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June 2020
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In unfamiliar but not totally uncharted waters

By Dan Pool

Editor

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My oldest daughter, like all the students at UGA, got asked fairly sternly to depart from Athens over coronavirus concerns. So like thousands of her age-group, she found herself stuck at home with no plans.

Seeking my advice was useless. I told her, we are in uncharted waters here. I had nothing in my half-century of experience to draw on for any relevant experience.

While that is true regarding the timeline of history for my 50 years, it’s just barely true. The age of pandemic is “A” new normal, but not really “The” new normal -- as in the only time we have ever seen anything like this before. Consider that September 11, 2001 also ushered in a new normal. Everything changed then too. And now most us recall that horror only by griping that we have to take off our shoes at airports.

And, before terrorism changed everything, we lived through the decades-long latent fear that one slip in American/Soviet relations and we were all minutes from nuclear annihilation. 

For pandemics, we had fairly similar scares with H1N1 and SARS. Luckily (truly by luck) they didn’t take off, so COVID-19 isn’t different, just worse. And the yearly flu, always has the potential to come out with a nastier, deadlier and more contagious form.

Had I been 100 years old, I could have drawn from what I was probably still hearing about the Spanish Flu in 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million, and a 100-year-old could have pointed out that as far as worldwide disruption goes, World War II is much, much larger. World War I as well.

In this case, we are being asked to stay home and binge-watch television, to not shake hands, and to maintain a distance from others. In December 1941, Americans were  asked to get on big ships and go kill and be killed in massive numbers.

We have survived world wars and nuclear threats and we’ll surely survive this. Maybe not all of us, that’s the sad fact, but most of us. And the rest of us will do what we can.

Barring any personal experience, please listen to the experts – social distance, watch for symptoms in yourself and stay home. It’s bad right now but not complicated or the worst thing ever to befall the world and not going to end the world as we know. 

It sure is unpleasant and scary. But, as a mountain biker said meeting me on a trail at Talking Rock Sunday, “I’m doing pretty good, all things considered.”

 

One thing we do know: Local governments must get grip on budgets now

At this point there are a wide range of predictions about how this will play out from the disease side, but one aspect is already depressingly clear. For the next few weeks, and maybe a lot longer, the economy is in tatters. Local businesses are seeing revenue falling 20 percent, 50 percent, even 100 percent (absolutely closing up).

We call upon on our elected officials – county, city and schools to acknowledge this now and take action. Sales taxes are going to take a hit and come property tax time in the winter, there may be problems for many making payments.

Local government can’t experiment with vaccines, but they can put the brakes on spending.

What shouldn’t be tolerated is any government waiting until the budget times later this year to react. We suggest 5 to 10 percent spending cuts across the board, that’s a pure, middle road estimate of what the national economy is expected to contract in the immediate effects. Maybe it won’t be that bad, and if so, the budgets can be re-adjusted as needed.

In the strongest words possible, we call on our local governments to start right now to not only set good examples at social distancing but to share the pain of all small businesses and adjust budgets now.