The following commentary was written by Patrick Grubb, publisher of The Northern Light newspaper in Blaine, Washington. He also is the 2020 president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.
Gov. Jay Inslee has been forceful in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic; rightfully so, our state is the nation’s hotbed of COID-19 infections. Whether he has been forceful enough is open to question. Many infectious disease experts are saying more is needed to slow the spread of the disease.
Looking at the reported number of cases isn’t helpful. Mark Lipstitch of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health says the U.S. has been severely underreporting for COVID-19 and that the true extent of infections could be 50 times the current count. No one knows for sure because there is a continuing shortage of tests – as of March 8, the U.S. had tested 1,707 people, just five per million people, compared to 189,236 people or 3,692 per million in South Korea. Why does the shortage in tests keep persisting? No one seems to know or say.
We are past containing this disease – the best we can do is to spread infections over time so our health system doesn’t get overwhelmed. The state prohibition against gatherings of 50 or more people should match the federal recommendation of 10 people. Social distancing and self-quarantining efforts must increase as well as continually educating everybody about proper hygiene.
Why do we continue to see our politicians and public health experts standing right next to each other on TV when they’ve been telling us to keep six feet apart? Why are they still shaking hands?
A study just released from Imperial College London estimates that up to 82 percent of Americans will contract COVID-19 and as many as 2.2 million Americans will die if stringent quarantine requirements aren’t put in place soon. It also says these restrictions will need to remain until an effective vaccine is produced and rolled out in massive numbers. That’s 12 to 18 months away. Don’t tell us it will just be a few weeks.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which mandates paid sick and family leave, has a “big box store” exemption for companies with 500 or more employees. Companies like McDonalds, Target, Walmart and Amazon – you know, all the companies who pay their chief executives million-dollar salaries. With exemptions for companies with 50 or fewer employees, it is estimated that less than a quarter of American workers would benefit. For those companies who do pay, they would receive a payroll tax credit.
Tax credits are no good to companies facing an existential crisis. The economy is tanking before our very eyes – it could be worse than the Great Depression. What Americans need right now is cash and lots of it. If 40 percent of Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency expense in normal times, how do you think they will handle the immediate loss of their jobs and businesses?
There needs to be an immediate moratorium on mortgage, commercial loan, credit card and installment debt payments. President Trump is apparently in favor of giving a cash payment directly to Americans – how much is the question. People will have rent payments due in two weeks – will they have enough money? Unemployment benefits must be immediately activated and directed through company payrolls to employees.
The homeless, the gig economy workers and the undocumented must all be taken care of — and quickly. We are facing this pandemic together and we’ll get through it together.
And now a plug for the home team. Local newspapers have an important role to play in this crisis. We educate, we inform, and we help readers in our communities as they navigate this unprecedented crisis. Right now, our advertising is melting away and many newspapers will not live through this experience. Governments at all levels, federal, state, county and city should seek every opportunity to support all newspapers through informational and public service advertising. Every dollar will help.
Good luck and good health!
Patrick Grubb is the publisher of The Northern Light in Blaine and the 2020 President of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.