The initial outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year brought just about every aspect of our daily lives to a grinding halt. Unsure of how to keep the virus from spreading, local and state governments across the U.S. enacted broad, strict shutdown orders while health experts worked out a way for us all to ease back into public life without risking another spike in case numbers.
Our understanding of the COVID-19 threat has thankfully come a long way since then, as medical professionals have designed social distancing protocols, mask-wearing guidelines, and sanitization practices to enable businesses across the country to begin reopening in a safe manner. Despite this, the potential for a new wave of COVID-19 over the coming winter months has raised concerns across the nation that lawmakers will attempt to institute more lockdowns in a similar vein to those we saw back in March and April.
It is vital for communities across the U.S. that local and state officials resist the urge to institute more sweeping shutdowns. Adhering to the advice of public health experts, indoor businesses like retail shops and malls have gone to commendable lengths to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their stores. By installing prominent markers indicating proper social distancing for customers, thoroughly cleaning public spaces, and carefully enforcing facemask rules, retail stores and indoor shopping centers have led the way in putting health experts’ guidance into practice.
Now, these efforts could help to ignite the spark of an economic recovery for our nation while also protecting public health and avoiding further outbreaks. Millions of Americans rely on retail stores and similar businesses for employment, particularly workers who depend on an hourly wage. Closing businesses down again would risk cutting off a key source of employment for people throughout the country and pushing the nation back toward recession. With such a great risk facing America’s most vulnerable communities, we must recognize that broad shutdowns are not the answer.
Another shutdown would be particularly devastating for minority communities, who have already shouldered a significant burden from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Additional shutdowns would doubtlessly drive more retail stores, shopping centers, and other related businesses to close for good, worsening the unsustainable unemployment we’ve witnessed among communities of color in the U.S.
That is why, when preparing for a potential winter uptick in COVID-19 cases, lawmakers should focus their attention on targeting the actual sources of new outbreaks instead of construing vague, arbitrary standards of what types of businesses are “essential” to the needs of Americans. Rather than creating strict new measures for businesses, as leaders like Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy have with their recent COVID-19 restrictions, we must follow the blueprints for safe re-openings which have been implemented in other areas of the U.S.
For example, in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors began allowing businesses like indoor shopping centers that abide by the proper health precautions to reopen earlier this fall. In order to ensure that this progress continues and California is able to successfully get through this crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom and other local leaders who have been exploring rolling back re-openings must instead recognize the lengths that many businesses have taken in order to operate safely. Keeping these businesses open will be a vital step toward protecting California’s communities and ensuring they can weather the pandemic without further economic damage.
In areas that have implemented more stringent measures both here and abroad, businesses are already feeling the effects. In Toronto, for example, business leaders are warning existing shutdown measures will harm businesses of all sizes and are calling on Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott to allow retail stores to reopen to safe shopping.
With safe re-openings in this mold, we can protect American jobs and sustain our economy. The benefits will go beyond just boosting employment, too, given that the tax revenues from these businesses help to support the social programs that are aiding families in need amidst the pandemic. Retail stores and other businesses have demonstrated that a safe reopening for retail is not only possible, it is already underway.
The widespread shutdowns earlier this year, while an important emergency measure to contain a new and unfamiliar crisis, were devastating for countless families and created mass uncertainty as to how people would get by. Now, however, we have the blueprint for reopening the economy safely while also mitigating the spread of the virus, and it is a plan we must not abandon.