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Economic comeback from virus effects 'fairly long process,' says state legislator

RIVERTON — Wyoming’s recovery from the economic fallout caused by coronavirus will depend on mindset, says State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.

“It’ll be hard to come back fast, and it’ll be a fairly long process,” said Case, who has a doctorate in economics and has long presided over the state senate’s revenue committee. “The longer you’re closed, the longer it is to get everybody back, and get your business back.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon dispatched three orders this month closing public gathering spaces and close-contact businesses until at least April 17, in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus spread and minimize the impact to the medical industry.

Even once those orders are lifted, however, Case said it might take some time for consumer habits to revert back to normal.

“People are going to be used to doing things a different way, and they may not have their previous levels of eating out, for example, or going to the movies,” he said.

Also, people may continue attending meetings remotely, Case said, and if that happens fuel consumption could go down, as could the use of hospitality and restaurant businesses.

The recovery count is up this week: Wednesday evening the Wyoming Department of Health had reported 49 novel coronavirus cases with seven recoveries among them; Thursday morning they reported 53 cases with 12 recoveries among them. And by Friday afternoon, Wyoming had 70 cases, 17 recoveries.

Case is hopeful that Wyoming leaders acted quickly enough to limit the scope of coronavirus while it cycles through the state.

“But until those infections go down, we can’t even dream about when we’d begin to reopen.”

The worst economic impact, both on the average person and local government, said Case, is from the low oil prices prompted the crisis, and by Saudi Arabian and Russian disagreements over economic strategies to contend with it.

“Nobody will be drilling new wells at these prices,” Case said.

Barrel prices have dipped below the break-even point for drilling operations in Wyoming in recent weeks, including tribal drilling operations, which fund Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone per capita checks. The state taxes tribal and non-tribal oil and mineral production and derives about 60 percent of its funding from oil and minerals.

“This is a huge hit to the state’s income,” Case said. “There’ll be consequences.”

He did not go so far as to predict a deadly economic depression, though, and he doesn’t think the economic fallout should catch up to the effects of the virus itself.

“I’m fairly confident we’ll see the number of cases decline in the next couple of weeks,” Case said, though he did say to watch out for certain socioeconomic consequences, and to resist them. “Suicides go up when there are business failures, when people can’t meet their bills. Some people might die because they can’t afford health insurance, and they get sick. … Those are all fair concerns that have to be weighed.”

A United States Congressional law enabling a relief package worth a possible $1,200 to every American plus $500 for each child in the home has passed Congress.

Case said the stimulus might be necessary, but could carry longterm consequences, like an increase in national deficit, a greater tendency toward compounding that deficit, and dependence by Americans on governmental assistance.

However, the stimulus would “get the economy rolling again,” he noted.

In his own business as a hotel and restaurant owner, Case said the virus has rattled his thinking.

“I’m actually thinking about applying for one of these disaster loans,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like that, you know, because of my pride. I’ve wanted to be an independent business-person.”

However, Case said, like so many others have learned, the virus has caused struggles that business owners had no means of preventing.

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