Growing Urgency To Reopen Utah’s Economy As Federal Programs Run Dry

Apr 16, 2020, 11:24 PM

PROVO, Utah — With President Trump’s plan to reopen states in place, thousands more filing for unemployment, and a federal program that just ran out of money for small businesses, there is growing urgency to reopen Utah’s economy.

The sense of urgency comes as new projections estimate Utah won’t hit its peak in coronavirus cases until May 2nd.

“We’re literally in survival mode,” said Jacob Chung, co-owner of Five Sushi Brothers. “Just like biting our fingernails and seeing what we can do to survive.”

Drive by the Provo location at the right time and by all accounts, it appears sushi hasn’t left the menu over the last several weeks. The restaurant built a strong reputation the last four years as a takeout and delivery place before the coronavirus came to Utah, and it’s helped keep them afloat since.

But a closer look at the restaurant reveals they aren’t so different from many small businesses across the state — hurting and hoping for some relief.

After just one year in business in Salt Lake City, Chung had little choice but to close their doors permanently.

“That is more likely the case than not,” he said.

The prime Salt Lake location, which sits across from the Salt Palace Convention Center, first shut its doors temporarily because of the virus and lack of business from cancelled events. Then the old building got rocked by the earthquake.

“It’s kind of discouraging to be honest. We felt so hopeful that, ‘oh great the government’s coming out with these various programs to help small businesses,’” Chung said. “It seems they’re giving priority to all the bigger businesses, the ones they know are going to stay in business.”

Chung said they were rejected from grants and different loan programs, including the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program that was part of Congress’ stimulus relief package.

Last week, state leaders said the most important thing businesses could do for the economy was apply for PPP. So far, it’s paid out about $2.6 billion in our state, but on Thursday, the U.S. Small Business Association said the federal program had run dry.

Democrats have refused to approve more funding for small businesses without including money for hospitals, and state and local governments.

That dried up program, combined with new staggering unemployment numbers, only added to the urgency to get the economy back up and running.

In Southeast Utah, where infection numbers are low, the Health Department is already allowing some businesses, like barber shops and gyms, to start re-opening.

Dr. Angela Dunn said the state was working on a plan to reopen during Thursday’s daily COVID-19 briefing.

“We are developing Utah specific guidelines based on metrics and the outbreak and how it’s going here in Utah so that we can safely open the economy in a staged approach,” Dr. Dunn said.

But she warned, “any misstep can set a wildfire off and we can start seeing a spike in cases again.”

Dr. Dunn said a plan to reopen would be announced in the coming days. She said they’re still waiting to see a couple of weeks of flattening the curve. In other words, two weeks of slowing the growth rate, followed by a drop in cases.

Under the state’s current plan, we’re about a month into the Urgency Phase that’s expected to last 8 to 12 weeks before we reach “Stabilization”.

Like all business owners, Chung said he’s anxious about the future, but remains hopeful at least one of their restaurants will stay open.

“It sucks for sure but we’re doing what we have to do to stay alive and to keep going,” he said.

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Growing Urgency To Reopen Utah’s Economy As Federal Programs Run Dry