Public interest groups: Economy and schools threatened if growth in virus cases continues

BY: SCOTT HENSGENS, GRAY STREAM and TYRON PICARD


The COVID-19 pandemic has put our country and our state in peril.

Louisiana became one of the first “hot spots” in the country for the novel coronavirus. A strict stay-at-home order in March led to a decline in new cases but the reopening of businesses in June caused a second surge, with Louisiana reporting more than a thousand new daily cases — among the highest in the nation.

These trends could have devastating and disruptive consequences for us all.

Before COVID-19, Louisiana’s economy was improving. Now, the state’s business sector faces huge challenges. In the first quarter of 2020, which overlapped the first weeks of the outbreak, Louisiana’s gross domestic product fell by more than 6%, the fifth-highest drop in the country. By May, the state’s unemployment rate had risen to more than 13%, the second-highest in the region. If the first spike was any indication, this second surge will not bode well for the recovery of our economy.

The continued increase in cases now threatens the reopening of schools. New guidance from the state Department of Education requires schools reopening to implement numerous health and safety protocols, limits the number of people in any room to 25, and cuts school bus capacity in half.

If the current wave continues, those restrictions could be tightened, raising concerns over when or if schools will reopen. These disruptions would have far-reaching consequences for education and child care.

If Louisianans fail to reverse the current trend, we will be unable to stay open for business, and our schools will be unable to care for and educate our children. We must all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 to avoid a repeat of the March shutdown.

That means being careful by wearing face coverings in public, observing social distancing, taking temperatures and washing hands.

Unfortunately, this guidance, especially mandates requiring face coverings, have been used as political arguments that miss the point. Health care professionals, scientists and both Republican and Democratic leaders agree masks, distancing and hand-washing are the most effective way to keep each other safe.

It’s the smartest thing we can do for our economy and our schools.

SCOTT HENSGENS

board chairman, Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana

TYRON PICARD

board chairman, Council for A Better Louisiana

GRAY STREAM

board chairman, Committee of 100 for Economic Development

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