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I keep returning to a modified line from a Monty Python sketch, "Nobody expects the plague!" We simply couldn't know or understand the implications and far-reaching consequences of such a happening; it's not in our living memory and the nearest, polio or whooping cough seems, by human standards, long ago. The far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the proportions, at least on some levels, of a plague.

I work for a convention center and, pre-pandemic, my co-worker and I were playfully kicking around a conversation one day in which we said to each other, blithely unaware, "We'll never want for work, we work in the hospitality industry and people will always want to go and see and do and eat out, to travel and convene. They'll always want to get away, attend conventions, see plays and be out and about. It's good to be in this industry when so many other businesses are working their tails off to make ends meet. ... " But, "we never expected (the plague)!"

Now we know how very, deeply wrong we were in our imagined safety. Here, on the level of a microcosm, I've seen 21 of my compatriots lose their jobs, I live in fear I may join their ranks soon enough. I'm heartbroken when I think of their struggles. I've spent time in tears for them. It's a full 35% ... more than a quarter of our workforce gone, and that's just at my job. Across the nation, leisure and hospitality lost nearly 500,000 of its brothers and sisters to unemployment. Those are deep numbers in service industries which, amid rising tensions of stress, place gross hardships on other members of service-minded Americans -- police, health care, teachers -- all of us who serve.

And that's all we really want to do. Serve you. Protect you. Care for you. Entertain you. Prepare you for the future. Help businesses meet, brainstorm, grow and prosper so that they may in turn, help us to continue to serve. It's a circle that's broken and hemorrhaging and I fear the tide won't turn soon enough for us to recover our vocations. We don't just have jobs ... we have vocations, we're called and compelled to serve in our own way and now we need your help in the most dire way.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics will show deep and wide losses this year. This decline has already sharply offset gains accrued during the previous two years. Here at my job, the close to two-thirds drop reflects the numbers of the nation. I know this is not about me. It is about all of us.

While Arkansas has spectacular, socially distanced leisure in the summer months -- chances to get out and not mingle; this will not be the case come winter, and not to be overly dramatic but in popular parlance, "winter is coming." I'm sure my theater roots will be evident when I say to you, "now (will be) the winter of our discontent."

According to a report released by the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, we are ripe to see smaller metro and non-metro areas struggle with sharp declines and prolonged economic pain. This will take careful husbandry and forward-looking in order to survive and even longer to thrive.

We will never recoup what we've already lost. However, with aid we may stay afloat long enough to weather these times and with luck and good management, again sail freely in a healthy economy. We are calling for aid and if our state of Arkansas cannot assist us, it may be a long time, if ever, before we can again assist and provide services on which everyone has come to rely. Please consider helping us to survive that we may continue the rich tradition of service which is a hallmark of Arkansas and beyond.

Emily Parker has been a sales administrative assistant for Visit Hot Springs for eight years.

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