The coronavirus will be with us for the foreseeable future. The shutdown we have been struggling with has been painful, inconvenient and sad. We have seen loved ones and pillars of our communities die suddenly of a virus no one knew about a year ago.
Classes are being held online, and graduations have been canceled. Businesses deemed non-essential were ordered closed overnight. Thirty-six million Americans — two million of them in New York — have applied for unemployment benefits. There is no precedent for the devastation of our local economy.
The silver lining is that the shutdown lowered the curve, as intended. A few weeks ago, my daily updates from the Nassau County Department of Health included the danger of hospitals being overwhelmed because of a shortage of ventilators, the county morgue being filled beyond capacity and the county running out of body bags. Today those dangers have been alleviated.
There was a daily effort to ensure that the brave men and women who were on the front lines, battling the effects of this virus — doctors, nurses, police officers, ambulance drivers and other first responders — had the necessary equipment to protect themselves and their families. This effort extended to getting PPE to those who were working in essential businesses, like supermarkets and funeral homes.
The question now is, when will we be able to reopen other businesses? I agree that opening too early may pose a danger to our health, but opening too late poses a danger as well, and I’m afraid that is what we are starting to experience now. I have already heard from business owners who will be closing their doors for good. I shudder as I drive past so many that have been unable to open in any capacity since March. I understand the need to limit the number of people exposed to this horrible virus, but when do we get to be personally responsible again?
We have learned the importance of social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks to limit the spread of Covid-19. We have learned about mitigating the risks as much as possible, and for the most part, we have been respectful of one another. Signs in essential businesses remind us of how customers and employees can protect themselves and others.
So why aren’t we allowing other businesses to do that as well? If someone can make an appointment to buy a car, why can’t they make an appointment to get their hair cut, using the same precautions? It seems to me that barbershops and hair salons are a great example of businesses that can open safely under specific, stringent guidelines: wear masks and gloves, and limit the number of customers allowed inside. That’s it. If the guidelines aren’t followed, a business owner runs the risk of being shut down.
Restaurants should similarly be able to reopen with limited capacity, if that’s even profitable for them, and for many it won’t be. But without the option of reopening before we reach seemingly random benchmarks, these businesses face losing thousands of dollars a day. Every “shut-down” day brings them one day closer to closing forever.
Many municipalities are developing a “circuit breaker” approach to reopening, in which a shutdown would be reinstituted if there were a sudden surge in Covid cases. That protocol could easily be put in place. Perhaps it will be, but when?
Small business owners are our neighbors, and many are active in our communities, sponsoring our Little Leagues and community events. And many of them have told me they may never reopen if we don’t provide them with a way to do so in a smart, effective and safe manner now — not a month from now. They understand that if they don’t take safety precautions, there are customers who won’t enter their stores or utilize their services, which will only result in more lost revenue.
Some people will not go out to any store until they feel completely safe. That’s their prerogative as well. It’s a personal choice, and I believe we’re all ready to make those kinds of choices.
I don’t disagree that if we start to see a resurgence of coronavirus cases, we will have to make adjustments. But give us the opportunity to get back to living some semblance of the lives we used to live. Let’s get back to feeling in control and safe again, because we will be vigilant about safety, and expect — and even demand — that of others.
Wear a mask, wear gloves, cover yourself from head to toe if that makes you feel safest. When the vaccine is finally available, it will be a game-changer. But let people make up their own minds, so we can get back to business before our economy reaches the point of no return.
Laura Schaefer is a Nassau County legislator representing the 14th District.