Can our economy survive the pandemic?

JACKSON, Wyo. — It’s a strange place to be in. Local businesses—most all geared on a ‘more is better’ business model in a tourism town—are themselves taking measures more desperate than currently mandated. They are curtailing hours, service, or simply shutting down.

Employees are calling in ‘well’ with the hopes of staying so. Even workers paid hourly, for the most part, would rather isolate at home than risk catching something that could cost them more than the paycheck is worth.

For now.

How long can Jackson Hole shelter in place?

As elected officials discussed the possibility—quickly turning likelihood—that Jackson Hole should go into ‘hunker down’ mode for a few weeks, many wondered just how long citizens could hold out before social and economic pressures caused pushback.

“Individual actions remain the most important thing we can do,” county health officer Dr. Travis Riddell told electeds Monday. “Shutting down this many businesses has a huge impact. How many months can that go on? It’s important to have an endpoint in mind or people might tire and push back.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon agreed, “If there is a limited amount of time the community can take these measures. Let’s say that’s four weeks or six weeks, I don’t know. What is the most effective time to implement this? Now? Three weeks from now? Six weeks from now?”

Electeds all shared that constituents, in unison, were emailing them asking for more aggressive measures, not less. “I’ve heard nothing about anyone thinking we are being too aggressive,” Muldoon said.

Some businesses and organizations have asked for more definitive and absolute closures so they can file insurance claims and qualify for any federal aid.

Vice-mayor Hailey Morton Levinson says she has mainly heard the sentiment that people want something done now, and erring on the side of overly-cautious is okay.

“Businesses are already doing things and most are expecting we take extreme measures,” Morton Levinson says. “Most of us are already set up to close in March this time of year. We are a little more used to something like this.”

Commissioner Mark Newcomb also expressed a desire to do something now.

“This is an important time to take some steps. The risk of not doing something, extrapolated out, is [frightening],” Newcomb says. “If we could all act in concert, we, as a nation, could end up with a better outcome. We should do our part.”

Commissioner Mark Barron and councilor Arne Jorgensen expressed concern over service industry workers who might be pushed over the edge by restrictions.

“I’ve heard from employees who are hourly and living paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m concerned about them,” Barron says. “We need to be mindful about doing this compassionately. There are a lot of stressors already. I want us to be very cautious about that.”

Jorgensen worries about the tourism industry as well but adds he wants to make sure other sectors of the economy are not ignored or fall by the wayside. The councilor encouraged town staff to maintain scheduled meetings concerning regular business of planning and development.

Councilman Jim Stanford also worries about keeping the business of the town running.

“I’m struggling,” Stanford admitted at Monday’s meeting. “We have to go about the public’s business. We all signed up for this.”

As far as taking immediate steps, the electeds were ready to take action quickly.

“We’ve been given a few days of a head start. We shouldn’t waste it,” Muldoon said Monday. “I think it’s important to get this order out and put uncertainty to rest. People are expecting it to happen and it will allow business owners to plan with some assurance. The community expects this will happen, and it will allow us to move on to next step. I’m supportive of some more aggressive action here.”

“Let’s just rip off the Band-Aid,” councilman Jonathan Schechter agreed.

BCC chair Natalia Macker pushed the meeting to a close, urging action over debating.

“The community is best served if we can streamline the process. We don’t need to debate this to death. Things are going to change hour-by-hour,” she said, calling for a vote on an emergency ordinance limiting public gatherings.

For further reading: Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

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