Balancing the COVID-19 Chaos: Health Precautions VS Economic ImpactApr 20, 2020 10:41AM ● By Kimberly Brouillette
By Kimberly Brouillette
For over a month, residents in North Carolina have been living with the “new normal” as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. Never in modern American history have we had such an impact on our daily lives. “Social distancing” has become a way of life, at least for the time being. New phrases that would’ve had no meaning only a couple of months ago, such as “#AloneTogether,” are heard on most of the TV commercials.
The first COVID-19 related death in North Carolina happened to be a person from Cabarrus County, who died March 24 from complications associated with the virus. The person was in their late 70s and had several medical conditions, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a news release on March 25.
On March 27, the governor issued Executive Order No. 121, which increased restrictions by ordering North Carolina residents to stay at home for 30 days in another step to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The new order reduced the size of gatherings to 10 people and provided for essential businesses to continue to operate while prioritizing social distancing measures. Any non-essential businesses were required to work from home if that was possible at all. For the first time since the crisis began, the force of law was enacted in all 100 North Carolina counties.
In addition, these restrictions were officially increased even further by Cooper on April 13. Any stores that are still allowed to do business must limit the number of customers inside based on square footage, marking 6 feet of distance near areas where people gather, such as checkout lines, plus disinfect routinely.
On April 11, for the first time in American history, the President declared that a major disaster existed within all 50 states at once. As of April 20, the virus has affected every state and resulted in 792,759 cases and over 42,500 deaths across the nation, according to the continuously updated worldometers.info website. North Carolina has been fortunate in that, though any related deaths and suffering are tragic, to date the overall impact has been much less, with 6,867 total cases and 210 deaths.
When regarding the number of total cases related to COVID-19 in North Carolina, they are relatively few, compared to the 10.5 million residents in our state. However, the economic impact has been much more devastating and widespread. By April 10, North Carolina’s job losses passed a symbolic point with more than half a million people filing for unemployment in the three weeks since businesses starting closing down due to coronavirus, according to The News & Observer. To complicate matters, there have been numerous issues with filing NC unemployment applications, according to WBTV in Charlotte.
These unemployment figures do not consider all of the people who have had their hours, and therefore wages reduced due to fewer staffing needs, such as what has occurred at all restaurants. It also doesn’t include millions of workers who are working from home but may be waiting on paychecks until the Federal Small Business Administration (SBA) processes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications filed by their employers. According to the Progressive Pulse blog, “the Economic Policy Institute estimates that North Carolina could lose more than 160,000 jobs.” The Small Business Administration (SBA) states that small businesses (with less than 500 employees), which comprise 99% of American businesses and employ approximately 64% of the American workforce, are threatened.
The one bright spot is that, as of April 14, many Americans have already begun receiving their $1200 stimulus checks (plus additional money for dependents) as a result of the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27. For many, that will be a temporary lifesaver to help them take care of at least necessary expenses.
Every governor around the country is faced with balancing a need to restrict the spread of the virus while attempting to reduce the negative economic impact as much as possible. However, as Cooper has added new restrictions to business practices as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, a large number of North Carolina residents are questioning the extreme tactics.
Recently, a new #ReOpenNC movement has begun to grow as residents are becoming frustrated with the business restrictions and control that Cooper has imposed on our state. On April 14, a protestor was arrested after refusing to leave the parking lot after being told to disperse during a ReOpenNC rally, which was organized to protest state-wide COVID-19 coronavirus closings in downtown Raleigh, NC, according to The News & Observer. Although there has been a significant controversy that has been sparked by these #ReOpenNC protests, it brings up a valid issue that needs to be addressed — how can we safely move towards rekindling the economy while maintaining efforts to hinder the spread of the virus?
As a result of growing frustration, the grassroots group is demanding state officials reopen the economy no later than April 29, the same day the state’s stay-at-home order expires. The group believes the order is not needed for the majority of North Carolinians because the most vulnerable people can be isolated and protected in other ways, according to WCTI News 12.
“The ReopenNC group has said it plans to hold weekly rallies on Tuesdays to encourage Cooper to end the restrictions by May 1,” according to The News & Observer.
WCTI News 12 also states that Representative Chris Humphrey was invited to join the #ReOpenNC Facebook group with more than 27,000 members. Humphrey says Governor Roy Cooper needs a solid plan to re-open the economy. “I’m looking for a plan from the governor to roll out some plan of action,” he explained. “So that we can start seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t need a perfect, drop-dead date, but I’d like to see some kind of schedule.”
Congressman Greg Murphy from North Carolina’s Third District, who is also a medical physician, has made a public statement regarding the process of reopening the economy. In an interview with Spectrum News, Murphy states, “We need to learn from the data we have, to be smart about this…” He continued by acknowledging his support for the stay-at-home order for people 65 years and older, or who have other compromising medical conditions. However, Murphy added, “…We can start relaxing the stay-at-home orders for those under 65 and who are otherwise healthy… but yet continuing social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks, when we can. We just have to be intelligent about what we’ve learned about this, and therefore that’s the best (way) to guide us to move forward slowly.”
Murphy also said he felt we could move forward with the relaxing of stay-at-home order because he believes we’ve learned enough already. Furthermore, he explained he has spent the past six weeks talking to scientists, doctors, and other specialists around the world, plus he has reviewed pandemic models extensively in order to get a grasp of the medical aspects. He says that he agrees with the appropriate Federal and statewide actions taken so far to flatten the curve. However, he believes we could slowly begin to relax these efforts as early as next week, before the executive order expires on April 29.
As more and more people claim unemployment or are making reduced wages due to the almost complete economic halt that has occurred, the discussion of reopening the economy throughout the nation will, indeed, grow louder. For example, governors in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina are already discussing reducing stay-at-home restrictions as soon as a week from now. The challenge will then become determining the right timing and path for each state in order to accomplish this without destroying a majority of small businesses out there. It cannot begin too early, as this would risk unwise and potentially fatal consequences (for some) regarding our current health situation. However, waiting too long comes with it its own consequences, as well. Regardless, it is evident that extensive discussion is needed now in order to begin the process at the appropriate time and, hopefully, prevent any further damage to the economy without creating additional problems healthwise.