State and local governments have done an excellent job responding to the health aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily growth rates of infection have declined from 20% to 22% several weeks ago to less than 10% daily due to social distancing and other measures that were implemented. Less than 1/10 of one percent (0.001) of California residents have been documented to have contracted the virus. And now it appears we will not run out of hospital capacity for those who need it, due to flattening the curve.
And while I applaud their efforts, I’m wondering if government officials are thinking about “what’s next?” I’m concerned there doesn’t seem to be a strategy for reopening our economy. What are the current goals? Minimize the number of cases no matter the economic cost? Flatten the curve as much as possible until we have a tested and confirmed treatment? Minimize the number of cases until the weather warms up? Shelter in place for another 12 to 18 months until a vaccine has been developed?
What metric is government relying on to tell them it’s time to ease off a little and then measure the impact? At what point will government review the guidelines that were hurriedly put in place to see what adjustments should be made to allow some people to get back to work and what data will they use to guide them? How many businesses are close to not being able to reopen and all the jobs they created will be lost? When will government realize that “non-essential” businesses are essential to our community’s quality of life?
While those at the higher end of the economic spectrum will be fine when this is over, people who live paycheck to paycheck will be the most impacted. Their limited savings already has already disappeared or will in the near future. Yes, 60%+ of Long Beach residents who rent homes can’t be evicted for a few months due to non-payment of rent, but that rent will become due at some point in the future and they won’t have the funds to pay.
There are many small businesses, and jobs, that could be reopened subject to stringent health guidelines developed by government health departments. Allow businesses that can meet specific health protocols to start reopening. For example, minimum 6-foot social distancing separations, masks, hand washing before entering, sanitizing of business equipment, capacity limitations, etc. Sports facilities such as tennis and golf, and personal trainer businesses could be re-opened at a reduced level, as they are in other parts of the country. Why isn’t an automated car wash at PCH and Ximeno allowed to operate?
If these small businesses don’t reopen soon and have advertising dollars to spend our community is at risk of losing our community newspapers (they rely on ad revenue) and other local media.
Social Distancing, sanitizing and other health protocols will be with us for a while. The reason many businesses were closed is because they were deemed “non-essential,” not because they can’t operate safely. And while the service/product they offer may be non-essential, the revenue they could generate to employ Long Beach residents, create income to the owner so they can make their rent/mortgage payments, and create sales tax revenue for the city of Long Beach is essential.
Over the next several years you will likely be hearing about quality of life services the city (and state) will have to cut due to lower revenues and higher expenses. Layoffs and furloughs may be in the city’s near future. Anything government can do now to start mitigating the negative impact on working families as well as their own budgets should be encouraged.
Our local economy is going to be devastated when this is over if common sense doesn’t prevail soon in California. Government needs to realize that the opening of “non-essential” businesses that can operate safely is essential for our community.
Gary DeLong is a former Third District City Councilman.