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Balancing public health with economic recovery

Ran in the American Press, May 5, 2020

Published Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Balancing health and economic prosperity is difficult in the age of COVID-19.

As the disease continues its physical onslaught around the world, the virus’s tentacles have impacted the economy, like no other crisis.

Managing the circumstances related to COVID-19 has divided some citizens and leaders into two camps: Those who want to follow advice from medical professionals and health policymakers who caution against resuming normal life too quickly and those who believe the economy has to be re-engaged now in order to stave off collapse.

The Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance/Chamber SWLA has monitored the virus on both the local, state, and national levels. This agency has spent weeks sharing information such as governmental updates and potential financial recovery data with Chamber SWLA members and the general public.

A potential surge in public sentiment, supporting business reopening, means a lot of decisions need to be made quickly.

This is what COVID-19 has done and projected to do to our economy:

• Projected Lake Charles MSA unemployment rate: 29 percent

• Closure of $700 million hospitality industry

• A decline in oil demand leading to a price drop and increased reserves.

• Loss of competitive advantage in the world LNG market and putting some local projects in jeopardy.

• Forced closure of shops, restaurants, and other services not deemed essential (but are).

We are all posed with difficult decisions now: Health vs. paying mortgages, loans, credit cards, car notes, utility bills etc.

We are in the midst of individual and community balancing acts.

COVID-19 has never been seen before and its repercussions have never been observed before in the financial markets.

What do we need right now?

First, calmness, patience, and intelligence.

Make sure your family is cared for. Abide by the safety precautions that medical professionals and elected officials have called for. Wash your hands. Keep a physical distance up to six feet. Cover your coughs and sneezes.

Second, we need leadership from the government and the business community.

The public needs their concerns heard and considered. Fears need to be addressed, and the public needs encouragement.

The White House plan called for a Phase One re-opening after a state had a decrease in cases 14 days in a row. We are moving in that direction. The Alliance advocated for a re-opening either by parish or region depending on the number of cases, but that idea was not approved by the governor.

We are seeing the closure restrictions gradually being lifted. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce his next plans May 11. As of now, the governor is expected to begin to open the state on May 15. Keep posted on the latest developments and be ready to act. Now is the time for businesses to prepare for re-opening. Some have used this down time for re-modeling or upgrading and installing protection for staff and customers.

In order for businesses to get going, customers must feel safe or they will not return.

For businesses to re-open or expand their operation there will be a need for PPE, mainly masks. Thanks to a donation from the Hanes Corporation through the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, masks will be given out Thursday, May 7, at the Burton Coliseum. In order to get the masks a business or non-profit organization must first call 721-4027 or email: recoverymask@calcasieuparish.gov. Each business is to provide the number of employees and the number of masks requested. Details on the pick-up will then be sent.

The Alliance has compiled a guide of best practices for re-opening of restaurants, retail and warehouses, and offices. You will find this at: www.allianceswla.org

The Alliance/Chamber SWLA supports safe business openings that adhere to health care professionals’ advice as well as addressing the concerns of the business community.

A happy medium needs to be found and it can be done.

For the foreseeable future, COVID-19 will be a part of our lives. Everyone needs to be responsible and respect the disease in order to live up to the American creed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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