As we move toward winter and eagerly await access to a vaccine, discussions about how to address potential new spikes in COVID-19 cases are occurring around the country. In framing these responses, it is critical that leaders at every level of government take stock of all we have learned about this virus and avoid actions that risk putting hard-working Americans in a precarious economic position going into the new year.
The most important part will be avoiding large-scale business shutdowns similar to those earlier this year. While those closures bought valuable time for our health care professionals to better learn how to handle the pandemic, we now know enough to continue a safe reopening without shutdowns that endanger small businesses and the communities that depend on them.
Thanks to the tireless, round-the-clock efforts of health officials, we understand the necessary social distancing protocols and the importance of mask-wearing in public spaces. The business community has been key in promoting and carrying out these practices, which play a vital part in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and preventing outbreaks.
Retail stores and indoor shopping centers are good examples. Business owners and their employees have been diligent in enforcing social distancing and mask rules and have gone above and beyond to keep stores sanitary. Because of this, Americans have been able to safely return to in-person shopping and buying.
These businesses have scrupulously followed health guidelines, and in some cases even implemented new ones, – and they should not be punished with blanket actions that severely hamper their ability to operate or force them to close.
Doing so could spell the end for countless businesses and only further disturb an already shaky jobs market, something that would particularly harm low-income Americans and people who rely on hourly retail jobs. Furthermore, we have already seen that the economic fallout from this pandemic especially harms our country’s communities of color, with Black Americans experiencing disproportionately high rates of unemployment. The risks are so great that now the World Health Organization is also warning against further shutdowns.
Americans cannot afford for government officials to fall back on the same responses they did earlier this year, when they based shutdowns on nebulous definitions of “essential” services, often overlooking many vital industries. If we are to come out of this crisis on stable footing, we will need to target the actual sources of outbreaks, rather than close broad swaths of businesses.
Leaders across the country have shown how businesses can reopen safely. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, for example, successfully allowed indoor stores in the area to reopen with the proper safety protocols. Now, it is important that leaders in other areas that have begun issuing new stay-at-home guidance, including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, refrain from forcing businesses to close down again, as was attempted by El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego before it was stopped.
While the winter months will pose new challenges in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, we are better equipped to handle them and to position our businesses and their employees to operate successfully. The actions we take in the next several months will shape our long-term economic recovery, and forcing businesses that have taken all the necessary steps to keep people safe to shut down again will only make that path to recovery longer.