Part of the tough reality of life in a pandemic is that there really isn’t a “new normal.” Any time you adapt to something that seems like a new settling point, everything changes again. Reopen bars and restaurants, and rehire the workforce needed to run them? Backtrack. Reopen hair and nail salons? Backtrack.
Similarly for museums, aquariums and zoos there was a dramatic drop-off in revenues, followed by California Department of Public Health guidelines for reopening. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History reopened for a week, selling timed tickets to household units, before they had to close again.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium had planned on reopening and started selling timed tickets—to such eagerness that the ticket website crashed almost immediately. But before the Aquarium could reopen its doors to the public, a reversal on shelter-in-place guidelines meant they’d have to delay reopening.
The Aquarium staff had already been through the gut punch of layoffs, early in the pandemic. On April 13, Executive Director Julie Packard wrote to staff that the Aquarium was facing losses in revenue of about $40 million through the end of the year, "and that's assuming an optimistic re-open date of July 1.”
That meant less than a month into sheltering in place, a 38-percent reduction in workforce—93 employees laid off and 128 furloughed at the nonprofit. It looked like a way to staunch the bleeding. And a chance for those who remained to adapt, perhaps, to a “new normal.”
But then came today, July 27, when staff received word of a second round of layoffs in an email from Packard: 84 of those previously furloughed workers, plus three active workers, are being laid off.
The news comes just as one component of the federal Covid-19 stimulus plan, the CARES Act, is set to end on July 31: An additional $600/week benefit for those on unemployment. It’s a number that is meant to turn the traditional notion of unemployment on its head—that instead of lowballing an out-of-work worker to light a fire under them to search for work, given the utter unavailability of work (or safe work), a bigger and more livable benefit was necessary to get us through a dark economic period.
The trouble is, we’re still in that dark period, and we have no idea how long it will be. Federal lawmakers are right now negotiating proposals and counter proposals for the HEALS Act (the GOP’s idea) or the HEROES Act (the Democrats’ version), a second stimulus package.
The latter would extend the extra federal unemployment benefit through Jan. 31. “That particular benefit has assisted Americans who need it most and kept the poverty rate from falling,” says U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, who co-signed a letter with 109 colleagues asking President Donal Trump to support extending the benefit.
What’s frustrating is that failed leadership landed us in this bleak situation, with rising case counts and no end in sight. Now we have to look to that leadership to navigate us out of the economic distress that comes with an out-of-control pandemic.
Meanwhile, I’m going to keep watching the Monterey Bay Aquairum’s jelly cam to soothe my nerves about the state of the world—for as long as there’s a jelly cam left to watch.
-Sara Rubin, editor, email@example.com