‘The economy is a bigger mess than Covid’: Kentucky fears another shutdown | Kentucky

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BBusiness is slow at Studio 23, a barbershop just off Main Street in Pikeville, a small rural town in eastern Kentucky, so hairstylist Derek Harris is outside chewing on the grease with two policemen without masks while waiting for his first client.

The salon reopened at the end of May, but business is down about 20%, and Harris fears another statewide lockdown may be expected if coronavirus infections continue to fall. ‘increase. In Kentucky, Covid-19 may not be a big deal yet, but the economic impact is everywhere.

“The show will not survive another shutdown, look how empty the streets are already, we have to keep the economy open no matter what its circumstances,” said Harris, 40, who continues to catch up with his bills afterward. 10 weeks of unemployment. .

Several small businesses – cafes, restaurants and clothing stores – have gone bankrupt on the picturesque main street of Pikeville, which by late morning is still largely deserted.

Here, as in many places in the Midwest, the economic fallout from Covid-19 struck before the health crisis: in April, the unemployment rate reached 17%, down from 7% in February. So far, three deaths and 224 cases have been confirmed, according to the New York Times database.

Derek Harris, a hairdresser in Pikeville, whose business has fallen 20% since reopening. Photography: Nina Lakhani / The Guardian

State-wide restrictions were relaxed amid stable infection rates, and by the end of June unemployment had returned to near pre-pandemic levels. Pikeville launched a subsidized rent initiative to convince entrepreneurs to rent empty stores on Main Street.

But Kentucky is now on the brink: reported cases statewide began to rise sharply in early July, and the percentage of overall positive tests has steadily increased.

“The coronavirus is a mess, but it’s a small town with few people, so it’s not spreading much, personally I’m more worried about getting the flu. The economy is a bigger mess, another shutdown will lead to bankruptcies, depression and suicide, ”Harris added.

Pikeville is the county seat of Republican-controlled Pike County, a major producer of coal and natural gas with a poverty rate more than double the national average. About 97% of the county’s 62,000 residents are white.

Kentucky’s boom in Covid-19 hotspots, like other states across the country, has coincided with the economy reopening as people return to work and socialize.

Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state, shut down bars and reinstate tighter restrictions on restaurants amid rising infection rates.
Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state, closed bars and reinstated tighter restaurant restrictions amid rising infection rates. Photograph: Ryan C Hermens / AP

As a result, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s senior infectious disease adviser, and Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, have urged Governor Andy Beshear to restore physical distancing restrictions and push residents to wear masks – or else face dire consequences like these. is currently taking place in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona.

Last week, Beshear, a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state, closed bars and reinstated tighter restrictions on restaurants amid rising infection rates.

But for Joe Coleman, a retired government maintenance worker, the governor has gone too far. “It’s not the right thing to do. The restrictions are too great. It ruins small businesses. It will take too long to recover. “

Beshear’s executive decrees mandating face masks in public spaces and allowing distance learning have been legally challenged by the Republican attorney general as unconstitutional.

Coleman, 68, blames the governor for the county’s economic woes, and Washington Democrats for America’s coronavirus death toll, which will soon exceed 160,000.

“President Trump has tried to do well, but they will not give him a break. I think he loves his country, not just the rich, the middle class and the poor too. He’s gonna get us back on our feet, Joe Biden can’t run this country, I think he’s got Alzheimer’s disease or something.

It was an overreaction

Martin County, a rural community flanked by the Appalachians 50 miles north of Pikeville, is one of the poorest in America with nearly 40% of its 11,200 residents living in poverty and high rates of dependency opioids.

At county headquarters, Inez, closed shops date back to before the pandemic, and the small urban center is surrounded by dilapidated trailers, signs advertising drug treatment services and a handful of opulent homes and government buildings.

The county has recorded 32 cases and one death from Covid so far: Troy Gullett, 77, a retired coal miner with respiratory problems, including black lung, who died last week.

Most residents respect face masks, at least partially, but another lockdown would be difficult to enforce, according to Jimmy Kerr, a real estate investor, who recently returned from a family vacation to Florida.

“Around here, people are moving forward. We have not had epidemics like elsewhere. We are not New York. It was an overreaction. We can’t stop the virus so we have to get back to normal unless the numbers get really high, but half the county is expected to die. Most people in eastern Kentucky think the same, ”said Kerr, whose mortgage business is booming thanks to low interest rates.

The numbers are still low, but the rate is increasing.

Stay with Trump

Nationally, Trump trails Biden in the polls by eight points. In Kentucky, he leads by 24 points, according to the latest poll, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leads Democrat Amy McGrath by 17.

In rural Kentucky, voters are still angry with the coal.

Lawrence Boyd retired in 2002 after 32 years working as an electrician in the mines of West Virginia and Kentucky. He’s a lifelong registered Democrat, just like his parents, and voted for Obama twice before turning to Trump angrily – like many of his friends and neighbors.

Several stores and restaurants closed during the pandemic on Main Street in Pikeville
Several stores and restaurants closed during the pandemic on Main Street in Pikeville. Illustration: Nina Lakhani / The Guardian

“Obama and Hillary stopped coal and put the miners out of work. That was it for me. Trump has put the American people ahead of other countries, ”said Boyd, 72.

When Trump took office, about 50,900 people worked in coal mines, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of January 2020, the number of jobs had increased by about 400. In Kentucky, at least 2,000 coal jobs were lost under the Trump administration compared to 6,300 during Obama’s second term.

Boyd, who has asked that his real name not be used, continues to vote Democratic in local and national elections, but will vote for Trump in November, despite the rising death toll from Covid-19 and the economic disaster.

Boyd and his wife both have several underlying health issues and are worried about catching the virus, but do not hold Trump responsible. The only news channel they watch is Fox News.

“We know it came from China, and the Democrats stopped Trump from doing a good job, they continue to fight him over everything, like mayors who don’t want federal troops. I used to think that people of color should have the same rights as whites, but not after these riots. They call us racists, but it was white people like us who put Obama… voting for him turned out to be a mistake.

“Nobody wants to be the next Florida”

Democrat-ruled Lexington, located 140 miles west of Pikeville, is Kentucky’s second largest city, best known for horse racing, bluegrass, and printing giant Lexmark.

Large employers in the city, which is 75% white and 14% black, include the University of Kentucky, the Fayette County public school system, Xerox, and Toyota, but small independent businesses were also thriving before that. the pandemic.

In March, yoga instructor Ivy Invalesco opened a new studio north of town. A few days later, the state went into lockdown. In order to stay afloat, Invalesco, 34, sold fitness equipment and furniture he inherited from his grandmother, applied for loans and benefits, borrowed money from relatives and even cut back on food.

“I ate eggs at every meal because my friend had chickens, I really had to tighten my belt to cover overhead,” she says.

The studio reopened on June 1 but it’s tough: Invalesco has lost a bunch of yoga and personal training clients because people are too scared or can’t afford classes anymore, and it can only operate 33% of its capacity.

Fayette County, where Lexington is headquartered, is one of the hardest hit by the virus, and several restaurants have recently closed due to outbreaks.

“I don’t want to close again or go bankrupt, but I don’t want people to die, so I understand that the governor has to play it safe. I pray that we get a vaccine soon, ”Invalesco said. Kentucky ranks fifth in personal bankruptcy complaints filed during Covid, according to a Money Geek study.

Sean Cain, who works at Rock House Brewing, one of nine microbreweries to open in the city since 2013, agrees. “Small local businesses have transformed the city over the past 10 years and of course we fear losing that but if we have to close again we will be fine. No one wants to be the next Florida. “

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