Reopening businesses in some states find few takers as people remain afraid to go out

As Texas, Georgia and other states begin to allow businesses to reopen after nearly two months of coronavirus shutdowns, many of those businesses are finding that most consumers are not yet ready to jump back into their previous habits. It’s confirmed – the lockdown is being lifted, but people are still making smart decisions.

It appears that reopening advocates were right – Americans can be trusted to remain cautious, government-enforced lockdown or no. 

At the Domain Mall in Austin, Texas, Reuters reported, some shops remain closed and others have had only a few customers throughout the day. Food courts are also nearly empty, even with social distancing measures in place that would limit patrons to 25 to 50% of the normal number.

People did go outside to parks and beaches over the weekend as temperatures in parts of Texas hit the 90s, according to Reuters, but police said most people seemed to observe social distancing there. Only one beach had to be closed down again because of crowds of youth that weren’t observing distancing there.

Georgia, which started reopening on April 24, had not seen a spike in cases since that time, and both new cases and deaths have continued to fall nearly two weeks later, with fewer than 10 new deaths reported on May 4. Unlike many states doing phased or partial reopenings, however, Georgia has allowed all businesses including hair and nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors to reopen if they take precautions to protect patrons and social distance.

The New Normal

Nationwide the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths has also begun to follow a downward trajectory, with charts showing a jagged line with some ups and downs but an overall drop in new cases in recent weeks.

Still, polls have shown that Americans are still afraid of resuming normal activities, with the most recent Reuters/IPSOS poll registering that only 17% of people plan to attend a large gathering like a sporting event or live concert before a vaccine becomes available. Even among those who have attended sporting events in the past, 39% said they would not do so again without a vaccine.

Polls about whether people are willing to return to shopping, salon services or dine-in restaurants are now several weeks old and may not still be accurate, but the emptiness of many such establishments seem to indicate that the reluctance still exists in full force.

The most recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland showed that 67% would still be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store and 78% would be uncomfortable eating in a restaurant, but these numbers should not deter businesses from reopening when they can only do so at 25% capacity right now anyway.

Going to take time

People are going to need some time to adjust to reopened businesses, and the sooner everything gets started reopening, the sooner a time will come when people are willing to once again participate in the economy in a similar way to how they did before the outbreak.

The importance of restarting the non-essential economy cannot be overestimated. The New York Times reported that more than 40% of the U.S.’s 30 million small businesses may close permanently because of the pandemic, according to a poll conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In reality, every day these businesses are forced to remain shut down brings them one day closer to shutting down forever. State governments are killing off these businesses because they think re-opening will lead to a spike in cases, but the facts show this is not likely to be the case.

At least, I hope that an unreasonable fear of a spike in cases is the reason they refuse to re-open. Otherwise, they are bringing on economic catastrophe for what could be a far less altruistic reason, like the desire for a poor economy because they think it will give their party an advantage in the November election.

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