First phase of reopening should include food courts, construction, farm businesses


Illustration by Kathleen Hetherington.

The devastating effects of the coronavirus on public health urged states to issue stay-at-home mandates and enforce social distancing, especially in places where people congregate the most.

Although some states are still under threat and have extended their lockdown, others have started easing their social distancing orders. For a while, only a handful of businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmaceuticals, were the only businesses allowed to run based upon people’s dependence on food and medicines. Once the restrictions on the mobility of people outside their homes loosen, states can add more businesses to the list of essential businesses.

This does not mean, however, that we have been successful at overcoming the virus. We have to be more cautious while restarting the operations of various businesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to reopen businesses, the state and regional hospitalization rate must be in decline for 14 days. States should pay close attention to this fact before deciding to resume business operations.

Even if all the criteria are met, protection of employee health, large crowd prevention of large and personal safety measures such as face masks should be enforced by essential businesses. Failing to do so could have severe consequences. A new wave of infections could flare up, resulting in another lockdown and loss of lives. 

Yet we should not be afraid to expand the essential businesses active right now. Construction and manufacturing activities could be considered essential businesses in states that have eased coronavirus restrictions. These businesses do not necessarily have their employees gather around the public and would not be at high risk for spreading the virus.

Food courts and restaurants that are closed might not be able to start their full operations immediately, but they can follow in the footsteps of fast-food chains that have an option of takeout orders and curbside pickup to minimize the contact between consumers and employees. Doing so could help the restaurants ease their financial burden and prevent them from going bankrupt. This decision will also help to reduce the record number of unemployment claims as more workers get hired. 

Stores that offer services for food cultivation, farming, livestock and fishing should be able to resume their service in the preliminary phase of reopening. These also could be considered low-risk, thus reducing the likelihood of contamination. We could soon see a disruption in the food circulation in our markets if we halt the farming activities for a long time. Thus, it would be a prudent move to reopen these businesses.
The list of businesses that should be considered essential is small, but this should be the way to go. It is certainly unethical for us to choose the economy over public health. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University, said, “People have set up a false dichotomy with the economy on one hand and public health on the other.” It is obvious that our lives come before the economy. Without taking a huge risk that keeps our health in jeopardy, states could open only a few businesses that should be deemed essential as the lockdown eases.