One year ago this week, Georgians began to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation shut down to begin working remotely – apropos, in hindsight – on Friday, March 13, expecting to be back in the office in a matter of weeks. One year later, staff members largely continue to telework, as do many Georgians able to do so.
The Legislature suspended the 2020 session indefinitely on that same Friday. The next day, Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health state of emergency. His first executive order not only mobilized resources within state agencies such as the Department of Public Health and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, but also suspended regulations and allowed for out-of-state physicians and nurses to assist in Georgia with the pandemic, and relaxed time restrictions for commercial drivers.
Many more regulations were eased in the following weeks to address the public health crisis; many of these would create the basis for Georgia’s ensuing economic rebound.
In Washington, Congress responded by opening the spigot of federal money. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020, followed by $900 billion more in December 2020. Policies such as stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans became as much a part of everyday life as masks and hand sanitizer. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Biden Thursday, prompted criticism from lawmakers in both parties over the package’s overall price tag and lack of focus on fighting the pandemic.
Georgia has benefited from the federal money throughout: $4.12 billion from the CARES Act, to be followed by $4.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Georgians also contributed to the wellbeing of the state’s fiscal health: Tax revenues were up 7.5% in January compared to the same period a year ago. Revenue from alcohol taxes remained a bright spot throughout (to the surprise of no one in “sheltering in place”) even as other revenues declined in the immediate months of the shutdown.
On March 16, Kemp closed all public schools for two weeks; his April 1 executive order closed them for the rest of the school year. One year later, many children, parents and educators continue to struggle to adapt to the pandemic, and ingenuity has become a necessity as families address educational needs.
Not all is bleak, however. The Governor’s recent announcement that all adults should be eligible to receive the vaccine in early April is encouraging news for those seeking a return to normalcy.
While certain aspects of the past year are likely to continue post-COVID – more teleworking, for example – Georgians will have to examine the challenges. Commercial real estate occupancy levels remain low. Seemingly every housing market is adjusting to redefined work commutes. Many restaurants remained closed, some shuttered for good. Large segments of the workforce face a future with reduced opportunities.
Georgians struggled with the harsh reality of losing loved ones to COVID-19 and other ailments while unable to say their goodbyes, because healthcare facilities tightened visitation to lessen the infection risk. One year later, state legislators are determined to find a compassionate balance between public health and personal need.
March 2021 marks the passage of one extremely long year and the assorted challenges it brought. Fortunately,, it does feel this time that significant relief is around the corner in weeks and not months, and March 2022 will mark a markedly different milestone.