Avoiding Retail Shutdowns Is Key to COVID Recovery


While the exact division of power in the U.S. Senate is yet to be determined, we do know Democrats will control the House and that Joe Biden is on track to become the 46th president. Throughout the campaign, the biggest issue looming in voters’ minds was the continued threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s one that Biden has vowed to make a priority, having already named several members of his coronavirus response team.

As federal, state and local officials work to address new spikes in COVID-19 cases, it is vital that the next administration recognize what health experts have determined to be the leading source of new outbreaks – private household gatherings — and plan accordingly. Otherwise, they risk inflicting more harm on local economies and making it more difficult for Americans to navigate these challenging times. 

Above all, the next administration must avoid advocating for the kinds of broad, indiscriminate shutdowns that were put in place across the country earlier this year. After state and local officials began implementing large-scale shutdowns, unemployment rose as businesses closed and the U.S. economy spiraled into a recession. This downturn had a disproportionately significant impact on America’s most vulnerable, as low-wage workers and minority communities suffered more than others. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already pointed to household gatherings as the biggest contributor to new cases of COVID-19, while there is currently no evidence pointing to indoor shopping centers, retail businesses, and similar companies as the sources of new outbreaks.

In fact, shopping centers and retail businesses have been among the most assiduous in following experts’ guidelines. Early on, these businesses adopted rules requiring customers and employees to wear a mask at all times while in a store, and went to great lengths to encourage proper social distancing. Employees work to enforce these rules, and signage on walls, floors and check-out lanes remind customers of the importance of standing at least six feet from others. Thanks to this work, customers can safely shop for the goods they need to get through this pandemic, and employees can continue paying their bills and providing for their families.  

Government leaders across the country have recognized these efforts, and many businesses have been able to safely resume operations without the threat of more shutdowns hanging over their heads. For example, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently gave permission to indoor shopping malls to begin reopening. On the other side of the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been taking gradually more targeted approaches in responding to outbreaks, en route to what hopefully will be a complete reopening for indoor businesses soon. 

While some local leaders have allowed more businesses to reopen, others, unfortunately, are risking their local economies and the long-term sustainability of their communities by closing businesses again. For example, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued a sudden order recently which required businesses to shut down based on arbitrary government standards of what goods and services are “essential” for families. This is a dangerous move that could harm small businesses and workers.

As Biden and his team evaluate how best to handle the pandemic, I hope they will recognize the success that elected officials have had in allowing indoor retail businesses to reopen, and the lengths to which these businesses have gone to comply with all COVID-19 protocols. 

America’s business community has long been the backbone of our economy, and I have no doubt it will similarly be the foundation for our economic recovery from this pandemic. That will only be possible, however, if the president and those around him refrain from putting new, unnecessary restrictions on the businesses that are working hardest to keep us safe.  

Savannah Shoemake is a Democratic activist who served as a youth campaign coordinator for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

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