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DUNLEVY: Economic harm of coronavirus cannot be understated

The economic effects of the reaction to the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic are, while a secondary concern compared to the immediate health crisis that has been created, a major factor that must be considered.  

The effects of what is happening will be felt years and years down the line — the effects have been, and will be, tremendous on both national and international trade and the consequences will be far from negligible. There is much that can be learned from and there will be many new challenges that will have to be considered, for individuals, businesses and corporations all.

Those of us who are students right now, particularly those of us on the verge of graduation, may have a difficult time to look ahead toward — it is difficult to break into the workforce during a pronounced economic downturn, but there are, on a much greater scale, cultural developments that are a product of what is happening right now too.  

Though the concept itself is nothing new, this is yet the greatest experiment in widespread working from home. The results? We shall see. Personally, I am not optimistic — there are surely white collar occupations where this is feasible (disregarding the potential drop in productivity and the various other harms, particularly cultural ones, created), but such occupations are few and far between and do not represent reality for the vast majority of Americans.  

While it may be exciting to talk about the cultural shift in the workplace that this could herald and the environmental benefits that would come along with it — less fuel used in transit and so on — this optimism is not realistic when looking at the reality of the lives of the American people. Virtually every blue-collar job cannot presently properly function in this manner in the long-term in anyway other than the current cultural status quo. 

I do not mean to imply that there is no way to change this status quo — one way or another, things will certainly change somehow — but this is not the way to do it. Perhaps better design and implementation of infrastructure and a better management and stewardship of land-use and living spaces. But to act as though a specific change that pertains to a particular very much blue-collar experience is an indication of some particular revolution waiting to emerge in society is, at best, misguided.  

One change that will likely emerge, and will do so relatively quickly, is a change in the American economic urban and suburban landscape. Certainly, brick-and-mortar businesses are having a profoundly difficult time at the moment, especially those non-essential businesses that cannot easily adapt to alternative modes of business.  

Small businesses particularly will likely have a difficult time, even in the aftermath of the national quarantine, as well as many others who rely upon their immediate income for survival. Museums are likely going to be hit hard. Many who rely upon their own funding, including non-profits, will have a difficult time and many may be unfortunate victims as well due to the coronavirus.  

Likewise, even in larger businesses who can weather this storm, cutbacks will be likely. As unfortunate as the thought is, many Americans will, even after surviving this pandemic, lose their jobs and livelihoods — many local beloved businesses will be gone, in all likelihood.  

After this first wave of disease, there may well be a second, but there will be an additional wave that will prove equally deadly and this is not an easy thing to deal with. Lives will be lost to disease and lives will be lost to the consequences of the disease — this fact makes dealing with what is already profoundly difficult even harder. 

In order to band together as a nation and overcome this present struggle, this is a fact we must understand — to simply beat the pandemic is not enough.

Ash C. Dunlevy is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior majoring in plant science, agriculture and food systems. His column, "Tempus Fugit," runs on alternate Mondays.

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