton’s road to economic recovery.”
  5. “Business Blitz” — This drive-thru week-long event around the city park will link residents with special deals and discounts offered by local businesses. Local businesses are encouraged to post signs offering the deals and residents can drive through and photograph the deals that they are interested in, and the photos will serve as their coupons.

These steps help to encourage community spirit and help to reassure local businesses that their mayor and community are behind them. Additionally, citizens are encouraged to support local businesses and sources of local jobs.

The state’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox seems to be on board as well, stating that he’s optimistic that the state’s economy may reopen sooner than officials previously estimated. He believes that efforts to flatten the curve have worked and points to numbers of infected that fall far short of previous estimates.

The state’s coronavirus plan, dubbed “Utah Leads Together,” is preparing to move into its next phase, which will continue to include strong social distancing, hygiene and mask usage recommendations to avoid new spikes in cases.

“As the economy reopens, authorities want to avoid ‘super-spreader’ events, where large gatherings of people are enclosed for a long period of time,” Cox said, as reported in KSL News.

The state’s legislators will begin a special virtual session in mid-April to hammer out the details of how the state and individual communities will move forward with the next phase of the state’s plans.

“While some may suggest that there is a trade-off between either focusing on health or focusing on the economy, we know in Utah that is a false choice,” Salt Lake Chamber CEO Derek Miller said.

In addition to personal protection and measures like increased hand-washing, curbside services and working from home will continue where feasible. But many workers will be encouraged to return to the workplace, and businesses will be able to expand their operations with some precautions.

This next phase of the state’s plan is expected to last 10–14 weeks.

What Comes Next?

According to the plan, social distancing will transition to smarter overall public health practices, which are expected to result in improved public hygiene.

The response from community members varies. Some feel that it isn’t time to talk about reopening commerce. However, many are ready to get back to work and start making money again before it’s too late for their businesses to recover.

A common sentiment is that people know what they are facing and they know what to do. States can open up while following the guidance of social distancing, washing hands, sanitizing surfaces and wearing masks — these steps can continue as long as necessary. The protection of the vulnerable will continue to be of paramount importance. Perhaps we no longer need to stay home in order to stay safe.

States like Utah and communities like Riverton have been lucky. Infection rates have come in below estimated levels, and hospitals and infrastructure appear to have been well prepared. Vast swaths of the nation are in the same situation, and communities throughout the country are preparing to reopen their economies following a similar pattern.

With purpose,

Dr. Patrick Gentempo

Patrick Gentempo