Covid, work must coexist

timestamp icon
category icon Columns, COVID-19 coverage, Opinion

By Don C. Brunell
Guest Columnist
By now it is apparent that, barring a miracle, a cure for COVID-19 will not happen soon; however, to make it a condition of removing the economic lockdown would be a catastrophic mistake. They must coexist.
The shocking news that America’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7 percent as employers cut 20.5 million jobs last month is demoralizing. It is approaching Great Depression numbers.
The bottom line is our country needs people working in safe surroundings. The fact is the COVID-19 pandemic may follow the same course as the Spanish Flu pandemic, which flared in 1918 and continued for three more years.
We have no choice but to redesign work, reconfigure workplaces and maintain social distancing. Whether we like it or not, it is the “new reality.”
For example, Shanghai Disneyland re-opened this week with one-third the normal 80,000 daily guests — all of which are screened for fevers, spaced out in lines, and riding one-person per car on rides. The days of waiting in crowded long lines and packed with multiple riders are gone. It is Disney’s future blueprint and hopefully, it will jump start the reopening all of its parks. Disney laid off 100,000 workers since the COVID-19 outbreak.
The virus also is changing how people fly and it is likely airlines will reduce the number of passengers per aircraft, require face masks and reconfigure seating. The airlines have been clobbered by COVID-19, and their plight is impacting orders at Boeing, Airbus and aircraft suppliers.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) added: “ADP this week reported that small businesses shed 11 million jobs in April.” According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, 8.2 million leisure and hospitality jobs — about half of the industry — have been eliminated in two months.
Many of those restaurants, hair salons, hotels and non-essential businesses will not survive if the lockdown is prolonged. Many are family owned, and most don’t have the financial resources.
The point is we need people working. Employment brings with it hope for a better future. Hope is what drives American ingenuity.
Timing is particularly critical for another reason.
Later this month more than 3.7 million high school seniors and roughly 4 million college and university students were scheduled to graduate. Now, they will be mailed their diplomas. What was a booming economy with lots of job opportunities on Valentine’s Day was the exact opposite at Easter.
The lockdown in education has impacted nearly every American family.
In ours, a granddaughter playing in her final college softball season learned overnight that all sports were suspended. Another granddaughter was surprised when told her eighth-grade class trip to Washington, D.C., and their graduation were suddenly canceled.
All of this has a demoralizing impact on students, teachers and parents. With unemployment approaching Great Depression highs, the hope is vanishing. We can’t allow it to evolve into despair.
WSJ Columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote “People need hope. Americans live on it. We must return to life.”
Noonan interviewed George Shultz, former Secretary of State, who believes we have a catastrophe on our hands. “We have to open things up and say to the private sector. ‘Do your job.’ They have creativity, they want to get things up and going again?”
Carefully opening up our economy, embracing necessary precautions to reduce health risks and putting people back to work as soon as possible is in all of our best interest.
As President Ronald Reagan once pointed out: “If your neighbor is out of work, it’s a recession. If you’re out of work it is a depression.” Our situation is extremely serious.
Hopefully, we are wise enough to avoid depression and despair. Work and the coronavirus must coexist.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, columnist and retired president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at