Wider impact of COVID: Some voids will be forever, some need not be

Wider impact of COVID: Some voids will be forever, some need not be
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One day — maybe it'll take a year or so — there will be a vaccine that cures much of this dreadful virus. The economy will rebound, many jobs will come back, schools will be normal, games will be played, and life will be as it was for most Americans.

But there will be scars that never heal.

The deaths and permanent disabilities far exceed anything expected earlier this year; there are psychological and social strains for many families that will heal slowly if at all. I'm sure it'll profoundly affect politics and governance, but that's for a later time.


It's the personal and community losses that are painful now.

Many small neighborhood businesses — bars, dry cleaners, convenience stories, hair salons, souvenir shops, neighborhood restaurants, yoga studios — have already shuttered, and many more will as the pandemic persists. Economist Mark Zandi has predicted 1 million small venues could go out of business.

The Paycheck Protection Program has targeted $670 billion for assistance to small businesses, defined as those less than 500 employees. Money went to some very well-heeled places: The Greenbrier luxury hotel owned by West Virginia Governor and billionaire Jim Justice; the New York law firm representing Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE; the fashion brands of billionaire entertainer and pretend presidential candidate Kanye WestKanye Omari WestJuan Williams: Democrats need to bury their divisions Court keeps Kanye West off Virginia ballot Twitter removes Kanye West tweet suggesting followers harass journalist MORE; the firm run by the wealthy family of Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoChick-fil-A drops fight for San Antonio airport location Overnight Defense: US marks 19th anniversary of 9/11 attacks | Trump awards Medal of Honor to Army Ranger for hostage rescue mission | Bahrain, Israel normalizing diplomatic ties Trump marks 9/11 with moment of silence on Air Force One, remarks in PA MORE, spouse of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Senate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report Trump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes MORE (R-Ky.); and even some private equity and hedge fund-related outfits.

But it appears not so much went to the micro businesses, those with fewer than 20 workers, the ‘Mom and Pop’ operations. They face high rents and utility costs; depending on face to face customers, they have little business — which makes it very hard to keep employees.

These businesses disproportionately are owned by people of color and immigrants. The employees are lower-income and will be hard pressed to find new jobs.


It's critical that Congress, in its next relief package, target a generous package of grants for these micro businesses, wrote Roger Altman, chairman of the Wall Street firm Evercore and a top economic adviser to Democrats. Otherwise, he warns, “a significant share of these smaller businesses will never reopen, with devastating consequences for workers and communities.”

Much of their business will be picked up by chains or Amazon or Walmart. That will be fine for Wall Street. But when block after block — especially in smaller towns — are marked by empty store fronts or branch offices of financial service firms, the character of neighborhoods and communities will be tragically transformed.

Other permanent losses are celebrations and remembrances; they can be postponed, the moment cannot.

There are few more joyful times than high school or college commencements: the celebration of past achievement and optimism for future success. A virtual commencement is a poor substitute.

These exuberant moments for 7 million 2020 graduates and their families won't be recaptured.

On the other end, funerals and memorial services for the deceased limit gatherings of any size and require social distancing. Funerals are a recognition of the reality of death, the need to grieve and to celebrate a life in the company of those who care.

They are for survivors, loved ones.

Cherished rituals for religious folks, Jews and Muslims, are not possible with restrictions. There are virtual services now and will be memorials; again, it won't be the same.

Family and social interactions for those of us here will resume. But lockdowns and social distancing exact a price for young children in formative stages and aging grandparents.

Our personal situation is so much better than most people, but my wife and I eagerly anticipated a summer full of time with a two-year-old grandson. (The twos are more terrific than terrible.) We see Kai most weekends, socially distancing outside with masks, but there is a big quantitative and qualitative difference.

As insignificant as it is compared to the challenges and struggles so many are enduring, some of us have felt lost on days without the delicious distraction of sports. I loved watching Tony Fauci throw out the ‘socially distanced’ opening pitch for our World Series champions, the Washington Nationals.

I missed being in the stands.

Sure, normalcy will return even if slowly. But there are voids, big and small, that will be forever.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.