I have to admit… I don’t know too many people who are looking back fondly on 2020. It was a hard year, and COVID-19 — and our responses to it – caused an unimaginable amount of damage. In looking back through my files, I was shocked at the challenges the virus created and the damage it did. It will be in our nature to forget and look toward better times. But, it is important as we move forward that we remember, learn from the past year and do whatever we can to prevent another pandemic.
The fact that we are in recovery mode just one year later and doing as well as we are is a credit to Louisiana’s people and their willingness to embrace the vaccines and keep investing in themselves and our home state.
Here are some of my notes on 2020 that I think do a good job of recapping what we’ve been through.
First, the Bad News
Three distinct waves of COVID-19 infection in March, July and December 2020 drove Louisiana to a first-in-a-century mark: In 2020, more Louisianians died or left the state than babies were born here during the same year. The last time that happened was in 1918. If that year looks familiar to you, it’s because it was the time of the Spanish Flu, the last huge pandemic to hit the world with such an impact as COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, out of a state population of more than 4.6 million people:
- More than 7 million COVID-19 tests were performed;
- Over 400,000 people tested positive for the virus;
- 10,400 people died before their time due to COVID-19 infection;
- Five parishes (Jefferson, Orleans, East Baton Rouge, Caddo and St. Tammany) all had more than 500 deaths due to COVID-19.
In March 2020, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that Louisiana had an able-bodied workforce of 2.1 million people, over 94% of whom were actively employed. By the first week of May 2020, 400,000+ of them were on unemployment and drawing benefits!
(In case you were wondering, as of the first week of May 2021, roughly 50,000 Louisianians remain on unemployment.)
Remembering that 26% of our economy in Louisiana is directly related to the petrochemical business, shocks in the price of a barrel of oil were rampant during 2020. Our normal level of economic activity in that sector is maintained nicely when oil sells for $60-$65 per barrel or more. COVID-related economic shutdowns led to an unprecedented decrease in the amount of oil consumed on the whole planet. And that drove oil prices down so far, they actually went NEGATIVE (-$12 per barrel) for a few weeks in April 2020. What does that mean? Oil producers not only couldn’t SELL their oil, they had to PAY someone to store it! The shock in that industry, and the concurrent unemployment it caused, has still not been recovered.
Louisianians working in the leisure/entertainment/hotel/restaurant/cruise line industries got hit hard, with HALF of all the jobs in that industry being lost (almost 100,000 jobs). Louisiana’s loss of construction jobs was the largest of any state in the nation in percentage terms (more than 30%).
About one-third of Louisiana’s small businesses closed, and some still haven’t reopened.
In addition to COVID-19, FIVE named hurricanes hit Louisiana in the same year, one of which landed with the highest winds and storm surge recorded in the state in over 120 years.
And Now, the Good News
The good news is that vaccines have been available to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19 since December 2020, and as of May 25, 2021, 1.6 million Louisianians have had at least one dose. Some 28% of the state, 1.4 million people, are fully vaccinated (two weeks past their second dose of Pfizer/Moderna or their one dose of Johnson & Johnson).
The federal government has showered financial aid on our state. There’s been over $2.2 billion in direct aid given to healthcare providers and hospitals to deal with the disruption COVID-19 caused. To date, 117,000 businesses have applied for and received over $4.4 BILLION in federal grants to protect their payroll and employees and keep them employed. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, local governments are going to share another pot of federal money that will eclipse $1.6 billion.
Unemployment in Louisiana is now at a 15-month-low, just 7.3% (U3) at the end of March 2021. The governor ended the statewide mask mandate based on positive vaccination rates, businesses are re-opening, some employees are returning to work and those who cannot get work still qualify for enhanced unemployment payments . I’m getting more and more requests to give speeches, educational lectures and compliance seminars IN PERSON for the first time in a long time. Although video conferences are cool, I won’t miss them. Our ability to gather, and all that goes with that ability like football games, festivals, family reunions, crawfish boils, graduation, and weddings, are starting to make a comeback. That’s really good news!
As of June 2, 2021, there are fewer than 300 people statewide in the hospital with COVID-19. That’s down from over 2,500 on several days in spring 2020. Louisiana’s current average death rate for COVID-19 had been running around 4-5 people a day, but dropped to under 4 on June 2. The state measures that over seven days, so, on average, fewer than four people died each day from May 27 – June 2. Any loss of life is terrible. But, this is a significant drop below the worst of 2020, when the count was 65-70 people dying per day. Instead of hundreds of people on ventilators in ICUs statewide because of COVID-19, the average now is about 20 to 30 people on a given day.
The Straight Talk is, these are all, to me, clear signs of a state trying hard to recover from COVID-19. As I pointed out in my last post, our path to economic recovery is directly tied to VACCINATION. If we want to hold off another 2020, we need to get millions more vaccinated.