Valley leaders came together recently for a webinar to discuss the current state of COVID-19 and how it is affecting the local community and economy.
They say the novel coronavirus has yet to reach its peak in Arizona — particularly, residents need to practice better social distancing and more testing is needed. There is still uncertainty as to when the economic downturn will end, but experts say that when things stabilize, there will be a positive recovery.
GPEC President and CEO Chris Camacho, Banner Health President and CEO Peter Fine and Rounds Consulting Group President Jim Rounds participated in the discussion.
Mr. Fine said one of the best ways to slow the spread of novel coronavirus is social distancing, that is, deliberately increasing the physical space between people.
Staying at least six feet away from others and avoiding groups of 10 or more lessens the chance of catching COVID-19 and decreases the risk of overwhelming the medical system.
But Mr. Fine said people aren’t practicing social distancing enough.
By press time there were more than 3,000 coronavirus cases state-wide and 97 deaths. More than 1,700 of those cases were in Maricopa County. The Arizona Department of Health Services has listed the disease as widespread and the community risk as increasing with some areas of heightened risk.
One reason the coronavirus has become so widespread in Arizona is because people aren’t practicing social distancing, Mr. Fine said.
“We have not done that and it’s part of reason our country has this problem. It’s true in Arizona, and we should have started earlier,” he said. “Social distancing is the real issue. Bottom line – number one, stay away from people. Don’t congregate. If have to go to the store, go do it. But don’t hang out in groups. This is a serious virus and we need to treat it that way. We’ve never seen a virus like this. Don’t go to a health care facility unless you need to. Don’t cough into your hand and stay away from the public.”
With unemployment reaching record lows, Now Hiring #C19AZ was recently launched to help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on people and businesses by connecting out-of-work Arizonans to immediate job openings. Listings can be found at covid19.pipelineaz.com.
Mr. Camacho said everybody has been affected by the COVID-19 expansion into Arizona. He said the greater Phoenix community is resilient and comes together in trying times. He said giving a hand up to neighbors is what needs to be done — that’s what it takes to get through these tough times.
“We’ve never seen such a jarring downturn in the economy like this. But what I am uplifted by is that I’ve had calls and meetings with city and state leaders and what the governor has done with the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Together message, along with the counties and cities. We have cities planning for short term bridge loan programs, that’s really a bridge to a bridge ... these are things you’re not seeing across the country but you are seeing here in greater Phoenix.”
Many financial experts are predicting that GDP could shrink dramatically this quarter and Mr. Rounds is one of them.
He said there could be 0% growth or something close in the third quarter and then a possible surge in the fourth quarter or first quarter of next year.
“I don’t know if we are going to surge in the fourth quarter or if it is going to be the first, but we are going to see some pent up demand. There is going to be some strain. There will be more national debt and unbalanced budgets, but overall we are going to pick up some of the activity we are losing right now on the back end.”
But Mr. Rounds said the speed of recovery is dependent on the extent to which people will change their behavior. The economic changes quicker than society, he said.
“I think we might actually see a change in how people might want to work from home, telecommute, dealing with telemedicine, the health care industry and other opportunities to bring manufacturing and other high value added jobs to the state. A focus on education more,” Mr. Rounds said. “But we are going to be faced with some pretty significant fiscal restraints.”
There will be longer term consequences for restaurants and smaller business, he said.
“You will see a lot of our favorite stores and businesses close, and see the larger corporations come in. Instead of going to your local coffee shop, there might be another Starbucks or an Applebee’s or a Chili’s,” he said.
Many cities across the Valley have been working with their local businesses to get them through this economic downturn.
“People have been brainstorming, but it has to start rolling up into some hard ideas. We actually need to convert the brainstorming into specific policy changes,” Mr. Rounds said.
“We are going through this stress right now but I really believe that we are going to come out of this in a positive way."