A striking disconnect against the virus: economic pain with little illness

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A food bank in Corpus Christi, Texas, one of the regions where unemployment has risen, while the number of virus cases has remained relatively low.Ilana Panich-Linsman for the New York Times

Many people in Corpus Christi, Texas, are trying to name anyone who is infected with the coronavirus. In east-central Wisconsin, members of the Y.M.C.A. express frustration with a distant health crisis that ended the group’s community services. In western Colorado, the summer recreation season was canceled before it even started – again with few signs of the virus.

The coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 Americans and shut down much of the economy. Although the 50 states have started to reopen in a bitter partisan context, in many parts of the country, the health and economic calamities do not take place in parallel.

New York Times analysis of coronavirus infections, official layoff notices, and federal unemployment data highlights sharp gap between extreme economic pain and limited health impact of pandemic in many regions from the country. It’s a split that presents tough choices for local officials and businesses, even after Friday’s encouraging jobs report suggested more countries are returning to work.

Some business owners and workers in these communities have adopted the reopening as being urgently late due to their first-hand experiences. Many are angry or confused. Others argue for caution. But most agree that the virus has not posed the local public health threat that so many people expected – even recognizing that things could get worse and that the numbers would likely already be higher with more tests.

The Times has focused the analysis on 726 counties in 45 states that are in the bottom half of national infection rates. These counties recorded less than 140 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants and unemployment rates above 12% in April, the last month for which official county data are available. (In contrast, New York City recorded 2,483 cases per 100,000 population.)

Four of the counties where residents fight disconnection are in Colorado, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin. Largely out of sight, they did not have overflowing mortuaries, heaps of body bags in hospitals, or dozens of deaths related to a single nursing home. In these four counties, most have waited.

“In the first two weeks, when they said it was going to happen, I thought to myself, ‘Let’s all stay, crouch down, and if we all do it can help while we understand what’s going on’, said Stephanie Anderson. , a real estate agent in Satellite Beach, Florida.

But since “the places here don’t cause mass death,” she said, “don’t tell me I can’t open my business responsibly.”

Nueces County, Texas

“Scratching your head”

Population

Cases

Death

Unemployment

362,294

280

3

15.8%

Texas counties where coronavirus cases are above or below the national average, compared with rising unemployment in these places:

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized by each

county population

Percentiles of the national average

Note: Data are the number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases per capita compared to the national average and the February to April change in county unemployment rates. Figures for April, the most recent month for which county-level data are available, initial estimates. The number of cases goes up to Wednesday and may be lower than actual infection rates due to incomplete testing.·Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment); Census Bureau (population); New York Times reports on data based on state and county reports (coronavirus cases).

In Corpus Christi, the oil and gas and vacation town on the southeast coast of Texas, it can be difficult to find people who have suffered the devastation of the coronavirus, or even to know someone who has suffered from it. But are people experiencing job losses or business closings? They are everywhere.

Theresa Thompson was released from her position as Director of Food and Events at a Holiday Inn. Richard Lomax saw his sales fall by more than 90% in the two restaurants of his family. Brett Oetting, director general of the tourist board, has worked with countless companies struggling to overcome the economic collapse.

None of them know a resident who is sick with the virus.

In early March, things were busier than ever in Corpus Christi and Nueces County. But then fears of the coming virus struck and almost everything came to an abrupt halt. The beaches are clear. Oil rigs were idling. The hotels are empty.

“For a very long time, everyone was scratching their heads,” said Lomax, whose family operates the Water Street Oyster Bar and Executive Surf Club. Together, they have put about 150 of their 200 employees on leave.

“You look around, the weather is good and the beaches are empty and you don’t know anyone who has them,” he said. “It’s difficult – to keep that state of mind disciplined. ”

It also seemed “arbitrary,” he said, that people should be allowed to pile up in grocery stores but not in other businesses.

“You just want to help and not be part of the problem too,” he said. “It’s a series of awkward emotions. For us and our friends, it started to become existential. ”

Corpus Christi remained a sort of ghost town in April, but traffic has picked up since the reopening of Texas.

Recent high school graduates on a graduation trip to Corpus Christi.Ilana Panich-Linsman photographs for The New York Times

A Corpus Christi oil refinery.

A temperature control outside a beef processing plant.

People clean the fish at Billings Bait & Tackle.

Fish cleaning at Billings Bait & Tackle.

Theresa Thompson, hotel employee on leave, Whitecap Beach.

Volunteers at the Coastal Bend food bank in Corpus Christi.

Confirmed infections also inevitably increased as tests increased, many of the positive tests being linked to a meat processing plant. The numbers remain relatively low, but with a contagion that defied forecasts, the increase has upset some and even raised questions about whether to reopen so quickly.

“This has caused many of us to pause and say, ‘What do we do if we are the next epidemic? “Said Mr. Oetting, head of Visit Corpus Christi.

Brevard County, Fla.

“Open to tourists”

Population

Cases

Death

Unemployment

601,942

428

13

12.9%

Florida counties where coronavirus cases are above or below the national average, compared with increasing unemployment in these places:

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized by each

county population

Percentiles of the national average

Note: Data are the number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases per capita compared to the national average and the February to April change in county unemployment rates. Figures for April, the most recent month for which county-level data are available, initial estimates. The number of cases goes up to Wednesday and may be lower than actual infection rates due to incomplete testing.·Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment); Census Bureau (population); New York Times reports on data based on state and county reports (coronavirus cases).

Brevard County, Florida presents itself as the only place in the country to watch a space launch from the beach. When the first manned launch since the end of the shuttle program took off last Saturday, tens of thousands did so.

The event announced to the world that the Florida Space Coast was reopening. For many residents, the time has come late.

“To be honest, it was a nightmare,” said Puneet Kapur, who has managed the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Palm Bay for 11 years.

The hotel fell to 10 percent occupancy, down from 95 percent at the peak of the break week, said Kapur. At worst, it has laid off about two-thirds of its staff.

He has since rehired some of them and says he remains positive: “Our county is open to tourists. “

Watch the SpaceX rocket launch at Space View Park in Titusville on May 30.Photographs of Eve Edelheit for the New York Times

Crowd on deck A. Max Brewer after launch.

Captain John W. Murray, General Manager of the Canaveral Port Authority, at the new cruise terminal.

Katerina Nencini watches her daughter, Nicole, while waiting for the SpaceX rocket to launch in Port Canaveral.

Katerina Nencini and her baby, Nicole, await the launch.

Alex Litras, owner of Café Margaux.

Back out into the water at Cocoa Beach.

Lynda L. Weatherman, chair of the Florida Space Coast Economic Development Commission, said that many hoped that the space launch would have provided “a little punch” to the economy.

Alex Litras, owner of Café Margaux, a French seafood and steak restaurant a few blocks from the water, has seen improvement but is proceeding cautiously to avoid becoming a “weak link” in the fight against virus. Under certain restrictions, it can accommodate up to 50% of its capacity; tables that can accommodate four or more guests often have only two.

“We refuse guests simply because there are not enough tables in the dining room,” he said. “We are far from anywhere before. If we could add more volume, this opportunity is there. ”

Satellite Beach real estate agent Anderson said the relatively low number of infections in the area – even as people started to venture out more – gave her confidence that they were on the right track.

She created a Facebook group focused on the pandemic. It’s called “REOPENING THE BREVARD COUNTY!”

Outagamy County, Wis.

“Need a sense of normality”

Population

Cases

Death

Unemployment

187 885

232

8

14.1%

Wisconsin counties where coronavirus cases are above or below the national average, compared with increasing unemployment in these places:

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized by each

county population

Percentiles of the national average

Note: Data are the number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases per capita compared to the national average and the February to April change in county unemployment rates. Figures for April, the most recent month for which county-level data are available, initial estimates. The number of cases goes up to Wednesday and may be lower than actual infection rates due to incomplete testing.·Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment); Census Bureau (population); New York Times reports on data based on state and county reports (coronavirus cases).

Bill Breider, who heads five Y.M.C.A. Centers in east central Wisconsin, described having to shut them down for most of March, April, and May as “heartbreaking” and “distressing.”

About one in five people in the region belongs to the organization, which provides a “second home” for older residents, a daycare for the children of working parents, and daily programs like swimming lessons and fitness training.

The centers also provide more than 1,500 full-time and part-time jobs.

“We had to make heartbreaking decisions about leaves and layoffs, and how to protect employees,” said Breider, executive director of Y.M.C.A. Fox Cities, which has four of its five centers in Outagamy County.

A service-based organization suddenly failed to serve – although the region has had relatively few confirmed cases of coronavirus. The centers reopened at the end of last month. Previously, only child care for the children of essential workers had been established.

The dynamic virus-economy has created “back and forth on the right thing to do,” said Breider. “It is a difficult time because I think there is a feeling that we have to reopen, we need a sense of normalcy. “

A member working at the Y.M.C.A. at Appleton.Photographs of Lauren Justice for the New York Times

The center of Appleton and four others in the area reopened with restrictions late last month.

The Y.M.C.A. were closed because they were classified as fitness centers, although they also provide many other services.

Businesses have opened in Appleton following the lifting of home stay orders.

Businesses have reopened since the lifting of home stay orders.

Coronavirus cases in the county have doubled in recent weeks, but spread remains limited.

When the weeks had passed and the virus had not reached the expected level, “patience started to wear out,” said a Y.M.C.A. said a member of the board.

The Fox towns, 19 communities along the Fox River in Outagamie and two neighboring counties, have faced a persistent risk that the virus will migrate from Green Bay or Milwaukee, both of which have many more cases. But if the number of cases at Outagamie has doubled in recent weeks, the spread remains limited.

Andy Rossmeissl, who sits at the Y.M.C.A. a board member and a member since childhood, said his absence was the subject of much discussion in the community during the lockout. Residents, on the whole, were fairly understanding in the first few weeks, he said, but became restless.

“As it became more and more evident that the hospitals were not overwhelmed and that our support structure in our community could follow, patience began to wear out,” he said.

What is particularly difficult, he said, is that the organization could not decide when or to close, but was required to do so on the orders of the governor, who classified it as a fitness center.

“In this community, it’s so much more,” said Rossmeissl.

Mesa County, Colo.

“Virtually zero disease”

Population

Cases

Death

Unemployment

154,210

55

0

12.6%

Colorado counties where coronavirus cases are above or below the national average, compared with increasing unemployment in these places:

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher unemployment

increase

The circles are sized

by each county

population

Percentiles of the national average

Higher

unemployment

increase

The circles are sized by each

county population

Percentiles of the national average

Note: Data are the number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases per capita compared to the national average and the February to April change in county unemployment rates. Figures for April, the most recent month for which county-level data are available, initial estimates. The number of cases goes up to Wednesday and may be lower than actual infection rates due to incomplete testing.·Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment); Census Bureau (population); New York Times reports on data based on state and county reports (coronavirus cases).

Far from Denver, pushed against the Utah border, Mesa County is known for its beautiful, flat-topped mountains and many outdoor activities. Residents are proud of their record to date on the coronavirus – only 55 known cases, and almost all have recovered – but some are concerned about the price the county has paid.

Colorado’s largest country music festival has been canceled. The same goes for the Junior College Baseball World Series. Despite obtaining state permission to open some businesses before the rest of Colorado, many county residents are struggling – and patience is waning.

“Obviously, we don’t want this to get away from us, we don’t want to spoil a good thing, but did it really have to be this level of stopping? Said Doug Simons, a third generation owner of Enstrom Candies, which owns five retail stores that have remained open as essential businesses.

“There was a real reluctance on the part of our leaders to let things recover, even though we had practically no illnesses in our community,” he said. “I thought, ‘What’s going on? We have no cases here and we are told to close like in New York. »»

The weekends that attracted thousands of people and resulted in stockouts in hotels went smoothly. Last month, the graduation from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, the county’s largest city, took place online.

“It feels a little weird here because the weather is good and everyone can still go out and hike and mountain bike and do all the naturally socially distant activities that we enjoy doing,” said Amanda Michelsen, director sales at the Courtyard. and Residence Inn, which had laid off about three-quarters of its 80-person staff.

Wakeboard at Imondi Wake Zone in Fruita, Colo.

Wakeboard in the Imondi wake-up area in Fruita, Colo.Photographs by Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Doug and Jamee Simons, owners of Bonbons Enstrom.

A sparsely populated downtown area of ​​Grand Junction.

Empty pot holders next to the field that would host the now canceled Country Jam.

Empty pot holders next to the field where the Country Jam was to be held.

Chef Josh Niernberg in his Bin707 Foodbar restaurant.

“We will be able to stay open for the time being,” said Niernberg of Bin 707, but he was cautious about its durability.

Mesa County has already suffered. When the Great Recession broke out a decade ago, the region was too dependent on the extraction of oil and gas. The recovery has been slow, but local groups have worked to diversify the economy, in part focusing on tourism. These efforts have contributed to “three very good years of growth,” said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Josh Niernberg’s restaurant, Bin 707 Foodbar, was among the successes. In February, he was a semi-finalist for a James Beard award. But recently, he was only able to continue paying his employees by borrowing under the federal paycheck protection program and transferring some of them to a second restaurant he owns.

“We will be able to stay open for the time being, but we do not have the clientele we expect at this time of the year and I do not see them arriving anytime soon,” he said.

Angela Padalecki, executive director of Grand Junction Regional Airport, compares the residents’ sadness and anger to the stages of pain.

“We mourn the loss of those good times,” she said.

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