The Quagmire of Re-Opening

Two people in a cafe

We are roughly 6 weeks in to the greatest social experiment in modern history–and maybe all of history. The devastation that has been wrought by the Coronavirus–both in terms of contagion and economics–has been without equal. The absolute hell of the catch-22 that we have found ourselves in has divided people across the world personally, professionally and politically.

The problem, ironically, is the data. Two studies–one conducted in Santa Clara and another in Los Angeles–suggest that the mortality rate is orders of magnitude lower than initially thought, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the population will either be asymptomatic or have mild enough symptoms that it would be no worse than a case of the flu. A more recent study conducted in New York suggests the same conclusion with a potential mortality rate of roughly 0.6%. Empirical data, however, is showing that regardless of the statistics, tens of thousands of people in dense metropolitan areas are at extreme risk of dying.

All of this conflicting data is making it extremely difficult to determine when, or if, it will be safe to begin allowing commerce to happen again. As a former owner of a bar, I can tell you some of the decisions that will need to be made in the next few weeks will be gut wrenching.

Here is the issue on the legal side: without changes to the way unemployment works, employees will have to make a choice. They will either have to go back to work–regardless of their beliefs–or they risk losing their unemployment benefits. When your state lifts the “stay-at-home” restrictions the old rules–theoretically–go back into place. Meaning that if you are still employed, you no longer qualify for unemployment.

There are no real stats, but most people are still “employed” by their bars and restaurants, but because of the executive orders, they are able to collect unemployment benefits. When the restrictions are lifted, those special rules (again, theoretically) go away.

Some of you reading this might be saying, “Well yeah, that’s why we need to just stay closed,” and that makes sense until the unemployment money starts running out, which is a situation the states may need to start considering. You see, your company has a special account with the state, an account that they rarely tap into. They are required by law to pay into that account every pay period in case an employee qualifies for unemployment benefits. So, your company is still paying you, albeit in a round-about way.

With 6 weeks of limited to no revenue and most–if not all–staff collecting at least some of those benefits, the money is going to run out at some point. 11% of us might be in that situation already, with no job to go back to. When the money does run out, the state itself will need to pay you. Because there is limited business happening, the state could start to run out of money. You see the problem here.

In most cases, hospitality is going to be the last industry that will “get back to normal” and start working directly with the public again. Depending on what happens, that could be weeks or months from now. In other cases, it could be a lot sooner than many people are comfortable with.

No matter how you slice it, the suck will continue and we are all going to have to decide what we will do in our own lives.

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