Op-Ed | New data underscores why keeping retail open is the right decision

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As a small business owner in New York, I have been dealt a twin blow of a health and economic crisis. While the first COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in New York, the virus will still remain a concern for many families as we wait for the vaccine to become more widely available. Until then, we will need an approach that both contains any further spread of COVID-19 while also permitting those businesses that can operate safely to keep their doors open and help New Yorkers stay securely employed.

Since the pandemic first gripped our state in March, health experts have learned a lot about COVID-19 and what each of us can do to prevent its spread in our communities. Through my work with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the NYC MWBE Alliance, I have witnessed how our businesses have managed to keep in lockstep with health guidelines in order to safely reopen to customers and protect the jobs of countless workers across New York.

Retail businesses in particular have done this to great effect. They implemented mask-wearing rules for customers and employees early on, and combined this with strict observation of social distancing and capacity rules. Store owners across New York also stepped up sanitization efforts in order to further minimize the potential for the spread of COVID-19 in their stores, often at a great cost as we struggle to survive.

The complete economic closures in 2020 rattled New York’s business community, and many small businesses had no choice but to close for good. The loss of so many businesses cut off income for hard-working families across New York, which meant the state had worse post-shutdown job losses than nearly every other state in the U.S. These losses weighed especially heavily on hourly workers and minority communities, who rely on the jobs local retail businesses provide.

Business leaders are now warning that a new shutdown would have a similar impact, and it is one that would reverberate throughout New York’s most vulnerable communities. Shutting down businesses that can stay open safely, like retail stores, would effectively cut off a significant source of tax revenue that can be used to fund the social programs that those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic are depending on to get by.

It is important that Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio allow retail stores to remain open when weighing how they should craft New York’s ongoing measures to contain the virus. New figures released by Governor Cuomo’s office indicate that nearly three-quarters of the recent cases in New York have been spread at household gatherings, while fewer than one percent of new cases occurred at retail stores.

Additional new research conducted by Stanford University and Northwestern University backs up the notion that capacity limits can yield strong long-term benefits that will contain the spread of the virus while also going a long way toward limiting the economic risks that would be felt under a shutdown. With such compelling evidence, it is clear that keeping places like retail stores open is the right move. Rather than resorting to another full-scale shutdown, as some have suggested, they should follow what these findings show and allow retail stores that are following all the necessary health and safety rules to stay open

Following what the science is telling us about how COVID-19 spreads will empower New York businesses that can remain open safely to do so, and in the process save thousands of jobs across the state. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have so far recognized this and allowed retail to remain open, and they should maintain that course.

As we all await the end of the pandemic, our leaders must be sure to craft a response that utilizes what we have learned about how the virus is spreading and which allows the businesses that have been operating safely to keep their doors open. It is the smart path to follow, and one that will mitigate the risk for this pandemic to wreak further havoc on New York’s communities.

Tiffany Joy Murchison is the co-founder and Vice Chair of the NYC MWBE Alliance.

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