It’s too early to tell if we have avoided a national health crisis like the ones we’ve seen in China, Italy and other countries behind the curve of disease control. There’s no doubt whatsoever the economic fallout from preventative measures is already being experienced in Galveston and across the country.
Even if a cure for COVID-19 were available tomorrow, the damage being done, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises, is reaching a critical mass. We must get out in front of the economic damage in the same way we’re trying to stay ahead of the medical emergency.
How to do that? As individuals, remember social distancing isn’t social isolation. Keep official guidelines in mind, but don’t hole up at home like we’re in a zombie apocalypse. We all know the prevention drill by now. In most cases, these simple steps will keep us out of harm’s way.
Beyond our individual effort, government at all levels must acknowledge the economic stress this is putting on average Americans. You can be very sure the money center banks, airlines, large manufacturers and other connected industries ultimately will be the recipients of tender mercies using our tax dollars whether Democrats or Republicans are at the helm, just like the last financial crisis.
How can we be agile enough locally to survive this crisis, keep folks employed and come out the other side intact as a community?
City government must respond to the gravity of our economic situation just as the public health issue is being addressed. We should consider an immediate moratorium on all non-essential city expenditures, while pausing contract negotiations that don’t support public health, safety and essential services.
Erring on the side of conservation of financial resources and cutting through red tape that can suffocate the very adaptations we need to keep afloat are needed now.
Permitting and code enforcement must adjust to new priorities. A small example: temporarily waive permitting requirements for restaurants to move service outside as long as sidewalks remain passable. There are clear indications people are continuing to gather in outdoor settings while avoiding enclosed spaces. Make it easy to do that for our restaurants and cafés, get folks outside where others can see activity and help these businesses during this time of urgency.
Thinking longer-term support, perhaps our creative folks at the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau could craft a marketing message like, “Live Life ... in Galveston,” which stresses our healthful environment and many outdoor activities. In earlier times in America, some destinations were known for their health-giving properties and flourished even during widespread disease conditions. Why not capitalize on that idea?
This is an “all hands on deck” moment most Americans have never experienced before. We need decisive, effective and realistic responses to what we face, not what we hope will happen. Business as usual, whether in response to the medical emergency or the financial impact in our community, will only guarantee a more painful adjustment to the new realities.