Op-Ed: Overreaction or not, cost of coronavirus will be high

Coronavirus is just about the only thing that’s being discussed right now and regardless of whether you think there’s been an overreaction or under-reaction, the stakes are high for public health and the economy.

On Wednesday, the tide turned in Illinois. Officials in Chicago announced the cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day parades. The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a pandemic. State lawmakers cancelled session days next week. State health officials announced six new cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 25. That number is expected to rise.

Schools, concerts, conventions and other events have been scrapped and the Dow ended an 11-year bull run.

The spread of the coronavirus has very real implications for Illinoisans. Although no deaths have been reported in the state, the respiratory illness has been responsible for more than 4,300 deaths around the world as of Wednesday.

State officials have been holding daily news conferences to keep people up-to-date on the state’s response and to provide health tips.

While some people are shrugging off the new coronavirus, others are stockpiling hand sanitizer, soap and toilet paper as they prepare for a catastrophe. But caution appears to be the name of the game.

All of this will come with a cost that will affect jobs and paychecks. It will also hit the state’s economy and Illinois’ underfunded pension systems.

Those things would be easier to handle if the state had a rainy-day fund. But it doesn’t. That means more financial pressure on everything, including local budgets.

Businesses also will take a hit.

Mark Grant, president of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Illinois chapter, said the state’s small businesses are concerned.

“They’re all hanging on by their fingernails,” he said. “If you’re in a business that’s travel-related, service-related, or in hospitality, I think you’re going to feel this pinch harder, faster.”

Illinoisans should be mindful of the decisions they make regarding the health and safety of themselves and those around them. Wash those hands. Make informed choices. Stay home when sick.

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