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COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the nation doubles down on cleaning

Justin Ho Mar 10, 2020
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Empty shelves might be an increasingly familiar sight. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the nation doubles down on cleaning

Justin Ho Mar 10, 2020
Empty shelves might be an increasingly familiar sight. Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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If you walked into a drugstore looking for hand sanitizer lately, chances are you walked out empty-handed. Nielsen estimates that hand sanitizer sales for the month ending February 29 were almost 130% higher than a year ago. 

With the coronavirus outbreak showing no signs of stopping, governments, businesses and people themselves have found themselves in the middle of a nationwide deep clean.

“I have some rubber gloves in my little bag, just in case,” said Felix Carayon, a subway rider in Manhattan. “I wash my hands a lot more often, especially after the subway.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority said it’s sanitizing its stations every night, and its entire fleet every three days. Public transit systems in Boston, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area also said they’re cleaning more.

Businesses are stepping up their own cleaning efforts, too.

“We’re encouraging our clients to wipe their own mats, providing a lot more wipes across studios in multiple locations,” said Helaine Knapp, founder and CEO of CITYROW, a boutique rowing studio with nine locations around the country.

The company has been cleaning more between classes and during off-hours. It also halted its cancellation fees.

“I think that these are precautionary measures we should be taking as a business,” Knapp said.

An employee at the eyeglass company Warby Parker said they’re sanitizing frames multiple times a day. Airlines are ramping up their overnight cleaning procedures. And regardless of all the shifting store policies right now, employees themselves are making sure their own workplaces are clean.

“I’m very aware of not touching anybody at this point, which is something that in the past might have seemed rude,” said Shawn O’Hale, a clerk at a home supply store in Manhattan.

But people in New York aren’t necessarily acting like they’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Most people are still grabbing subway poles with their bare hands. 

“I have to get from point A to point B, you know?” said Megan Culligan, a subway rider outside a station in Midtown Manhattan. “I have to take the subway. I feel like life still goes on.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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