It's tough to decide what's more sobering — the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths, or the continuing rise in lost jobs.
Another 20.5 million jobs were lost in our nation in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent — "a snapshot unseen since the Great Depression," The New York Times wrote Friday.
"The only comparable period is when unemployment reached about 25 percent in 1933, before the government began publishing official statistics. Then as now, workers from a variety of backgrounds found themselves with few prospects for quickly landing a new job," according to The Times.
The share of the population with a job, at 51.3 percent, was the lowest on record. And at a time when the virus guidelines call for social distancing and staying at home, many are unlikely to find new jobs — or even look for work. Some 80 percent of the unemployed said they had been temporarily laid off and expect to return to their jobs in coming months.
President Donald Trump, too, continues to say the crisis will recede as swiftly as it arrived.
On Fox News Friday morning he said, "Those jobs will all be back, and they'll be back very soon, and next year we're going to have a phenomenal year."
We hope he's right — for once.
Chattanooga business leaders also are optimistic on the eventual return of commerce and tourism to the Scenic City.
"We've seen amazing partnerships come out of this challenging time to try to transform our community," Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said last week during a webinar on bringing back business during the COVID-19 crisis. "As we look forward, we're still very bullish on how Chattanooga can come out of this challenging time compared with other communities."
A membership survey by the Chattanooga Chamber showed that more than 73% of respondents had seen reduced revenues due to the virus and more than 85% thought the downturn would last four or more months.
In a Chattanooga can-do effort to help small and startup businesses amid the economic stall, nearly a dozen local business and nonprofit groups have come together to create a small business hotline to offer help, advice and counseling. The number is (423) 206-2565.
"There are a lot of companies in our community that may not have relationships with the many business groups and support services we have, and we want to open our arms to these businesses during this critical time and let them know that they can call on us as they think about a new normal and what that may mean for their business," Gillenwater said.
Then there's our tourism industry. After a record year for travel and tourism in 2019, Chattanooga entered 2020 expecting another year of record sales in the local hospitality industry. But the travel and hospitality sectors are expected to have the greatest loss nationwide, with estimates of declines anywhere from 40% to 45%, said Barry White, president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., formerly the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The tourism promotion agency has suspended its advertising in other markets and initially turned to a virtual world experience by launching #Connect Chatt to allow performers to be paid with online entertainment.
White acknowledged it might take two to three years to get back to Chattanooga's record volumes set in 2019, but our geography may help. As an outdoor tourist destination famous for its rock climbing, river rafting, mountain biking, hiking and scenery, we offer a destination where social distancing is easier than in some urban areas. Cross your fingers.
And don't forget that Chattanooga and Tennessee and North Georgia were hit with a double whammy — tornadoes in March and April.
Those hits from Mother Nature have brought nearly 30,000 insurance claims from policy holders seeking to recover from damages to homes, cars, businesses and other properties.
Insurance aside, in its application for federal disaster assistance, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency estimates the April 12-13 storms in Hamilton and Bradley counties alone caused $200 million to $300 million in damages.
In the midst of all this, the Trump administration again put its head in the sand, choosing to shelve and bury a document created by the nation's top disease investigators with step-by-step guidance and advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the still raging COVID-19 outbreak.
The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled "Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework," was supposed to be published more than a week ago, but agency scientists were told the guidance "would never see the light of day," according to a CDC official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Not so. The AP obtained a copy from a second federal official who was not authorized to release it. You can read it here: https://tinyurl.com/yc96l4qz.
CDC has been largely sidelined throughout this crisis. Trump has held his own "briefings" and for the most part put the onus on states to handle COVID-19 response. Thus, we're rushing toward reopening — especially in Tennessee and Georgia — even as virus cases nationally and in both states continue to rise. And we're doing it on our own.
All of this news is beyond sobering. It's downright depressing.