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How should we rebuild?

Jonathan Ruga is the vice-chair of the Better Utah Board. Brian Jones is director of government relations at Sentry Financial.

COVID-19 has impacted our world in extraordinarily negative ways. Millions have been infected, hundreds of thousands have died, many of our healthcare systems have been exposed as grossly inadequate, and broad swaths of local and global economies have been devastated. To make matters worse, those groups within our communities who have very limited resources and who can least afford it are the very groups that have been most adversely affected. With over 36 million jobs lost in the U.S. in just two months, housing is at increased risk and food insecurity has skyrocketed. 

We find ourselves in truly unprecedented times. The health threat from the pandemic has not fully receded, and no one can say for certain when it will. Yet even as risks to individual and public health persist, we understand we must begin the work of rebuilding our economic and social systems. 

While many of us have been privileged to have retained our jobs and the ability to work from home with relatively little interruption to our livelihoods and ways of life, many, many people in our communities have been far less fortunate. Countless of our neighbors have lost jobs, meaning the loss of attendant healthcare, followed closely by housing and food security – the most basic of human needs. And for those struggling to survive at the margins of society before the crisis took hold, circumstances have become more dire and needs greater.  

In serious crisis, though, there are often silver linings. As bleak as the situation is, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided opportunities for us to make significant societal changes, even as we seek to restore the familiarity of our way of life. As we rebuild, we have the opportunity to do so in socially conscious ways that benefit more in our society than just the business community or the workers that power it. 

For example, businesses need to bring employees back to work, but allowing employees to work from home, where feasible, even for a day or two a week, will keep drivers off the roads and help keep our suddenly clean air from returning to hazardous pre-crisis levels. And as old jobs are restored and new ones created, we should reform our healthcare system to untether medical coverage from employment, allowing the neediest among us to access basic care and ensuring that future economic crises will not result in millions of Americans suddenly without healthcare. 

Achieving such balance will require new ways of thinking and the development of innovative collaborations. As we work to restore our society to full operating capacity, we should seek out and encourage the creation of relationships among groups that can partner in non-traditional ways that are beneficial not just to one narrow interest, but that will achieve multiple and diverse ends. Businesses can join forces with non-profit organizations serving at-risk community members to create initiatives that will stimulate revenue for the business while also providing valuable resources for those in need. 

One example of such a collaboration is Sentry Financial’s new Healthy Food Initiative, which works to revitalize the local restaurant industry while simultaneously addressing food insecurity for vulnerable groups in the Salt Lake community. By bringing together local businesses, non-profit service organizations, and community funders, the program aims to address economic and social needs in a new and multi-faceted way. Similar collaborations can be created to facilitate greater protection of our environment, reform of our criminal justice system, and equality for traditionally marginalized groups.   

The destruction left in the wake of COVID-19 has been almost unfathomable, and we’re not out of the woods yet. The recovery of our economic, social, and cultural systems will continue for years to come. One silver lining to this devastation is the opportunity we have to restore those systems in innovative ways that benefit all facets of our communities. It is possible to rebuild our economy in concert with, and not at the expense of, other segments of society. 

We can revitalize businesses in ways that also protect our air quality, provide greater healthcare security for workers, and increase assistance for those at risk. There is a surplus of need among us, but so, too, is there a surplus of compassion, ingenuity, and wherewithal. As we rebuild, we can, and should, look for new ways to put each of these to work for the benefit of everyone in our community. 

Jonathan Ruga is the vice-chair of the Better Utah Board. Brian Jones is director of government relations at Sentry Financial.

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