In the midst of tragedy, focus on those who are helping

Phil Castle

In a previous incarnation as editor of a daily newspaper in Northwest Colorado, I worked with a talented photojournalist. He told me once about the questions he fielded from readers who wondered what it was like to have to photograph sometimes horrific events — house fires and car wrecks. Wasn’t it awful?

More than 30 years later, I still recall his response. He said he always focused — literally in his case — not on the tragedy unfolding in front of him, but the people there who were helping.

I find myself in the same circumstance as editor of a business journal in the midst of a pandemic.

I feel obligated to report on the tragedy that’s unfolding in what’s become both a public health and economic crisis. There’s the growing number of people who’ve lost their jobs and the hardships businesses have suffered. But that makes me all the more grateful for the opportunity to also report on the myriad efforts under way to help individuals and businesses.

The baddest of the bad news comes in the latest labor statistics. The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped two points to 6.3 percent in March. The jobless rate could soar into the double-digit stratosphere in April given the growing number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits.

For the week ending April 4, 1,958 claims were filed in Mesa County. Statewide, more than 230,000 claims have been filed over the past month. That’s not yet counting the independent contractors and other self-employed people allowed to claim jobless benefits under new federal legislation.

According to the results of an email survey conducted between April 3 and 10 
by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, 40 percent of the business owners and managers who responded reported furloughing or laying off employees. Fully 38 percent of those who responded said their business receipts had dropped more than half.

There’s also some good news, though, including the stories of federal funding not only in the form of loans to businesses, but also grants to the Grand Junction Regional Airport and local public safety agencies. The U.S. Small Business Administration, which backs the so-called paycheck protection and economic injury disaster loan programs, reported processing what by one estimate was 14 years worth of loans in 14 days. Local banks have been just as busy in issuing loans even as the rules governing the process keep changing.

I’m especially grateful for Business Times contributors and the advice they share to help readers get through the pandemic, whether that’s answering questions about human resource issues, offering tips on working from home or more clearly responding to emails or suggesting ways people can keep fit — no equipment required.

There’s potentially some light at the end of this horrific tunnel in plans to reopen businesses — and in turn the economy — in phases. Here’s hoping that happens quickly even as the curve of coronavirus cases flattens.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep focusing on the organizations and people who are helping.