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Rubel: COVID-19 Recovery Comes Before Economic Recovery

Aug 11, 2020


  Commentary: Can we have a recovery before we find a cure to the sickness?

Debbi Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, was recently selected for a national group formed by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

According to the press release announcing the new Fellowship for Economic Recovery, it will give chamber professionals “education and tools to improve the post-Covid-19 pandemic outcomes in the communities they serve.”

 

Post-Covid-19? I hope that information will become useful at some point in the future, and I guess we should be planning ahead for when it does. But the press release made it sound like the time for post-Covid-19 outcomes is now.

The numbers tell a different story. As of Monday, the state Department of Health reported 22,315 people in New Mexico have tested positive, and 685 have died from the virus. We haven’t seen the same kind of spike that other states have, but both infections and deaths have climbed steadily throughout the summer.

Locally, a new Economic Recovery Board has been established to help business owners get the training they need to address the pandemic. Businesses that complete the training and adhere to the standards set by the New Mexico Safe Certified program can earn a seal from the state to post in their front window.

Those standards include mandatory facemasks, hand washing, sanitizing surfaces and social distancing ... all of the things we’ve been told to do since March.

The goal is to restore the confidence of consumers that they can go out safely, explained Christopher Schaljo, chairman of the Economic Recovery Board.

I applaud the effort. And, I certainly agree with the protective measures they are promoting. I would probably be more likely to shop at a store that has the decal showing its participation in the Safe Certified program. 

But it’s going to take a lot more than that to restore my confidence, especially when it comes to unnecessary activities, like eating out.

I do give the local group credit for acknowledging reality and working within the system to promote economic recovery. The same can not be said for business owners from throughout New Mexico who have sued the state for lost business caused by the pandemic.

“Your mother always said that if you break it, you bought it,” attorney Blair Dunn said in explaining the legal theory behind the cases. “We’re not arguing if the governor should or shouldn’t have broken these businesses, but they have it pay for it.”

So the governor may have been justified, but the state’s taxpayers have to pay up anyway? One of the businesses filing a lawsuit is Perez Enterprises of Las Cruces. They own a large facility used for concerts or rented out for big events, and say that the ban on mass gatherings has greatly reduced their income.

This follows an equally unhelpful lawsuit filed by the state Restaurant Association, challenging the authority of the governor and making the legal argument that profits come before public health.

I understand the desire to begin the economic recovery now. Thousands of workers have lost jobs through no fault of their own, and have seen their short-term unemployment benefits expire as Congress is too locked in partisan squabbles to be of any help.

But those job losses weren’t caused by an economic problem, and they won’t be fixed with economic solutions. We can’t have an economic recovery until we gain control over the virus. Steps to reopen too soon will only hamper that process.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.