We’re only 10 days from the first hesitant steps toward reopening Connectiut’s economy as I write this, and man, I am nervous about it. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, I’m not the only one, either. Fifty-nine percent of voters think Connecticut should wait “months or longer” to reopen the economy, as opposed to 38% who think it should be within the next few weeks.
Even if we do reopen, which it looks like we will, nobody’s all that interested in going out for a drink or to grab a bite. Seventy-two percent in Connecticut said they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a restaurant or a bar if restrictions were to be lifted in the next few weeks. A whopping 83% wouldn’t be comfortable going to a large gathering or sporting event.
As for going back to work, Connecticut residents are split. When asked if they’d feel comfortable going to a workplace outside the home, 48% said they would be, while 45% said they wouldn’t.
That’s bad news for the economy, of course, but 71% of Connecticut residents told the pollsters it was more important to keep people home and safe. And 76% said more testing needs to be done to even start thinking about lifting stay-at-home orders.
To put it another way, people in Connecticut know we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, but they vastly prefer that the state not reopen at all until things are a lot safer — even if it means economic disaster.
With that as background, good news everyone! We’re starting to reopen the economy, slowly and carefully, on May 20.
The governor has released a set of strict rules for reopening certain sectors of the economy starting that day. Those sectors are: retail and malls, offices, museums/zoos, restaurants, and hair salons/barbershops.
These are interesting choices. Offices, retail, restaurants, sure. I get those, though I have a ton of concerns. But museums? Hairdressers? Those I am less sure about. How badly do you need a haircut?
Each sector has different rules. Museums and restaurants are to be outdoor only, with all inside areas still closed to the public. Restaurants must have their outdoor tables at least six feet apart, and employees will need to do thorough cleaning, wear masks and stagger shifts. Retail is supposed to put up barriers to protect employees at the registers, close fitting rooms, encourage contactless payment, and have signage encouraging customers to be six feet apart. Offices are supposed to be separated into zones for those employees who can’t work from home. Employees are to wear masks and hand sanitizer will be made available at the entrance.
Hair salons and barbershops are to be appointment-only, with waiting areas closed. All tools must be sanitized between appointments. Employees must wear “face shields and a face mask” or some other cloth face covering. Blow-drying will be forbidden.
In all cases, customers are to wear face masks.
This is happening in concert with efforts by the state to increase testing and contact tracing. The hope is that businesses can start to try to earn money again while still keeping employees and the public as safe as possible. It’s about as good a plan as we can get, considering everything that’s going on.
I’ve gotta say, though, I’m still worried.
So much of the burden will be on employees, many of whom are low-wage retail and restaurant workers, to keep themselves and the public safe. To them will fall the task of constant cleaning of the space and of equipment. They’ll be the ones interacting with customers all day, and they’ll be the ones who have to choose between going to work and potentially exposing themselves and staying home and going broke.
The possibility of an increase in cases as soon as we lift the lid even a little bit is very real. We can take all kinds of precautions and still end up with more people infected. At that point, we may need to shut down again.
And lastly, what if we open up the economy but no customers show up? If the polls are right, people would rather keep things locked down than risk more infections.
I know this must be an incredibly difficult decision for the governor. He has to balance public safety against an economic disaster the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1929. Caution is absolutely warranted, and that’s what these plans are calling for.
As for me, I’m not going out to eat or to the mall anytime soon.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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