As we limp toward reopening our state, counties and cities, I’ve been thinking about what this reminds me of. Is there anything that remotely compares that could help shape expectations?
Walking out of the house the day after a really big hurricane is the most apt comparison I could think of, such as when we tentatively emerge after a storm and start to assess the true damages. When we first come out, the winds are dying down, but still dangerous. There are going to be things we expected to see and some surprises, and eventually stories will come about the really big things we had no idea could or would happen.
Yeah, we heard the 300-year-old oak drop a huge limb on the PT Cruiser, no surprises there, but actually the tree split in half and is probably a goner. The Cruiser, also a goner. The damage to the roof wasn’t as bad as the massive leak let on, so that’s a blessing. That loud noise at 3 a.m. was the shed being smashed by a neighbor’s falling water oak. We knew that thing was rotten!
The next door neighbors had it bad. They rode the last half of the storm out in their bathtub after a tornado splintered their home. Luckily they made it. But the folks next to them weren’t so lucky.
Then the really surprising stories start to come in. The entire west end of Dauphin Island is gone — disappeared houses and all. The battleship was turned on its side. A loose barge went through GulfQuest. The damage and carnage is far worse than we ever imagined while riding out the storm in our living rooms, listening to the winds howl.
And so it will be as we poke our heads out to try to resume life as we knew it before the words COVID-19 and lockdowns were all we could talk about. Of course we already know the story of the horrible death tolls. Thankfully they were far, far lower than originally projected, but 60,000 people dying can’t be looked at as anything but a tragedy. Those are lives ended and families torn apart. And most likely there is still more to come.
But we’re still trying to assess the front yard right now — the most obvious damage. We’re counting all the friends and family who lost jobs and businesses, who are scared now they won’t be able to pay their mortgages or take care of their children. Some have been waiting three weeks for unemployment and still haven’t gotten anything. Money and patience are running out.
We’ve already started to hear about businesses that aren’t coming back, that aren’t hiring people back, that aren’t going to be part of our community anymore, and that number will continue growing. Of those who are re-opening, most are doing so without the promised government help because of the massive cluster that came from trying to get money to the people who need it most.
Our favorite restaurants will reopen, now having to fight the dual battle of trying to rehire employees who are being paid more than $800 a week to sit at home, and orders that they can only use a fraction of their dining space at a time. On top of that, some of their customers are still going to be frightened to go out in public. It’s not exactly a recipe for success.
Much as in a hurricane, the promises of federal assistance have turned out to be just that — promises. For many, PPP might as well be FEMA. Most small business owners have already been waiting more than a month while they bleed out on the floor, and this latest round is likely to be swallowed up by the end of this week. When the music stops there will be a vast number of small business owners with no chair.
That means no chair for their employees either. Meanwhile the state’s unemployment fund is being syphoned at record speed. All those promised weeks of “benefits” could go the same way as the PPP and EIDL.
But let’s venture outside the front yard now and look around. Suddenly we’re hearing about a nationwide meat shortage coming soon because of lockdowns. These restaurants coming back online may find themselves scraping to find the pork, fish, beef and chicken they need. The supply chain has been broken. Already millions of chickens have been killed because there was nothing to do with them and no way to get them to people who need them.
Farmers are also plowing under rotting crops because there’s nowhere for them to go. Thousands of gallons of milk are being poured out. Americans may well be looking at shortages even as we throw away vast amounts of food. Count on massive runs on grocery stores this week.
And even more unbelievable stories are starting to hit. The UN now says up to 130 million more people worldwide will be in starvation within the next four or five months because of the economic destruction wrought by worldwide lockdown. Yes, as we plow crops under, people in other nations are looking at starvation. Even if that projection is considerably high, the outcome of tens of millions more people in starvation will be a horrific death toll.
Back in the U.S., we’re going to try to put it all back together with an oil industry that’s crashing, a restaurant industry in shambles, airlines with no passengers and countless small business owners left twisting in the wind by a government that shut them down and then shut them out of getting help. Not to mention all the rents and mortgages that stop getting paid. And with tens of millions of people out of work, a dramatic rise in homelessness will surely follow.
There are so many things we’ve set in motion by locking down the economy. We’ve unleashed a hurricane of ills upon ourselves and it’s likely to batter us all. Some worse than others, for sure.
Even now there’s screaming that it’s too soon. We’ll be back in lockdown in a month if we start trying to live life again. The people saying that are either too frightened or just refuse to see the massive damage being done nationwide and worldwide.
The moral imperative of millions starving, waves of homelessness and despair far outweighs whatever we’re accomplishing with lockdowns.
When we finally are able to tally the list of destruction from COVID-19 and the lockdowns, hopefully we will come to one unanimous conclusion: that we should NEVER handle anything this way again.
I know none of this paints a very rosy scene, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think we can have a bright future. It’s just going to be a lot more work than some appear to think.
Much like in the aftermath of a big hurricane, it’s easy to give in to despair and to feel like too much has been lost. But our only choice is to clean up the mess, pick up the pieces and do whatever we can to soldier on and help each other.
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