With the presidential election receding in the rearview mirror, it is time for our country, our state and our community to turn its full focus back on the pandemic which is burning brightly and threatening the health of millions of Americans and looming like a monster over our economy once again.
The number of new infections is soaring, the positivity rate for virus testing is dangerously high, hospitalizations across the country are rising fast, and higher mortality rates by most estimations will not be far behind.
The monster is casting a foreboding shadow over our national economy, which was just getting back on its feet after being devastated in the first months of the pandemic.
Frederick business owners — from a multimillion-dollar mall management company to the owners of small businesses — are looking ahead to the winter with deep trepidation.
The owner of the Francis Scott Key Mall, a real estate investment firm called PREIT, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company said the filing is not expected to impact operations. Although FSK mall was not mentioned in potential closures, it still remains in the bottom third of PREIT’s core malls. It was closed from March until June, under Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order.
Closer to home, business owners like Vito and Tammy Loiola, owners of Quality Shoe Repair on North Market Street, are worried about the future of their shop. It was closed for three months because of the pandemic, but business has not been thriving even since it reopened in July.
The county has been helping this and similarly sized businesses. News-Post reporter Erika Riley spoke with the Loiolas and other small business owners, and the message from them was that they are just trying to hang on.
The county is planning to distribute more grants before the end of the year, with funds it still has from the federal CARES Act and a newly allocated “rainy day” fund.
The state government also is rushing more money to local businesses in its #Maryland-Strong recovery package, but it too will need more money from the federal government.
The number of new daily virus infections surpassed the 100,000 mark on the day after the voting ended. The positivity rate here and around Maryland has crept past 4 percent, a disturbing trend. One percent is the goal of health professionals.
Back in June when new cases were averaging roughly 42,000 a day, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci predicted that the rate would eventually reach 100,000 a day if the pandemic were not brought under control. His blunt assessments drew attacks from Trump administration officials, including the president.
But he was right.
Now, Fauci has told the Washington Post that the country “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” as winter approaches and colder temperatures lead people to gather indoors.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” he said.
And it looks as though he is right again.
His grim outlook has been seconded by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” she wrote in a Nov. 2 report. “This is not about lockdowns – it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
Birx’s report warns that testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are rising, and that an aggressive testing and tracing program, along with much more widespread use of masks, are the things that can slow the spread.
Our nation, hopefully led by the federal government, needs to renew its battle against the dreaded disease, and once again provide relief to suffering families and struggling businesses.
A safe and effective vaccine is at least many months away from reality. We must protect each other now, and that means keeping our masks on, our social interactions distant, and our hands clean.
Now that the presidential campaign is over, our hope is that Congress will be able to agree on a new relief package. What we know for certain is that the COVID-19 virus is not going away and the outlook in the near term is grim.