Moody’s Analytics analyzed U.S. metro areas capabilities for a strong recovery post-coronavirus using two primary factors: population density and educational attainment.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Growing numbers of states are allowing their shelter-in-place orders to expire and letting businesses reopen. This has Republicans rooting for a rapid economic recovery as people get back to work and Democrats fearing a renewed spike in virus transmission. But take it from me, a Georgian who's been legally permitted to get a haircut or a face tattoo for two weeks and counting, reopening will be dictated much more by the comfort level of consumers and businesses than by the decisions of governors.When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said on April 20th that Georgia would be the most aggressive state in the country about reopening, there was a mixed response from the business community, judging from the businesses that I personally frequent. That day, American Haircuts, a barbershop I frequented for years, sent an email to customers saying it intended to reopen in a limited capacity as early as April 24th. Three days later, perhaps in response to feedback from customers and employees, it sent a longer email saying it hoped to be open within the next few weeks. There has been no update since.Much of metro Atlanta's restaurant industry knew immediately that reopening would take time and that there wouldn't be a rush back in the name of expediency. Hugh Acheson, a well-known Atlanta restaurateur, tweeted on April 21st that "No one tells me when to open." Using the hashtag GAHospitality, 50 restaurant owners representing 120 restaurants took out a full-page ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution giving their reasons for remaining closed for dine-in service despite being allowed to reopen. As we head into mid-May there have been no major updates on when Atlanta's dining scene will reopen.For-profit businesses aren't the only entities holding back: My church, with several campuses throughout metro Atlanta and by some measures the largest church in the country, remains closed with no planed reopening date. And the last I heard from my children's day care it won't reopen before June.The limited data we have on normalization suggests that despite Georgia technically being open, its trajectory isn't that much different from peer states that remain closed. Lyft reported earnings on Wednesday and broke out April business trends in various metro areas. Between the week ended April 5th and May 3rd ridership increased 25% in Atlanta, but it also increased 35% in Chicago, 22% in New York City and 25% in Seattle, areas that still are under lockdowns. Apple Maps data show that mobility is increasing pretty consistently throughout the country since early April, with Atlanta's recovery similar to Houston's, another car-dependent metro area in a state that had a later and more limited reopening.Depending upon the outcome you're anticipating, this news should either be sobering or a relief. Government can't force a business to reopen if its managers don't feel that doing so is in its best interests. Nor, obviously, can government force customers to carry on with their pre-virus routines. Even if normalization from here on occurs in a straight line -- a notion subject to significant uncertainty -- it will only occur as quickly as all stakeholders in the process feel safe doing so. Economic activity and employment will remain far below pre-virus levels for a significant period of time even if all 50 states lifted shelter-in-place orders tomorrow.It's for this reason that fears of a short-term surge in infections and hospitalizations are likely misplaced as well. If barbershops, restaurants, churches, day-care centers and large events such as concerts and professional sports remain shuttered even after shelter-in-place orders are lifted, or if they open and nobody shows up, then the spread of the virus likely won't change very much in the short-run.A forecast that's neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic is that the next few months evolve much like the past month has. Economic and social activity increases moderately from a low level with new safety procedures in place. Testing continues to ramp up and the percentage of tests coming back positive falls slowly. New treatments such as Remdesivir are proven effective and various vaccine trials advance into later stages. Total case counts nationwide are either steady or fall slowly, but in fits and starts, with new hotspots such as meatpacking facilities being identified and addressed. The negative economic shock we've experienced continues to ripple through labor markets, company spending plans, and state and municipal budgets, with Congress at least partially offsetting the damage.But lifting shelter-in-place orders is neither an economic panacea nor the spark that will lead to a new surge of cases. That's up to the public. And as long as the virus is pervasive and people take steps to avoid getting it, a return to normal is going to be slow.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Conor Sen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a portfolio manager for New River Investments in Atlanta and has been a contributor to the Atlantic and Business Insider.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The plan would be retroactive to March.