Looking back on life before the coronavirus pandemic can feel otherworldly. The day-to-day routine we all were used to just a year ago has been turned completely on its head after long months of social distancing, mask-wearing, and family gatherings held over video chats.
With vaccines finally making their way to high-risk patients, though, it feels like there may at last be an end in sight. This sense of hope truly burst forth when Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the statewide stay-at-home order that had been in place.
That doesn’t mean that we can ignore the very real pain our communities are still feeling, however. Many still face weeks and months with the potential to be rife with unemployment and uncertainty if the businesses that form the cornerstones of our local economies have to shutter yet again. If they do, the year ahead could come with a painful sense of déjà vu.
When COVID-19 first reached California last year, it was a completely unknown challenge that led to the difficult but understandable decision to strictly limit public life and temporarily close countless businesses while we worked to get a better grasp of the problem we were dealing with.
What came next took a heavy toll on San Diego. At one point last year, the San Diego Association of Governments pinned the region’s unemployment rate at an unfathomable 27 percent.
As key industries for our local economy like tourism shut down throughout last year, the region lost more than $12 billion in revenue. After a brief reprieve, unemployment jumped again at the end of the year as more businesses were forced to close down. One economist went so far as to say it was a “full reverse in California’s recovery.”
That toll was the most costly for minority Americans, especially here in the San Diego region. Black and Latino Americans suffered their worst job losses in more than 80 years, while minority-owned businesses waited the longest to benefit from relief packages passed by the federal government.
Many businesses, thankfully, found ways to adapt and conduct business safely by strictly following the advice put out by public health leaders when they were finally allowed to once again open to limited numbers of customers. Retail stores and indoor shopping centers provide just one example: mask-wearing and social distancing are mandatory while many stores offer hand sanitizer at the door and have placed plexiglass shields between customers and employees in the checkout line, and experts have pointed to how these efforts have paid off.
The people of San Diego are feeling a massive amount of economic insecurity, which can be relieved so long as Newsom and our local lawmakers continue to pave the road toward a safe recovery that keeps people both healthy and employed. In order to make sure that road is a smooth one, we will need to keep businesses that offer valuable and necessary jobs open, especially those that sell the household items and other goods that families need to get by.
The path back to the economic prosperity we were experiencing just a year ago will be long, but elected officials can help speed things along by empowering the businesses that are listening to health experts to stay open. That way Californians can be confident they will still be employed by the time this epidemic is finally done.
Christian Garcia is on the Palomar College Governing Board of Trustees for Area 2.