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Other Voices: Ethics in the time of coronavirus



Signs and locked doors indicate the temporary closure of the Greeley Mall due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Greeley Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Alex McIntyre/[email protected])

Editor’s note: In the interest of public safety, this story is provided free to all readers. Support more reporting like this with a Greeley Tribune subscription.

The world has been thrust into an unprecedented time. The White House has estimated that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die in the coming months as a new virus sweeps through the nation, and that’s if we implement and execute the recommendations from our doctors and scientists. About 700,000 jobs were lost in the U.S. in March as mayors and governors across the nation responded responsibly by forcing all but the most essential businesses to close.

The chain reaction from both the virus and the economic fallout of stay-at-home orders has every American pondering their ethical role in society in the time of a pandemic. It’s a question no one can answer for someone, but it’s clear that America needs everyone to step up and do what they can.

And what we can do is entirely dependent on each individual’s situation. We all have to be honest with ourselves and do our very best.

Someone who was laid off and has only $1,000 in savings faces a dilemma between paying for rent, food or other bills. Obviously food should take priority. But if that individual has $10,000 in savings it might make sense for them to cut back where they can and continue to pay essential bills like rent. If that individual has $20,000 saved — let’s say for a down payment on a house — the world will be better off if they are able to use that hard-saved cushion to weather unemployment. For those who have accumulated significant wealth, now is not the time to start cutting back.

Some landlords might have the savings to be able to absorb a month without rent from a few tenants, but can that individual or company survive a month without rent from any tenants or from only half? Landlords faced without income will have the same hard decisions about their own bills and food. The answer is they need to absorb the losses they can and pay the bills they can just like everyone else. Also, it’d be prudent for landlords to consider the dubious ethics of late fees in the time of a national disaster, just as the University of Colorado should reconsider the ethics of keeping rental deposits from students who were forced to leave the dorms.

Businesses’ top priority must be having enough cash to reopen their doors when restrictions are lifted, and enough cash to weather the long, slow return to “normal” business. We can ask nothing more of our local businesses than that, please reopen, rehire and restart. But some exemplary businesses are maintaining some or all of their payroll even as the state or city has shuttered their business. We applaud them and hope all employers will follow the example of doing what they can.

The reality is none of us will be made whole from this period, nor should we expect to be. The stimulus checks coming to individuals are woefully inadequate for those who have lost their job — we assume more will be coming if unemployment numbers don’t rebound in May. The individual saving for a home may have to start from scratch after all is said and done.

Businesses that get federal bailouts should be expected to carry their fair share of losses too — it’s good that to qualify for a bailout the airline industry must not lay off employees.

These are hard times and we must all do our part. Fortunately, each individual is the only one who knows what they are able to do at this moment. We should all resist judging the actions of others as we cannot truly know the situation. We should all set the best example we can of generosity and support. And we should all plan for this to be a time of sacrifice.

— Denver Post Editorial Board, April 3

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