By Skip Carlson
In 1918, the world was fighting the Great Influenza, a pandemic that killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people. As I prepared to become the chair of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce in 2021, I wish that I could have spoken to those business leaders who formed the chamber back then. I would have appreciated any advice they could have offered about dealing with a pandemic.
But like most of us, there was no one with firsthand knowledge of that pandemic to help guide us through this one. We had to figure it out ourselves; for our families, our businesses, and the community we all love. We were all in some way flying a plane while building it.
Under the leadership of Kevin Hedley, our 2020 chair, I think this past year was perhaps our Chamber’s finest moment.
The Chamber provided relentless communication about the resources and data that really mattered. The Chamber promoted the Stronger Together campaign and lived this mantra as it forged a collaboration with Discover Saratoga, the City Center, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and the Saratoga Springs DBA.
The Chamber was a beacon of hope working to Save Our Locals and to answer thousands of questions that arose as our economy was shut down and later reopened.
Throughout the last year, the Chamber often reminded us of the city’s motto: Health. History. Horses. Here in Saratoga, health has always come first. Now with vaccines available and more doses on the way, we’re finally turning a corner. We now have an opportunity not to just slow the spread of the virus but to stop it. As we work toward that day, we have to remember to put our health first.
The full reopening of our local economy cannot take place until we achieve herd immunity. That’s why the Chamber’s number one goal is to encourage people to get vaccinated when it is offered to them.
We’ve partnered with Saratoga Hospital to celebrate those who choose to get vaccinated with an
‘I Got the Shot” promotion. We hope seeing your friends, family, neighbors and people you trust in the community getting the shot will inspire everyone to follow their lead. Getting the shot puts our collective health first. It sets the stage for reopening our economy.
Last year, thanks to the work of Mind Genomics, we commissioned a survey of 3,000 people who want to visit Saratoga. They all wanted to visit again. But twenty-nine percent suggested they would not return until a vaccine was available. Similar percentages said they would feel safer if they saw employees wearing masks. There was a clear preference for outdoor venues and taking part in outdoor activities.
This could mean that a safe reopening of our economy also likely includes attempting to ensure all residents and visitors that we’re putting their health first in very visible ways. Businesses may want to clean and disinfect their public facilities in as visible a way as possible. In some sectors like health care and food service, public confidence may be improved if employees continue to wear masks.
We might consider continuing to use Zoom and remote working as a way to keep our employees safe. This pandemic has forced us to rethink so much.
As an eternal optimist myself, I’d like to focus on the positive lessons. We must continue to realize that we will always be Stronger Together. We should always do our part to support our local businesses and local nonprofits.
We really should put health first not just to stop a pandemic but to prevent the spread of all viruses. Putting these lessons into action is the way to reopen our economy. It’s what the Saratoga County Chamber has done this past year and will continue to do. We’re here to help everyone. That’s how we will survive and be able to thrive once again.