April 17, 2020
Finding What’s Right
The argument can certainly be made that the individual is more prone to contemplation of moral dilemmas than are businesses. People are (hopefully) taught to consider right and wrong, to think of others, to consider the greater good. Businesses are meant to turn a profit. That’s not to say that businesses don’t make decisions that have ethical components. However, the question of how best to reopen businesses while ensuring public safety is new ground that will require many minds to find the best solutions.
There is an obligation to offer and enforce the highest level of safety possible. That means good safety protocols, the most appropriate and quality PPE possible for anyone in your venue, and backup plans prepared for use if necessary. And they will be necessary. In the wake of COVID-19, businesses will be put in a position of not only doing their best to provide what the customer wants, but doing their best to provide what the customer needs. A safe place to patronize. Some of it will be simple. Some of it will be embraced. But there will be instances where the people a business is trying to protect will rail against that protection.
We have talked here about different avenues of protection and how some will be more appropriate than others for certain venues. But assuming for a moment that any given venue has access to the most appropriate means of protections for customers, what will they do in the face of non-compliance?
Preventing entry is simple enough, but as anyone who has dealt with the public knows, not all patrons respond to restrictions in an ideal way. In spite of mandates, there are still people choosing to venture out without face masks. There are a number of people who don’t think COVID-19 is a serious threat. There are an alarming number of people (because any number is alarming in this case) who think the entire thing is a hoax. Some of these people are bound to be patrons. There will surely be potential customers who are convinced they are uninfected. And it must be kept in mind that an irate client who happens to be carrying the virus isn’t just making everyone else uncomfortable when they’re yelling, they are actively spewing infection around your venue. Reopening businesses will need to know how they will deal with instances of non-compliance before they occur.
Even protecting compliant clientele is rife with complexities. Let’s go back to the idea of PPE standards. Different masks have varying levels of effectiveness. While something is better than nothing, if a minimum standard is established, venues should ethically adhere to that standard. In this case, should masks be provided by the business? Many customers will want to use their own. Unfortunately, a bandana (an item that many are using as face masks) will not provide the same protection as a well-fitting mask designed for viral protection. And even if a mask passes muster visually, in other words, if it looks like a mask and only a mask, there will still be a question of its quality. The only way a business operator will be able to ethically offer assurance to clients is to provide the masks for them.
Proper behavior must also be enforced. Touching on the masks once again, the number of people wearing them with their noses poking out the top is astounding. Because clients will be placing themselves in the care of the venues they patronize, it becomes the venue’s responsibility to ensure that protocols are being properly enforced. Delicate though it may be, thanks to COVID-19 that will include policing how clients are wearing their PPE. Clients must be required to adhere to proper sanitary behavior as well. For businesses such as restaurants, face masks are not feasible, (except for staff) therefore an exceptional standard must be placed on behavior. Will a coughing or sneezing client need to be removed? Will it come to the point where venues will need to employ handwashing monitors in restrooms for the safety of all?
By now, most are aware that testing is becoming more available. Earlier this week, passengers on an Emirates flight going from Dubai to Tunisia were tested for antibodies to COVID-19 before boarding. While this testing is appropriate, it would probably be more appropriate to test passengers to determine whether any were carrying the virus. When putting a large group of people into a small space for an extended period of time, it seems more relevant to identify infection than immunity. Of course, testing for both would be ideal.
This goes for other venues as well, but again, there are ethical considerations. But what is the best process for testing at the door? Privacy for starters. Any customer that consents to point-of-sale testing (whether diagnostic or antibody) should be protected from having their results become obvious to other clientele that are present. This adds a layer of complexity to the possibility of testing at the door. Many businesses will need to consider how to handle a queue of people during the testing process. Of course, precautions could be employed in layers. Customers could be scanned for temperature before being allowed to exit their cars. In some instances, they could even be tested in their cars. But if we are to assume that ethical responsibility for patrons starts when they present themselves for admission, and it seems clear that we should, then we cannot allow unrestricted congregation even before people pass through the door.
The idea of immunity identification has been circulating. If perfected, this would be a significant potential asset to business owners. Patrons that carry proof of immunity could be spared some of the rigmarole, and they would certainly expect that courtesy. But what of those who don’t have immunity? The fact that someone has not been exposed to the virus may mean they were just lucky, but it may mean that they have been more conscientious regarding shelter-in-place and PPE protocols. It seems clearly unethical to discriminate against those who have not developed antibodies, yet they will need greater protections than those who have, which may translate to greater costs for businesses.
In addition to the potential cost of COVID-19 protection equipment, what about the idea that we should probably never go back to the practice of packing humans like sardines into any venue? Again, this raises the question of money and the customer. What portion of money lost because of lower capacity should be made up by customers, and what portion should ethically come out of a business’s profits? There is no across-the-board answer. A sandwich shop that takes in $9.37 on its average transaction is incapable of shouldering the cost of point-of-sale diagnostic testing. Conversely, most potential customers would not balk at paying an additional $30.00-50.00 for testing before hopping on a cruise ship or an airplane. But do let us cut out the additional bag fees.
The first step is discussion. What would be most effective in your venue? What is within reach for your venue? Let us know your thoughts.