By: Tahirah Moore
When COVID-19 first began spreading in the U.S., it brought serious risks for our nation and families everywhere. It was an unfamiliar threat, and still is today.
The continuous work of health officials has enabled us to better grasp what we can do to prevent the virus' spread. Many local businesses in Brooklyn and NYC use that knowledge to operate their stores in a way that protects customer and employee safety while also providing goods and services for our communities. And we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Retail businesses have been at the forefront of adopting good public health practices since being allowed to reopen to the community. They swiftly implemented health and safety advice given by leading health experts. Stores now require customers and employees to wear a mask and have placed plexiglass shields between customers and retail workers. Stores have also placed signage on floors and walls to illustrate proper social distancing. Retailers have shown they are prepared to be an economic stimulus while responsibly combating the spread of COVID-19.
Research from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office reveals that these practices are effective in containing COVID-19's spread in New York. The numbers show that fewer than one percent of recent COVID-19 cases were attributable to exposure in retail stores, while household gatherings were responsible for a large majority of new cases. This reflects what I have been hearing from small business owners in Brooklyn's 36th council district.
New Yorkers saw small businesses close at record rates last year. New York State lost nearly 28 percent of its small businesses, according to Harvard University's database monitoring the economic impact of the pandemic. This caused compounding damage in communities throughout the state, and put many residents out of work in 2020.
By June, 2.5 million people in New York filed unemployment claims. The retail industry, and hourly workers in particular, took an enormous hit from business shutdowns. That research demonstrates retail stores' efforts to create a safe environment are effective. The right move would be to allow businesses that are taking the right precautions to stay open, and guard against a new wave of unemployment.
Job losses in New York and across the nation have come with an especially heavy cost for communities of color, which saw astronomical increases in unemployment this year. By enabling retail businesses that have shown they can operate safely to remain open, government leaders can help to mitigate some of this damage.
The pandemic has dealt considerable harm to New Yorkers, but it is possible to avoid another complete shutdown. Mounting evidence shows that such measures are not necessary for preserving public health. By implementing capacity limits rather than full shutdowns, cities and states can keep the virus from spreading while protecting against the significant economic toll of earlier shutdowns. Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio should keep this information in mind when shaping COVID-19 policies and allow retail stores to stay open.