Apr 17, 2020 - Economy & Business

The gamble to re-open the economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's a big blind spot as governors weigh how and when to lift stay-at-home orders: If businesses' doors reopen, will the people come?

Why it matters: The economy has been ravaged by efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak — and the recovery is dependent on whether Americans feel they can return to normal life without contracting the disease.

Driving the news: The Trump administration unveiled guidelines for states to gradually begin reopening their economies — starting with states that have "beautifully low" case numbers, as President Trump said in a phone call with governors.

Yes, but: While there may be pent up demand for things like haircuts, many Americans say they'll continue staying home until they feel it's safe.

  • "If people don’t have confidence that it’s safe to go out and go to your job or go to a store, they’re just not going to go regardless of what the government says,” Joshua Bolten, CEO of the Business Roundtable, a trade group for the world's biggest corporations, told CNBC.
  • After Trump’s announcement, Bolten said in a statement to Axios that business leaders welcomed the federal guidelines and look forward to working with officials on “public and workplace safety, testing and virus monitoring.”

Between the lines: A range of CEOs and government leaders agree that scaling up testing is crucial to convince Americans it's safe to engage in pre-coronavirus activities.

  • "Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in his annual shareholder letter.
  • People will only return to work "after there’s enough capacity in the hospitals, after there’s proper amount of testing,” J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon told analysts this week.

The big picture: Many unemployed Americans plagued by financial hardship won't have a choice but to return to work, even if they feel unsafe. They're relying on employers making critical adjustments to put them, as well as customers, at ease when the economy re-opens.

  • Boeing says 27,000 workers, who were partially paid while facilities were shut down, will return to its plane-making factories in Washington State next week, where coronavirus cases have slowed.
  • Their workplace will look a lot different: shifts will be staggered, managers will be required to check-in with employees about how they're feeling, and face coverings will be mandatory. The aerospace industry's leading union said they were reassured protective equipment will be supplied to employees.

To stave off any consumer concerns, companies are considering big changes to adhere to the new physical-distancing norm.

  • One example: The International Air Transport Association, a global airlines lobbying group, said leaving middle seats open to put more space between travelers "was among likely conditions for a resumption of air travel."
  • Airline passengers "won't return to travel until they feel personally safe in doing so," the group warns.
  • Shared office space pioneer WeWork, too, is planning big layout changes.

The other side: Some Americans are eager for stay-at-home orders to be lifted, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

  • In Michigan, protesters swarmed the Capitol to defy Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's lockdown orders.
  • "I'm just ready to go back to work," one protester told the Detroit Free Press.
  • Kentucky's Gov. Andy Beshear has also been a target. "I want to be in my church with our parish," a Kentucky protester told the Courier Journal on Thursday.

The bottom line: Reopening the economy will look different across America — but it will mean very little anywhere if people don't feel safe enough do the things that keep the economy humming.

  • One stark warning: "If we don’t get this right, the public health and economic costs could become even more daunting," Suzanne Clark, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO, wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

Go deeper

Trump's big, empty beef with Twitter

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump finally acted on his now year-old threat to take action against social media platforms for alleged bias against conservatives. But so far, according to experts in both government and the industry, the threat looks mostly empty.

Driving the news: Trump escalated his war on Twitter Friday morning, tweeting repeatedly that the company needs to be regulated after it overnight added a warning label to a tweet of his calling for the military to start shooting looters, which violated Twitter’s rules against glorifying violence.

In photos: Protests over George Floyd's death grip Minneapolis

The Third Police Precinct burns in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Demonstrators demanding justice burned a Minneapolis police station and took control of the streets around it last night, heaving wood onto the flames, kicking down poles with surveillance cameras and torching surrounding stores.

What's happening: The crowd was protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose life was snuffed out Tuesday by a white Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes.

Minneapolis mayor to Trump: “Weakness is pointing your finger” during a crisis

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey fired back at President Trump on Friday, after the president accused the mayor of weak leadership amid violence sparked by the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

Driving the news: Trump made his accusations in a pair of tweets early Friday, saying he would bring the national guard into Minneapolis if Frey couldn't “bring the City under control.”