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UNO professor discusses economic impact of the coronavirus in Omaha

Posted at 6:10 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 19:10:23-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The cornonavirus continues to spread across the country.

Nationally, there are 149 coronavirus cases with 11 deaths so far and nine people are still being held under quarantine at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. A common question residents are asking is how Omaha's economy could be effected by the coronavirus.

"In terms of the Omaha economy, we have not seen anything which has been a major problem linked directly to the virus," said Dr. Chris Decker, an economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Dr. Decker said the coronavirus is having a similar effect on the economy as the SARS virus did in the early 2000's. He expects the long-term effects to be limited.

"That doesn't mean it's serious, of course it's serious, but usually vigilance and time help the economy smooth out," Decker said.

In two weeks college basketball fans will turn their attention to Omaha for the rounds of 64 and 32 of the men's NCAA tournament. Decker said visitors from out of the area are extremely important to major events like that.

"If there is sufficient concern for the purposes of traveling to Omaha for the event, that could reduce the impact that the event could have on the city," Decker said.

The NCAA Tournament isn't the only major event coming to Omaha over the next few months. The city is hosting the College World Series, Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meetings and the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. The cancellations of any of these events could have a major toll of the Omaha economy.

"People come here from outside of Omaha, they spend money, they stimulate demand for hotels, restaurants and retail establishments," Decker said. "If that spending doesn't occur, that can reduce growth in those sectors in our economy."

Over the last few days the cornonavirus has taken a hit on the financial sector. The Dow dropped Friday before skyrocketing back up Monday. However, don't expect anything major to impact the Omaha market.

"Our economy is pretty diverse, we have a lot of good sectors, employment tends to be steady," Decker said. "At the moment I don't see any reason to be concerned about any major events in our economy."

So far none of the major events in Omaha have been canceled and fans as of now will still be able to attend the NCAA Tournament. Dr. Decker said UNO administrators are already discussing plans on how to run classes if students can't physically be on campus if the virus continues to spread.