EDITORIAL — Congress, Legislature: Throw a lifeline to businesses already sinking under pandemic

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If the seismic impact of the pandemic moving through Colorado and the nation in March was a 9.0 calamity, decisions announced Tuesday by Gov. Jared Polis was an 8.0 aftershock.

Colorado, Aurora and the rest of the region will desperately need more help now. Congress and state lawmakers must send reinforcements.

For weeks, Polis and a wide range of health officials have warned everyone in Colorado that virus infections were spreading further and faster with each passing day.

While it’s never been clearly certain, contact tracing and other observations led state officials to believe that the chief culprit was younger residents socializing at homes, restaurants and bars, exchanging the virus and then spreading it out into the community at large.

Despite repeated pleas, the virus has spread so quickly that infection rates, and subsequent hospitalizations, have overtaken the horrific levels from this spring, which drove the state to lock-down.

One-in-58 people in Adams County are now contagious with coronavirus, while in Arapahoe County, it’s one in 83 people, according to state officials. Arapahoe County officials say the rate of positivity among those tested has pushed above 12%. Just weeks ago, school, health and other officials made it clear that if the region surpassed a positivity rate of 5%, drastic changes would have to be made.

This week the changes came. Couched among the prickly politics of the pandemic are these bleak realities:

• No indoor restaurant dining. None.

• No indoor events. None.

• No bars. None.

• No meeting friends and family from outside your household outdoors at restaurants or even at home. None.

• Offices and other businesses allowing 25% of the workforce inside must reduce that to 10% and ensure social distancing is possible and followed.

Essentially, it’s shut-down-lite. The next step, adding a new color, purple, to the visual mix of graphic metrics, portends total stay-at-home orders.

But even this shut-down-lite promises to be catastrophic for tens of thousands of businesses, mostly restaurants, retail and other enterprises that hinge on people being there, together, and in-person. Already decimated, endless restaurants are certain to close for good now as they lose what little revenue they could make off of meager inside sales and people hunker down at home, afraid of catching the virus.

Wisely, Polis and legislators have agreed to meet in special session to craft bills and programs to help keep businesses and families afloat until the recent good news about effective vaccines can be turned into good news about receding infections next spring or summer.

Many people have become so acclimated to the disruption of the pandemic that they overlook how catastrophic it’s been for so many businesses, workers and families.

This won’t be just another inconvenience, disruption or mile-marker along the way to the end of the pandemic. Unless the state, and more so Congress, work to financially support thousands of flailing businesses, the ensuing calamity will drag down the nation’s economy for decades.

Backed against a wall, Polis and others have made the right decision to force people to end behaviors that ultimately risk overwhelming hospitals with pandemic patients. But state and federal lawmakers must choose wisely about where to direct scarce resources, ensuring workers, employers and front-line medical staff remain the priority.

How the nation digs out from heavy debt in the future will be far easier to solve if more, not less, businesses and workers make it through the next several months.