From the Business Desk ... Impact of COVID-19 felt locally among businesses

For me, it started feeling "real" around the middle of last week.

Until then, COVID-19 was just another news story, something that was happening in other corners of the world, but not here in the United States except for an insulated case here or there.

But then the world seemed to change and coronavirus began impacting my daily life.

The stock market turned into a roller coaster as the global economy seemed to come down with a case of COVID-19. Health care and government officials began telling people to wash their hands, not shake them with other people and to avoid large public gatherings and those who might have been exposed to the virus.

Life in Missouri, at least from my perspective, seemed pretty normal until Missouri's first coronavirus case was identified a little more than a week ago in the St. Louis area. It was around that time the terms "quarantine" and "self-isolation" began popping up.

Would schools and businesses need to make contingency plans for coronavirus? Nah. We're safe here in Southeast Missouri. Or so I thought.

And then the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced its men's and women's March Madness basketball tournaments would be played in empty arenas. I was still wrapping my head around that concept when it was announced the tournament would be canceled altogether. A March without college basketball? Unheard of! And then came "pauses" in the NHL and NBA seasons and an end to Major League Baseball's spring training schedule and delay of MLB's season by at least two weeks.

For most people, the few hundred Americans who had contracted COVID-19 were anonymous. We didn't know their names; they were just statistics on a graph. But then, actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, announced they had tested positive for the virus. All of the sudden, we "knew" someone with coronavirus.

After initially downplaying the outbreak, the White House declared a state of emergency Friday as did Gov. Mike Parson.

By the end of last week, we, at the Missourian, started hearing from schools, clubs, churches and municipalities that were closing their doors, canceling events or postponing activities rather than risk spreading coronavirus.

Cape Girardeau hospitals have developed protocols for how to screen and care for patients with coronavirus symptoms.

I've heard from several businesses in the area who say coronavirus has affected their supply chains and could eventually impact their bottom lines and lead to potential layoffs.

Travel agencies say they've spoken to hundreds of people, worried about whether it is safe to go on vacation and at least one cruise line has canceled its cruises for at least the rest of March.

An employee at a local hotel that's part of a national chain told me she and other employees have been told to expect a slow down in bookings as people cancel or delay travel plans.

Over the weekend, it was announced Walmart and Schnucks stores that have been open 24 hours a day will reduce their hours for the foreseeable future. "This will help ensure associates are able to stock the products our customers are looking for and to perform cleaning and sanitizing," Walmart said in a statement Saturday night. Walmarts and Walmart Neighborhood Markets have begun closing at 11 p.m.

Schnucks announced Sunday morning a "temporary reduction of hours" and is now closing its 24-hour stores at midnight. "It's primarily so we can focus on store cleanliness," Cape Girardeau Schnucks manager John Townsend told me Sunday. "We are doing all we can to keep our customers and our teammates safe."

A sampling of my email inbox found several messages from schools and businesses commenting on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting them or what they're doing to help their customers and clients ride out the COVID-19 storm.

For instance:

* Banterra Bank is encouraging customers to use digital banking service and telephone banking rather than having face-to-face interaction with bank employees.

* Marcus Theatres is reminding moviegoers they are "open for business" and can provide people with "an escape" from all the coronavirus news (Marcus also pointed out in an email last week how theater employees clean and disinfect seating areas daily).

* Charter Communications announced in an email last week it will provide two months of broadband internet service to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Charter Spectrum subscription so they can keep up with their studies if their schools close during the pandemic.

* And even the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri has issued a "preparedness plan" for pets that could come in handy if their owners are unable to care of them due to coronavirus.

It's almost impossible to say what COVID-19's ultimate impact will be on the U.S. economy -- or the global economy for that matter -- but economists are starting to use the term "coronavirus recession."

"Before the coronavirus hit, we thought the odds of a recession in the next 12 months were about 10%," one economic expert said last week. "Now we think they're around 20%. Higher, but not high."

A 20% chance I can live with. But then I heard former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers on one of the Sunday morning talk shows saying he believes there's now an 85% to 90% probability of a global economic downturn.

The spread of coronavirus could have an impact on the nation's unemployment numbers. If the economy slows, there will undoubtedly be layoffs and a slowdown in hiring.

It will be interesting (or perhaps frightening) to see what impact, if any, coronavirus has on our economy in the months ahead.

Jackson's economy will reportedly get a boost tonight at the Jackson Board of Aldermen meeting.

Two weeks ago, at the board's last meeting, Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and Magnet representative John Mehner said he would provide details about a "nationally known" business that has plans to expand in Jackson, adding about 30 jobs and a 10,000 square-foot expansion to an existing facility.

Read Tuesday's Southeast Missourian to learn more.

To this point in my column, I've written about coronavirus and about Jackson, so now let's put them together.

The Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce will host a coronavirus educational program titled, "Reducing the Risk: How to Stay Physically and Financially Healthy During the COVID-19 Crisis."

Sponsored by the chamber, Saint Francis Healthcare System and BOLD, the free one-hour program for Jackson chamber members is set for 8 a.m. March 24 at the Jackson Civic Center, 381 E. Deerwood Drive in Jackson.

Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to the chamber by calling (573) 243-8131. Reservations can also be made through the chamber's website,

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