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Rob Martinelli: Let’s balance protecting public health with jumpstarting our economy

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Rob Martinelli
Today Media Inc.

I’ve watched Gov. John Carney’s press conferences about Delaware’s response to the coronavirus COVID-19. The governor and public health officials are doing a professional job of talking about the trends and letting us know where Delaware stands. They fear that the next two weeks will be frightening in terms of positive cases and are working to preserve the necessary capacity at hospitals for the sickest patients.

The governor admits that the forecasts in this area may be conservative. He credits working with hospitals and says, “they’ve had great ideas …This has been a great partnership.”

All Delawareans are thankful for the heroic efforts of our health care workers and first responders. We are also thankful for the type of partnership and cooperation with the health community that the governor mentions that exists to fight this pandemic.

This column was originally going to focus on the need for a similar level of cooperation and partnership to finding finding a way to get Delaware working again as soon as possible. And as you probably read on our website, we learned just before going to press that that’s beginning to happen.

There are some who agree with New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, who has made the argument that the best way to restart our economy is to test every Delawarean who hasn’t been tested. Dr. Anthony Fauci was on the “Today” show April 9 and said that the antibody test would be available in large numbers within weeks.

Meyer knows that weeks of sheltering in place will do great harm to our economy. We are a small state that prides itself on getting things accomplished. If this is a viable option that can be done cost-effectively and quickly, it would be great if we could become the First State of testing.

But I’m equally heartened by the news that Doug Gramiak and Tom McGonigle – two people with a distinguished record of serving our state – have been informally asked by Gov. Carney to look into ways that we might jump start our economy.

Whether it’s serendipity or part of their effort, I am hearing that business leaders across the state are building lists that will support the efforts of Gramiak and McGonigle.

 “If there was ever a time for the business community to work together, this is it,” Delaware Business Roundtable Executive Director Bob Perkins told me on April 9. “Now is the time, for example, to put the Ready in Six initiative on steroids” to help encourage business retention and attraction.

I believe there are a number of ideas beyond streamlining the permitting process statewide that we should consider, including expanding broadband internet services statewide – particularly in light of the number of people who might continue to work from home after the crisis – and finding ways to help restaurants restore customer confidence once they can reopen.

I’d also like to see Secretary of State Jeff Bullock and Division of Small Business Director Damian DeStefano on the stage with the governor reporting regularly on what they are doing to get Delaware working again.

And I’d like to see state officials be more visible in expanding efforts to provide a financial lifeline to small businesses and ensure that federal efforts are executed well. We can’t wait to do this. Many small- and medium-sized businesses are on the brink of collapse even with the federal and state aid that has been proposed.

Besides leaders from leading civic organizations and other industry and non-profit leaders providing ideas on what can be done, small- and medium-sized business should be well represented too.

In general, I believe we need more transparency from our government leaders as to the expectations they’re setting with Delawareans. Gov. Carney did not explain at his April 7 press conference why he chose May 15 as the stay-at-home date when neighboring states have used April 30 beyond saying he is reacting to what he hears from public health experts and the situation on the ground.

Similarly, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki just announced that all public gathering events in the city of more than 100 people are being cancelled through “at least” the end of June. His explanation was “it’s becoming more evident each day that the effects of the COVID-19 crisis will be with us for many more months and probably beyond.”

Our elected officials owe us a better explanation based on facts. In his April 9 interview, Dr. Fauci said that he believes we are possibly seeing the flattening of the curve and it’s possible for large numbers of people to get back to work. He is cautiously optimistic that we can get back to doing a lot of what we were doing by summer.

It’s time we ramp up our efforts to get our state working again – in weeks, not months.

If you have an idea that you’d like the governor and others to consider, please send it to RecoveryIdeas@DelawareBusinessTimes.com and I will personally make sure it gets to the right people. 

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