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Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

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May 11

Ready or Not

Posted on May 11, 2020 at 11:48 AM by Melinda Mayo

“Health officials caution people not relax in observing precautions”

“Will not act prematurely- schools, churches and theaters to remain closed until all danger has passed”

“Medical men oppose lifting epidemic ban”

Newspaper headlines from 1918/1919 Influenza epidemic in Virginia
Source: The Roanoke Times

This Friday, Virginia will join most other states in some form of reopening.  Whether Virginia or any of the other states are ready to do so is a matter open for debate, and soon to be fodder for historians when this is all over.  A number of studies prepared by medical professionals indicate very few of the states opening have met the criteria established by the White House or even by their own state standards for opening.  But nonetheless, open we shall.

Economic Recovery – How and When?

Tremendous angst exists over what damage may have been done to our local, state, and national economy.  More than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits – over 8,500 here in Roanoke.  How many of them will be able to return to their place of employment and when?  Businesses large and small have lost unbelievable amounts of sales and profits while supporting physical distancing requirements and keeping their customers and employees safe.  How many of them will be able to successfully return?  The City has lost somewhere around $9 million in anticipated tax revenues as consumption (and the associated sales, lodging, and meals tax revenue) in the last months of the current fiscal year ground to a near halt.  More of the same is projected for next year.  Why does that matter?  In addition to impacting the ability to provide essential community services the City, with its 1,700 or so employees, is one of the largest employers in the area, with an annual payroll exceeding $114,000,000.

Confidence in Safety

So much economic activity is based upon consumer confidence. A willingness to buy that new car, to actually eat in a locally owned restaurant versus just hit the fast-food drive-thru, take that road trip, etc. The last thing this confidence and thus our economy needs is a second (or multiple) waves of the virus.  Roanoke saw in 1920 a second wave of influenza deaths greater than the first, following the lifting of restrictions, which included prohibitions against gatherings, closure of certain businesses, and the requirement to wear faces coverings.  Hopefully, our businesses and institutions will be as thoughtful and diligent in reopening as they were in closing; our health and economy depend upon it.

The Governor had released the first guidance for reopening and the CDC has additional guidance at their website.  The City will be taking a prudent and cautious approach to reopening municipal facilities to the general public—greenways first, essential low-impact services next, and others only after the risk has greatly diminished.  Virtual meetings, teleworking, and online access will remain the norm for the months ahead.

Support our local businesses, maintain physical distances, wear a mask, avoid crowds, and stay home if you are sick.  Perhaps we will succeed in 2020 where they did not in 1920.  Ready or not, we are about to find out.

-- Bob Cowell


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