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Coronavirus news and updates about the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

BizWorthy: Even Doctors Aren’t Immune From Furloughs Amid Pandemic

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Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Here’s a profession seeing layoffs amid the coronavirus pandemic that’s surprising: doctor. The cuts come as hospitals have shifted much of their resources to fighting COVID-19 and increasing telehealth, while scaling back on nonessential procedures. Hospitals also say fewer patients are coming for in treatment unrelated to the coronavirus out of fear they may contract the virus. 

For more on this and other business news we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

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Marshall Terry: Tony, are these jobs that will come back once the pandemic is over?

Tony Mecia: I think, Marshall, in many cases, yes, these jobs will come back. We're in a unique time right now in a lot of different ways. And it's really it's sort of odd to think that we're in the middle of a health crisis, but the number of health care jobs is declining. But the reason for that is you recall about a month ago, the hospitals and doctors offices started gearing up for what they anticipated by now would be a huge surge of patients with coronavirus. That, for the most part, hasn't really materialized. And also, public health officials said we need to stay at home, and people largely have obeyed that.

The problem for the health care industry is a lot of those people are actually staying home and not going to the hospital and not going to doctors' offices. Yes, a lot of them are doing telemedicine and virtual visits when they can, but the volumes of patients going in to medical facilities has really dropped quite precipitously. And so what that means is the doctors' offices don't need as many people in their offices. Even emergency rooms are seeing some cutbacks. I talked to a doctor who works at a community hospital in a county next to Mecklenburg, and she said the ER volume of patients was down by about half and that when you have half the number of patients, you need half the number of physicians.

So, you know, it is sort of odd. You're seeing cutbacks in health care at a time when health care is sort of on the front burner. But, you know, it's really sort of a reflection of the odd times that we're living in.

Terry: Charlotte is known as a banking center, but its health care sector has been growing. It sounds like that's still probably going to be happening -- it's just that the brakes are getting pumped a little bit right now.

Mecia: Yeah, I mean, some of the local economists that look at North Carolina's economy have come out in the last week or two and said certainly, hiring is on pause in many cases right now in a lot of these different industries. A lot of people are sort of waiting to see how this shakes out, how much longer this will all go on for. I think health care long term is a pretty good place to be. You're still going to have people getting sick. You still have a population that's aging that needs all sorts of medical services. And so, you know, I think the longer term outlook is pretty good. But in the short term, there are definitely some challenges.

Terry: Let's shift now to the ongoing battle over when to reopen businesses. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster this week allowed some businesses to reopen. Here in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said he'll announce details this week on how to gradually ease restrictions on businesses. Any idea of what he might do?

Mecia: Well, if you look at what's gone on in some of these other Southern states, and it's really states that are fairly close to North Carolina -- South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee -- they're starting to make some moves toward reopening some of these retail businesses that have been closed and that have previously been deemed nonessential. We're talking about businesses like florists, craft stores, book stores, those sorts of things. And they say, well, they can put it in social distancing measures that are similar to what you would find in a grocery store or a pharmacy in North Carolina nowadays. And so I think you are going to see pressure applied in North Carolina for some of those same sorts of things.

There's going to be probably a little bit of reluctance to do that in places like Mecklenburg County, that really want people staying at home and not going out more than they have to. But I think statewide, I think you are going to see some moves in that direction.

Terry: It can be an advantage for businesses in South Carolina close to the border right now, right? I mean, I imagine they'll be getting shoppers from North Carolina who are itching to get out.

Mecia: They definitely will. You know, we've posted one of our articles on this on a Ballantyne Facebook group earlier this week. And there was a very heated discussion about whether people should be going out and shopping in South Carolina. Some people were saying, "I'm definitely going, I definitely need to get out of the house and I need some things from down there." And other people are saying, "Don't be foolish, don't be dumb. You should stay at home." So, you know, there's a big debate really over that. I think if you spent any time down there along 521 in Indian Land, usually here's a lot of traffic. I happened to be out there last weekend and there was still a lot of traffic. And so there are people out shopping. There's going to definitely be a bunch of people from North Carolina heading across the border.

Terry: The hundreds of billions of dollars in small business administration loans as part of the federal coronavirus relief bill have already dried up. Do you know if the majority of Charlotte businesses that applied for those loans were able to get one?

Mecia: There are no great statistics on this at the local level. The SBA has said that in North Carolina, about 40,000 businesses were approved for the loans. I can just tell you, anecdotally, talking to a lot of small business owners, I found a few that were approved, but it seems like most of them were not. And this whole program, as we've talked about in the past, Marshall, it really came out very quickly. The banks didn't quite have time to gear up. There were a lot of glitches in the applications. And now it's seeming like the people who got the money versus those who didn't get the money, it all happened to be on what was your relationship like with your bank? Some banks were better positioned than others. And so it was sort of a little bit of a mess. You know, you have haves and have-nots. A lot of people equally deserving, but some received the money and some didn't. And they're talking about extending it in Washington, another round of it, just because the needs are so great.