Lives vs. Livelihoods: Addressing the COVID Conundrum

There are plenty of debates going on in the country—it is, after all, an election year but the latest debate is a heavy one.

Lives vs. livelihoods.

With the COIVD-19 pandemic in full swing, we are facing perilous times. With no cure or vaccine in sight or even a full understanding of the virus, governors across the country have had to rely on ever-changing information to make decisions for their constituents.

Decisions that could mean life and death.

After weeks without federal direction or coordination, Gov. Whitmer took decisive action to protect residents both from the spread of the disease and its economic impacts. Gov. Whitmer issued the first executive order on March 10 to Declare a State of Emergency when Michigan had only 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since then there have been well over 30,000 confirmed COVID cases, more than 2,400 COVID-related deaths, and over 20 additional executive orders aimed at flattening the curve. The measures taken to halt the spread of COVID-19 are estimated to cost the state $3 billion in revenue this year and $7 billion over the next 18 months.

As the effects of this societal and economic shutdown threaten to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans, some are asking: Are we overreacting? And, how do we come back from this?

On Wednesday, April 15, hundreds gathered in Lansing to protest Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive orders. According to news reports, “they rallied in their cars, snarling traffic and even blocking a hospital entrance in a protest against an executive order intended to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.” Organized by Republican-linked groups like the Michigan Freedom Fund and Michigan Conservative Coalition the rally had all the trimmings of a right-wing gathering: hate speech, Neo-Nazis, and gun-toting. Putting aside the normal noise of the day there was a small segment of protesters who put their anger about the economic repercussions on display with signs that read: “All Business is Essential to Someone,” “Let Us Work” and “Our Jobs are Essential.”

Thusly igniting the conversation of lives vs. livelihoods.

“It is certainly economically costly to many families in Michigan,” said Dr. Howard Markel, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine. “However, it is better to stay the course and be patient so that we nail this thing down and we can resume our normal lives.”

In the wake of historic job losses, Whitmer has created orders aimed at mitigating the loss of life by placing a moratorium on evictions, eliminating copays for COVID-19 testing and treatment, restricting travel and personal interactions, and ordering the closure of “nonessential businesses.” While federal assistance in the form of grants and loans for small businesses and the CARES act are being offered, Whitmer has acknowledged the economic hardship the stay-at-home order is causing on local businesses and has announced that she would be taking a 10% pay cut in solidarity with Michiganders.

“We are taking a limited action for a limited amount of time to save people’s lives. Who among us wants to be that person to bring the virus into their homes,” Whitmer said. “These actions aren’t about our individual right to gather or even the economy. It’s about saving lives.”

Crystal Gray of Southfield understands both sides of the coin and while she is out of work, she is supportive of the Governor’s actions. Gray, who was employed as an E-commerce sales analyst for Art Van Furniture, was dealing with the loss of work prior to the quarantine as the 60-year-old furniture store went out of business.

“We were told we would have about 60 days left to work but then COVID-19 hit and that kind of sidelined us earlier than we expected,” she said.

With about two months’ income saved Gray is nervous about how long the shut down will be but she believes in the course of action that Whitmer is taking.

“I mean, would I like to go back to work? Yes, but I don’t want to go back into the workforce with the threat of coronavirus lingering,” Gray said. “I’m a mom and I have to stay safe and keep my son safe as well. So if staying at home will keep my family and myself safe then we will stay home. Everyone should stay home.”

Brittni “Bee” Brown is also having her life and livelihood impacted by COVID-19. As the founder of The Bee Agency, a PR firm that specializes in personal branding, lifestyle, fashion, and beauty, Brown derives a large portion of her revenue from social gatherings. “I produce events for clients as well as manage client speaking and in-person engagements; all had to be canceled,” Brown said. “I would say I’ve lost 50% of my revenue. The spring /summer is a high event season, which has now been canceled.”

And while losing half of your income would be enough to rattle anyone Brown also says she stands with Whitmer but is frustrated with the messaging and accessing the resources that were designed to soften the economic blow. “I agree with [Whitmer’s] decision to lock down the state, as this was the best decision to keep us safe while aiming to control the virus and the safety of others. I think more preparation would have eased a lot of initial confusion,” said Brown. “My bigger issue is filing for unemployment; the process has been very overwhelming and stressful—an absolute nightmare. The change of application dates, the website failures, and miscommunication is what has been the most irritating.”

In Monday’s press conference Whitmer hinted that she is exploring the steps of re-opening, but for right now she says people just need to stay home.

“To those of you who want to get back to work as soon as possible, stay home,” said Whitmer. “To those of you who made plans for June, July, and August and want to see them through, stay home. What happens next depends on every single one of us. When faced with an unprecedented crisis like this, good people step up and do their part.”

No matter how you look at it, it is clear that it’s not a matter of lives vs. livelihoods. This is about lives AND livelihoods and the perfect solution involves saving lives and helping businesses survive.

But first, we must start by battling the virus.


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