Shut us down already, Mr. President!
Today it was reported that Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, reported zero new cases. Zero! Why? Because they were shut down. Totally and completely shut down.
In a totalitarian society like China, this was possible. For weeks, no one was allowed in and out of the city except for deliveries. People were confined to their homes. After making many awful mistakes, the Chinese government pivoted, quarantined the region and then enforced these rules with a heavy hand. You can argue with their tactics, but you can’t argue with their results. It worked. Which is why I say to President Trump: Shut us down, sir. Please, just shut us down.
I mean the whole country. Not just New York or San Francisco, but Louisville, Denver, Harrisburg, Clearwater and Madison. Every small town, whether there’s a case or not. I’m talking martial law. Do it. You said you’re now a “wartime president.” So act like one.
All businesses should be closed, except the essential ones (and that list should be carefully constructed). No travel. No planes. No cars. No movement. We stay in our homes and leave only to get food, go to the doctor or walk our dogs.
Scientists have determined with confidence, from the hundreds of thousands of cases reported so far, that the recommended period of “self-isolation” should be 14 days to let the virus run its course. But we’re Americans, and we always do more. So I say we force-isolate for an extra week – maybe a total of 21 days – just to be sure. We also know that when people blatantly violate this rule – as the Italians have been doing over their 10 days of containment – then the effects are marginalized. So it must be enforced heavily with fines and jail time. The military should be patrolling the streets. The National Guard should be called out. Everyone, and I mean everyone, hunkers down.
I ask you to do this because I’m a small business owner. What we’re doing right now is not helping the economy. By imposing a strict national quarantine, the effects for my business – and the economy overall – would be very, very positive. Why?
Because right now these decisions are left local. People here, like the Italians, aren’t taking things as seriously as they should. They’re still out and about, jogging, chatting, socializing, even in cities like Philadelphia (where I live) that have closed their non-essential business. The impact of these rules is muted. The virus is still spreading. The containment isn’t going to work that well. And the restaurants, bars, shops and other small businesses that were forced to close are ultimately going to have to remain closed for weeks on end because this thing isn’t going to go away as fast under the current restrictions.
Even when those businesses are inevitably allowed to reopen, they’ll see a markedly reduced number of customers because the coronavirus will still be out there and people will be worried. Travel will be down, conferences will be half-empty, once-crowded restaurants and stores will see much lower traffic. Without a definitive eradication, businesses – especially small businesses – are going to continue to suffer widely in the months to come. Many of them will fail because of it.
But not if we have an enforced, draconian, serious nationwide shutdown. With that, every business, except the most essential, closes their doors. And we wait it out.
We can survive those three weeks. Many of us have cash in the bank from the last decade of a growing economy. Those who don’t can get disaster loans from the Small Business Administration to see them through. Others can take advantage of state, non-profit and corporate programs that have been made available. Our employees will get unemployment and paid time off as recently passed legislation allows.
The hospitals and pharmacies will of course stay open to deal with the very sick and needy. It would last only three weeks. It would require a lot less money than if this thing continued to drag on its current course, which is looks like August.
And sure, it would be a lousy, boring, mind-numbing three weeks, despite Netflix and Amazon deliveries. But we can deal with this. It’s not as if we’re sending our children off to war. We’re watching Netflix and washing our hands for goodness’ sake!
It’s not as if no work will be done. Employees will be doing stuff from their homes. Online meetings can be held. Customers can be contacted. Data can be cleaned, contracts re-written, plans made, budgets updated. We may even catch up with our employee performance reviews — imagine that!
And then…it’ll be over. No more waiting around. No more fear. No more uncertainty. People hit the streets well before Memorial Day weekend. We have a care-free summer. We joyously spend our money. We take our vacations, go to conferences, attend the theaters without fear. Orders quickly bounce back. So does the stock market. Businesses – particularly small businesses – thrive.
So please, Mr. President, just shut us down already. The whole country. We can take it. We’re behind you. Because we know that the long-term economic impact – particularly on the country’s 30 million small businesses – will be much, much less severe than if we deal with this problem haphazardly, as we’re doing now.
It’s not the virus that’s killing us. It’s the prolonged uncertainty.
Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.