April 29, 2020
Death by Social Distancing?
Imagine owning a small restaurant. You’ve worked hard as a small business owner and you’ve put in endless hours maximizing your space. There are times when business is slow, but on Friday and Saturday nights, you need every table. Now imagine that you have to operate in a way that only allows you to fill only a portion of your capacity. Before COVID you were doing ok, but with social distancing protocols your profits could be much less than what they were.
Then there are the extra provisions. Cleaning, door checks, staff to enforce PPE and handwashing. You’ve gone from take-out only to maybe half of your prior business. Which should be a step in the right direction, but is it? Until you can reopen to full capacity, there will be significant differences in staffing and patronage. How will you handle that? Prices would have to be raised, which would damage patronage.
Imagine owning a barber shop. At best, you’d be able to fill half your stations. Sure, you could decide to open 24 hours. You could beg, bribe, or threaten staff, stall renters, and clients to enjoy a 3:00 a.m. cut and color followed by a very early happy hour. And there are places where that might fly. I can think of two.
So, what of cutting staff to match the downtick in income? If it were a small percentage of businesses that needed to do that to remain solvent, it would be something we as a whole could deal with. But it won’t be. If social distancing protocols remain in place (as they should) when businesses begin to reopen, most venues will find themselves hampered.
While the idea that fewer staff should easily be able to handle fewer customers, seems obvious, what about the staff that don’t get to return to work because businesses cannot host (whether by law or conscience) the numbers they did before the virus? Because most of us are both employee and patron, every lay-off takes away a potential customer, probably from multiple business owners.
The economics of reopening seem dire for many small business owners. Our system is set up to allow maximum capacity, maximizing profits. The only way for many businesses to get back to normal is to find a way for people to safely share space again. Because the bottom line is, distancing, and testing at the door, and PPE are just not going to be sustainable for many businesses. Imagine you own Disney. Just the “Land.”
That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Now put aside your imaginary Scrooge McDuck money and think about the logistics of cleaning rides between passengers. Of how long it would take to put distance stickers on the ground all around the park. How you’ll manage to quickly and thoroughly sanitize Mickey and the Princesses between each family photo.
Whether your pre-COVID capacity was twenty or eighty-five thousand, the stress (financial and logistical) of additional safety measures in the face of limited capacity that leads to smaller financial intake is daunting.
If we assume that the antibodies from COVID will tend to protect us, antibody testing will prove integral to businesses surviving and thriving in the new world. However, that is a big assumption right now, because getting accurate numbers, not to mention ample tests will take time. But before we can ask patrons to once again embrace crowded situations, their safety needs to be demonstrable.
Stopgap measures such as temperature testing and point-of-sale virus testing could certainly provide reassurance of safety to both customers and staff. If the accuracy levels of the testing are high enough, we could conscionably allow much smaller distances than we currently do and perhaps come closer to “normal” numbers.
Even so, there are financial concerns. The money for testing has to come from somewhere. Part of moving forward will be figuring out what is financially feasible for both business owners and clientele. At first glance, it might seem that tacking an additional $40.00 per person onto a day at an amusement park that already costs $200.00 per person is an acceptable amount. Until you remember that translates to an additional $200.00 for a family of five. For some, this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Unfortunately, point-of-sale testing would not be a one-time expense. Anyone can unknowingly be exposed anytime they venture out. This means that someone who tested negative for the virus at breakfast, could have been exposed by the time they make it home. Contact tracing has promise, but the screams of objection are forming as fast as these words. However, it is something that should be considered for its potential benefits. A system that could anonymously keep track of when and where infected people have been would be a boon to public safety.
There are more questions than answers. Keep heart, many bright minds are working on solutions. Imagine we are in this together, and send us a ray from yours.