Reopening California: One Small Business Owner’s Perspective by Natalie Pagel

April 17, 2020

We need to go back to work. And not just for our own sake. Here’s why.

The Economics of an Indefinite Shutdown are Risky for the Future of Healthcare

The California small business workforce represents 48.8% of the private-sector (read: state revenue-generating) workforce in California, according to the US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. In fact, small business owners represent over 99% of the private-sector employers in the state.

While many of their services have been categorized as non-essential during this shutdown, small business tax revenue for the state certainly is essential. Even without knowing the isolated number of state revenue generated by small business, logic would suggest that an indefinite shutdown of business is not a viable solution for the overall health of the state. Of course, not all small businesses are shut down at this time, but Gavin Newsom estimates that unemployment claims have reached 2.7 million. That’s a lot of unemployment expense, and a lot of tax revenue not realized by our state.

While talking about money may sound insensitive in light of those suffering and dying from Coronavirus, much of people’s health depends on the tax dollars now vaporizing from the system.

I propose it’s time to reopen California.

The Stats Reveal Work-Force Age to be Far Less At-Risk

We have given thirty days for America to get American statistics on Coronavirus in America. We have given thirty days for hospital beds to be added, for ventilators, PPE, and test kits to be manufactured and disbursed, and for therapy drugs to be studied and tested.

Today, April 17, 2020, roughly thirty days after the shutdown was implemented, most hospitals are much less crowded than originally anticipated. Tens of thousands of ventilators sit unused, but available. There are drugs which have been proven, in a large number of unsung cases, to have very good results in the treatment of Coronavirus.

To date, 957* deaths have been recorded in California since the known onset of Coronavirus. This is high, and climbing higher. It is about double or triple the average recorded number of deaths for the annual flu. Considering the total population of California which is 40,000,000, this is a virus which has killed one in every 41,797 in our state, and counting.

About 70% of the deaths were attributed to the 65+ age demographic, according to a CDC national statistic. Why do I point that out? Not because I am a self-centered ageist who cares nothing for the elderly. I mean to say that there is a small and clearly distinguished portion of our population who is high-risk. 14.3% of our population is 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau. The rest of us are lower-risk.

Would it be unreasonable to ask those who consider themselves to be high-risk to remain under voluntary quarantine, while the state reopens?

Here’s the other point that begs to be seen in these statistics: of the essential workers who have been working outside of their homes—those in the hospitals and grocery stores and delivery routes—those who are in the most vulnerable vocational positions for contracting Coronavirus: how many have died? That’s an elusive number. Our only clue comes from the other side of the age statistic.

Consider that those under 65 represent about 30% of the 957 Coronavirus deaths in California, or approximately 287 deaths. Also consider that “those under 65” include those currently working in hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery routes. About 34,380,000 of us in California are under 65. Even with underlying health conditions remaining in the equation, it would seem that all of us under 65, including those working in constant contact with people—sick or otherwise—are at risk by a factor of one-in-119,791, or 0.000008%, and climbing.

Speaking on behalf of all small business owners, this is a risk factor we will agree to work with. Irresponsible as it may sound, as a matter of continuity, we small business owners tend to focus on determined living, rather than fear of dying.

The Facts Disprove the Models Guiding our Policy-Making

At the onset of Coronavirus in America, modelers projected up to 240,000 deaths with social distancing. Now the projections are 60,000 or less with social distancing. Is this discrepancy due to the fact that we just did a really, really great job at social distancing, or was it that the original models were just really wrong?

As we make sweeping, future-altering policies based on models, I would like to point out that the one thing models prove, when it comes to anything novel, is that models are guesses which usually err on the sensationally wrong side, and the more sensational the number, the more it gets featured by the media and remembered by its consumers.

Is the Mitigation More Deadly than the Virus?

Meanwhile, there is a 100% chance of tumbling into a second Great Depression if so many of us remain unemployed. Fickle and biased as models can be, I wonder what the models would say about poverty which comes with its own risk factors and mortality, including crime, malnutrition, suicide, abuse, addictions, violence, lack of medicine, and no education.

Speaking of education, schools have shut down, and education is now limping along inside student’s homes, at a lesser quantity and quality depending on the district and the family home. And I would be remiss if I did not point out that for many students, being sequestered-in-place presents a higher threat to their safety than their risk of dying from Coronavirus.

We are making unprecedented mandates as if Coronavirus alone is our problem. If that was the case—if that was the only threat to our state—the mere suggestion of reopening might be negligent; but we have many other risk factors and challenges to consider. As we have teetered beyond the edge into economic collapse after just four weeks of shutdown, I hope that all risks are being weighed in this decision to either reopen or continue shutting in California which suddenly has approximately 2.7 million unemployed workers and counting.

Adding insult to injury, even with most hospitals at lower-capacity, they are still unable to provide service to those who need it. Elective surgeries, emergency services, urgent biopsies, diagnostic exams and more, are all on hold because of mandates, optics, or fear of Coronavirus. Overcrowded or underwhelmed–either way, many who are sick or injured for any reason other than Coronavirus, are not getting necessary treatment. My point: the mandates are counteracting their intent. This is not a “do no harm” policy.

The mantra of the state, which has been eagerly preached by its people: “Stay Home. Save Lives,” implies that we who need to go to back work are unvirtuous-at-best in our priorities. It rings a bit like propaganda to me, and I think it’s fair to point out that it is mainly coming from those whose income has not been affected yet. But mostly, in comparing Coronavirus’s mortality statistics with poverty’s mortality rate, I wonder whether this statement is true.

Confirming this skepticism, studies between Denmark and Sweden suggest the voluntary quarantine method using common sense and reasonable prudence, versus a shutdown, has little effect on the mortality rate of Coronavirus, while a shutdown has catastrophic consequences, economic and otherwise.

Is it truly unloving to our high-risk friends to ask that those who consider themselves to be high-risk remain under voluntary quarantine? Is it truly unloving to reopen California for the sake of millions of our families and our state’s overall health, while each of us take our own personal precautions, respectfully?

Never have we asked the “well” population to quarantine indefinitely, especially when there is now a known minority population at-risk who could self-quarantine. Never have we mandated that healthy, viable, working people shut down indefinitely, especially when we know now that collective participation–not collective withdrawal–is the key to the sacred ecosystem of living. At the very most–if we do completely erase the risk of Coronavirus (was that really our goal?)–it will be at the great cost of nearly everything else. Like living. And lives. And freedom.

Incidentally, in case anyone is wondering, should we remain in shutdown despite now knowing the rough statistics about Coronavirus, we can know this about ourselves: a risk factor of 0.000024% is all it takes for us to indefinitely surrender to the government our right to assemble, and our freedom to work, and for education to be severely compromised.

The Purpose of Our Efforts Thus Far

What was the purpose of shelter-in-place? Was to scrub the state down to a risk-free reality? There’s no doubt we’ve earned it. Loved ones have died of Coronavirus. Loved ones have died of other causes, alone and without family around them, because of the risk of Coronavirus. Convalescing family members have been in isolation for over a month. Senior students have missed their graduation, their last sports year, and some have lost their opportunity for scholarships. Everyone has sacrificed their family vacations. Parents are now working and home-school teaching. Struggling students have been left behind. Millions are unemployed. And frankly, I’m surprised we’re standing for it.

This is a tremendous amount of sacrifice. We’d like to think that this amount of sacrifice was worth it, to the degree which we perceive “worth it” to be. We’ve earned a zero-risk state. But we’re not going to get it, ever. We’ve never had a zero-risk state. We live alongside risk every day–much of it due to our own choices.

As for the original intent of the shutdown, the realistic goals have been accomplished: 1) We have a better understanding of Coronavirus’s statistics in our country, 2) We have the space and the equipment for additional Coronavirus patients, 3) We have slowed the spread. Additionally, we have a new category of data: the adverse affects of prohibiting non-essential activity within the country, over the course of just four weeks.

We are as prepared as we can reasonably be. We know who is at-risk. We have the information and the resources to mitigate within reason and to reopen.

Our Threshold for Risk: Then and Now

More deaths will occur when we open, and more people will continue to file for unemployment as we stay shut. What is the ethical ratio of deaths-to-unemployment? Who could say?

Instead, let’s examine our response to past health crises. Consider that our state had no moral qualms about remaining open in 2017, despite the estimated 6,340** per year by influenza/pneumonia, in California alone, even with a vaccine for the flu (watch those numbers shape-shift with Covid19 deaths in 2019-2020). In 2017, 13,800** per year died due to chronic lower respiratory disease; 59,516** per year died from cancer; and 62,797** per year died from heart disease… and at no time did the government, or those at-risk for these diseases ask that the state be shut down on their behalf.  When we look back on 2020, will there be suspiciously fewer deaths due to influenza or respiratory complications?  

Here’s an interesting statistic: did you know that an estimated 80,000 died, nationally, in 2012 of the flu? So says the CDC, according to an article by Maggie Fox of NBC written on 9/27/2018. Our country managed to stay open even then. That’s fairly high number, considering the Coronavirus models’ newly revised projection of 60,000 deaths. On a more local level, it is estimated that in my county 94 people died due to influenza in 2017. Currently (and yes, tragically), six Covid19 deaths have been recorded here in Placer county.  I am open to being enlightened, here.

Unfortunately for the serious care and mitigation that Covid19 deserves, the fact of this virus being used to support political narratives truly robs it of all credibility.  And the high incentives offered for placing a death in the “Coronavirus” column, or for reporting a high number of positive cases does nothing to help.

The Problem with Science

As we wait in protest for sanctions to lift, I think it’s worth considering whether those who benefit from crises are the same people who are telling us how long this shutdown should last.

We have been told that science will be our guide for the state’s reopening—not politics. Most critical thinkers and small business owners know that while science may be Apolitical, the interpretation of scientific data is almost always political. If you disagree, compare a sixth grade California science book to a Texas one. The science taught in each is as different as each state’s political climate. Heck, we’ve even re-written history based on politics. So, the promise from Governor Newsom that science will determine our opening brings little comfort. How about we use wisdom, instead?

It’s true, the number of recorded deaths based on available testing so far paints Coronavirus as the most deadly virus in recent history. All the more reason for each of us to be responsible, considerate, kind, careful… but not jobless, indefinitely.

The Facts and Faces of Small Business

While we business owners will remain positive, as a necessary survival skill we must also be realistic and proactive. To that end, I’m speaking up. We are truly not content to remain home indefinitely, crocheting. Our employees are losing their jobs, while we business owners are losing our business—some of us might even be temporarily losing our industries. This will be crippling to our families, and also our state.

We are watching years—even decades—of work be destroyed. Our business and our livelihood is crumbling before our eyes as is the livelihood of those we employ; and the tragedy is, it doesn’t have to. We could have planned around 2-4 weeks of shutdown. We cannot plan around “indefinite”.

As a sign-off, I honor my fellow small-business friends by calling out their business, helping put a face to the tireless and tenacious work they have invested in building and owning a company. I’ve heard teachers, health care workers, grocery store workers, and “all of the wonderful government employees who are working so hard to file the small business worker’s unemployment claim” (Newsom) be thanked prolifically with parades and balloons. And I’m grateful for all of their service that they are getting paid for providing! But I haven’t heard much airtime devoted toward thanking those whose job and income was sacrificed for the perceived health and safety of others.  So thank you, small business owners.

You are our community’s dentists, orthodontists, car wash companies, auto mechanics, specialized doctors, dry cleaners, daycare workers, clothing boutique owners, coffee shop and brewery owners, restaurateurs, swim school and music teachers, entertainers, event coordinators, venue/destination owners, CPAs (though they can work from home and might not be affected by the shutdown, they will tell you why this shut down is not sustainable), dance and gymnastics and karate studio owners, art shop teachers, horse trainers, antique shop owners, photographers, private preschools, wine tasting room owners, bakery owners, animal therapy for kids with special needs workers, landscapers, caterers, funeral directors, contractors and tradespeople, builders, realtors, engineers and architects (all of construction will certainly be affected by a depressed economy if the shutdown remains indefinite = bad for California since it’s one of THE biggest income tax revenue generators for the state), stationary supply shop owners, fitness trainers, aestheticians, auto repair shop managers, hair stylists, pet groomers and more!

The Coronavirus will not be the last virus to come through our country. As for indefinite shutdowns as mitigation? Never again.

Time to reopen, California. Open up those beaches and parks and tennis courts. I have a feeling that from many angles, the science will prove that these are the safest places to be. Let’s all be respectful and responsible for ourselves out of consideration for those at high-risk. And let’s get the small businesses back to work.

*This number includes deaths due to Coronavirus, and deaths due to other conditions of those carrying Coronavirus. Typically the number of deaths by annual flu stops getting recorded in the spring. That will not be the case for Coronavirus. Never has there been such eagerness to declare a specific cause of death, and many argue that the final number will be inflated due to the political nature of this virus, and fact of the financial incentive offered when Coronavirus is determined as cause-of-death.

**These figures are from the CDC website based on 2017 which was the most recent year available. The CDC estimates these numbers because it knows not every single death due to (say) pneumonia gets recorded, so they estimate the number. The number of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza are combined for various reasons.

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