Editor's Notes: Lasting effects of COVID-19 on Columbus' business community

Katy Smith
Columbus CEO
The COVID vaccine is widely available and free.

Get the vaccine.

It’s the same message medical professionals have been telegraphing since the shot became available last December. With 49 percent of Ohioans fully vaccinated — 53 percent in Franklin County — we probably have a long way to go in reaching so-called herd immunity, a level that varies by disease. Herd immunity for measles, for example, is estimated by World Health Organization epidemiologists at 95 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Polio is 80 percent — and the level for COVID-19 is unknown.

With its unpredictable symptoms and somewhat mysterious long-term effects, the viral infection that had killed 21,154 Ohioans as of Sept. 11 is unlike anything healthcare professionals have ever seen. So it makes sense our economy, too, is behaving in ways we have never seen. A recession that came, like the virus, seemingly overnight. A long-lasting labor shortage and supply chain issues you wouldn’t wish on your top competitor.

While some companies have failed, particularly in the battered hospitality sector, others have thrived through the shift to work-from-home. Talent, especially tech talent, can be hired from across the country. But for establishments whose business models depend on in-person workers and customers, the lack of job candidates has led to closures, service cutbacks and a lot of pain.

This month’s cover story by Dispatch business writers Mark Williams and Patrick Cooley goes in-depth on what employers are seeing—or not seeing, I should say. Job candidates, scarce to begin with, are agreeing to interviews, even accepting job offers, and then employers never hear from them again. It’s difficult not to see the irony in this situation, which follows years of employers routinely ghosting job candidates after interviews.

This hiring shortage comes in addition to a wave of people quitting their jobs across the country, to remake their careers, start businesses, make side gigs their main gigs, care for children and sick family members and a host of other reasons.

What’s behind it all? Are workers fed up and choosing to leave jobs where the hours are bad, the pay is low, benefits are nonexistent and the work itself is unfulfilling? Are this many people able to survive on the expanded unemployment benefits that came with the coronavirus, which are meager by most standards? The questions — and the assumptions — are fast, while access to real data is slow.

Amid a renewed mask mandate in Columbus and alarms being sounded by the state’s hospital systems that the situation is dire, our state legislature has removed the ability of Ohio officials to use health orders like the ones we saw in March 2020 to protect the public. And the vast majority of employers have not made vaccination or regular COVID testing a requirement for their work forces.

Without some action, this health crisis will not come under control. That is what our health experts tell us. Who among our leaders will take it? I wondered that for months.

In September, I got an answer. President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-weekly test mandate for companies with 100 or more employees could be the way we get out of this pandemic, which still feels to me a bit like an alternate reality, like we got thrown through a wormhole.

It’s early, I’m thinking to myself as I write this not even midway through September. Biden’s rules will be challenged, to be sure. They might mutate as many times as the virus itself before they can be implemented.

To be sure, the path out of this mess isn’t quite clear, save for one thing: Get the vaccine.