TIME TO RETOOL
By Richard Davis
Now that it is clear that commerce, trade and most of life as it existed prior to COVID will never be the same, it is time to figure out ways to reconstruct the world so we can move on. Rather than re-opening restaurants with changes that reflect government policies, owners should be looking ahead a year or two and developing new business plans.
No doubt there are many forward thinking business owners who are sitting down and making plans for how to move beyond basic survival and how to thrive in the new world that has been thrust upon us. Large retail stores and supermarkets can probably do well with a few simple measures in place such as requiring that employees and customers wear masks and that crowds be controlled.
But many smaller businesses have already folded or are on the verge of financial death. Restaurants pose one of the most difficult challenges to viability because you can’t eat with a mask on and establishments generally need 80% or more occupancy to move beyond the break-even point.
So what should they be doing? Architects, contractors and public health officials could do a lot to help restaurant recovery by creating long-term plans for different kinds of spaces where occupancy can be high without risk of spreading disease. Most business owners would not be able to pay for those kind of services and architects and contractors should not be expected to work for free.
This is where local, state and federal government could step up to the plate and provide grants and public programs to help business avail themselves of retooling resources. It would be money well spent and it would go beyond the current band-aid approach that the federal government, in particular, is using.
This is the time when we need visionary leadership. Instead, what we are getting is mandated rules that will apply for the short term. State and municipal governments are trying to do their best to stem the tide of disease transmission but we also need parallel long term plans to be implemented, otherwise, we will be locked into a state of emergency for a long time.
In addition to commerce, health care also needs the attention of people who see the big picture and who can figure out ways to make changes that will not just patch gaping holes in a dysfunctional system. The U.S. has never had an equitable and affordable health care system. Attempts have been made over the years to move in that direction but those efforts have not been enough. Medicare and Medicaid were a good start but we have not moved far enough beyond them. The ACA was helpful, but only a minor improvement in access and affordability.
A lot of the horrific COVID statistics in the U.S. can be directly linked to a lack of national leadership, but a big reason we have the greatest number of COVID deaths is because we have a health care system based on a business model that gives higher priority to profits than the quality of people’s lives. As a result of that kind of inhumane priority, if you are at the higher end of the socioeconomic scale you get better health care than lower income people.
The U.S. will never to be able to effectively fight off a pandemic or any other widespread disease because we do not have a health care system that is dedicated to disease prevention and the promotion of health. We are the only country in the industrialized world that does not provide universal access to health care. The more vulnerable among us are paying the human price for that lack of access. The rest of us also end up paying more when access is delayed or denied for anyone. We all have responsibility to change that. A young generation of social change activists may help to pave the way for substantive and lasting change.
Medicare for All would be a good start and I hope we can move in that direction after the November election.