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COVID-19: Is this a time to reassess?

By Staff | Jun 16, 2020

To the editor:

COVID-19 has had an extreme negative affect on many aspects of our lives and the economy. Tourist reliant business have virtually shut down. Business relying on large gatherings, such as sporting events, theaters, plays, and concerts have had to close due to the distancing required to slow the spread of the disease. The dramatic reduction in automobile and air travel have allowed people once again to see what it is like to live with reduced pollution. Perhaps this is now a time to rethink our priorities and what we want our world to look like as we slowly recover from this pandemic and adjust to whatever the new normal will be.

Let us start with the dramatic impact on the economy of tourist driven locations. Cities and countries, such as Venice, Italy, Iceland, and New Zealand, have lost a tremendous amount of revenue but also have allowed people to see what life is like when not bombarded by non-residents. This is causing some people to ask how reliant they should be on tourism. In one example, the people of Venice are looking at ways to bring small manufacturing and non-tourist business back into the city. This would also, they hope, bring a return to residents living in the city rather than apartments being rented to tourists.

Perhaps it is time for the people of Florida to ask similar questions. The state economy relies heavily on tourism. Tourism brings non-local money into the economy. However, this requires continued investment in infrastructure, such as highways and housing, to accommodate the influx of people. The tourism industry requires many service employees, who are generally at the lower end of the income scale and who cannot work remotely. Since tourists are willing to pay above the norm for accommodations, the cost of housing is increased for residents, particularly affecting these lower income service personnel. Additional population puts pressure on the ability to maintain water quality. Should we reduce our marketing for tourist business and focus on more economically sustainable businesses?

As a nation we have largely relied on employee provided health insurance. While this seemed to be a real benefit to many people, the pandemic has exposed a real downside of this approach. As people were laid off, they faced the double whammy of losing their income and their health insurance at the same time. Would they have been better off if there was a plan (other than an expensive COBRA) that would continue after they lost their job? Once they find a new job, will pre-existing conditions preclude them from getting full insurance coverage?

Another area to consider is the large focus on spectator sports at all levels. At the professional level organizations have grown far beyond the players, coaches, and other direct support personnel. Have these organizations become bloated beyond what is necessary to provide an entertaining experience for fans? Because of their efficient marketing they have convinced cities that they should build expensive stadiums and arenas at taxpayer’ expense so that the millionaires and billionaires can provide their product. If their presence is so valuable, why are the organizations not willing to pay to build their own venues? As the pandemic is having, and according to some will continue to have, a disastrous impact on state and local revenues is it time to rethink whether their presence is worth the cost?

On the non-professional level, what should be the role of athletic teams? While high schools, closed to in-person instruction, are concerned about how instruction can be delivered in the fall, we see athletic organizations and coaches trying to get their teams into practices and games as quickly as possible. University sports organizations are contemplating how they can return to on-campus practice and games while campuses are still closed to students and uncertain of when and how to reopen. The cost of supporting these athletic teams is putting immense pressure on the financial viability of many academic institutions. Is it time to take another look at the role of these spectator sports in our schools and colleges, whose primary focus is supposed to be on education of their students instead of on these adjunct activities?

There are many other areas that we could consider. Should we look at ways to modify our food chains so that there can be more local supply of food to local stores? Should manufacturing companies start following a financial risk reduction approach of not relying on sole sourcing, whether it be a single supplier or suppliers from a single country? Should we have increased emphasis on cleaner ways to produce and use energy? Should we plan for more non-automobile modes of transportation on a local level?

While there are no easy, clear-cut answers to these questions, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to stop and realize that we do not have to be locked into the status quo. Rather, we as a community, need to look at what we want the “new normal” to be. Can we look for our politicians to address these issues, or is it going to take citizens to pressure our governments at all levels to plan for the well-being of society in general and not just special interests? It is up to us to decide.

William Sartoris