Like many other Missourians I’ve been taken back by the sacrifices Americans are being asked to make to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Our public health officials tell us that we’re facing a potential crisis unlike anything we’ve seen since the days of polio, smallpox or the great influenza epidemic of 1918. Left unchecked, I believe COVID-19 could potentially overwhelm our nation’s hospitals and threaten the lives of countless Americans. Clearly extreme measures are required to avoid the worst potential outcomes.
Among the measures being requested by public health officials is a virtual halt to discretionary travel and public gatherings. The president has asked Americans to avoid groups of 10 people or more, to work from home if possible, and to consider not frequenting bars and restaurants. In my opinion, the negative economic impact on businesses that rely on travel and tourism could be tremendous. Thousands of men and women who earn their livings in the hospitality industry could be affected.
Missouri’s nearly $18 billion tourism industry will most certainly be hard-hit by COVID-19. Approximately 8 percent of Missouri’s jobs are related to tourism. That’s one out of every 12 people working in our state. The importance of tourism to Missouri’s economy increases every year, having grown by more than 35 percent over the past decade, according to a study released by the Division of Tourism. Regardless of whether they visit an amusement park or a museum, fish in our streams, boat on our lakes or camp in our parks, tourists are vital to the economic lifeblood of Missouri.
The Department of Revenue estimates tourism contributed about $150 million to the eight counties of the 33rd Senatorial District last year. Nearly 3,600 residents of my district work in tourism-related jobs, according to the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Many of these people face the loss of wages by the unprecedented precautions we’re taking to combat COVID-19.
Missourians are certainly not alone in this sacrifice. For the past week, the news has brought a steady stream of closures and cancellations. Every major sports league in America has postponed events, and in some cases, entire seasons. Theme parks are closed. Theater stages are dark on Broadway and in Branson alike. Hotels are empty. Airplanes have been grounded and cruise ships remain idle. A few cities have even declared curfews. The pain will be felt in all corners of the tourism industry.
I gather from watching the daily briefings of the president’s coronavirus task force that legislation is being put forth on the federal level to bring relief to workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Small Business Administration promises to make loans available to help employers survive. I imagine the Missouri General Assembly will consider some sort of relief once we return to Jefferson City. All of this won’t be enough to make Americans whole, but these efforts will help.
As we watched the devastation this virus caused in Europe and Asia, we realized that America must act to protect public health. I believe the consequences of doing otherwise are too dire. The good news is that the steps we’re taking should reduce the number of people who will get sick, or die, from COVID-19. In time, the infection will work its way through. The best-case scenario is that our symptoms will be mild and we’ll develop immunities to the virus. Eventually, the medical community will develop a vaccine and we can put this virus behind us, as we’ve done with so many other threats to public health in the past. The nation’s health officials tell us that the impacts of the virus will be less severe the closer we follow their recommendations to stay home and avoid contact with others. I hope they’re right, as we’re paying a high price.
I also hope that, once this thing has passed, all of us will quickly return to Missouri’s restaurants, theaters, theme parks and other attractions. Perhaps, after being cooped up for a few weeks, practicing social distancing, we’ll be ready to hit the road again and travel. In the meantime, maybe consider buying a few gift certificates from your local restaurants and leave a tip when you pick up a to-go order. We’re all in this together and if we work together, we’ll get through it.
As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.