COVID-19

What’s an “essential” business, and who decides?

Kristin Schwab Apr 27, 2020
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Golf courses in some parts of Florida are considered "essential." Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
COVID-19

What’s an “essential” business, and who decides?

Kristin Schwab Apr 27, 2020
Golf courses in some parts of Florida are considered "essential." Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Bob McNichols, general manager of Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona, is happy his golf course is considered essential. It means he still has a job. But he’s not so thrilled about the word “essential.” “I regret in a way that the category itself was named ‘essential businesses.’ And I understand that hospitals and other facilities are essential in a way that golf is not,” he said.

He gets it: of course people can live without golf. But it doesn’t mean they should. And many have been coming out to play at his course. “You play against yourself and you play against the course and you might be playing with other people, but there’s no need for physical contact.”

What does it take to be an “essential” business during the pandemic? In mid-March, the federal Department of Homeland Security outlined essential businesses including agriculture, construction and energy. But ultimately it’s up to individual states and cities to decide.

“Muddled and confused is how I would describe the reaction from small businesses,” said Elizabeth Milito at the National Federation of Independent Business, who has spent much of the last month on the phone with business owners going over state mandates.

Some mandates are written in clumsy legal jargon that’s hard to understand. And the reasoning behind a lot of the designations just doesn’t make sense. “Why outdoor construction, but not outdoor landscaping?” she said. “That has added to the confusion and frustration.”

And the rules are only going to get more confusing as states restart their economies because it won’t be a mass reopening, but a trickle. It will again be up to local governments to pick and choose who gets to open — and who can rehire workers. “There’s a way to do it thoughtfully and safely. But we do need to plan to start reopening,” Milito said.

For those that can reopen, it won’t be business as usual. So what will it look like?

“It’s a lot of nos. And it just feels awkward to tell our customers no,” said Jessie Jacobson, owner of Tonkadale Greenhouse in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “It’s the opposite of what customer service is.” No bathrooms, no shopping in groups, no more of that free buttery popcorn the customers love.

Because she could stay open, Jacobson was able to keep her staff on payroll. And her business is down just a bit. But the real test is coming — 40% of the store’s annual sales happen in May. “All of our spring product is timed to be ready for Mother’s Day,” she said. “Kind of what I like to call the ‘big show.’ “

Of course, many industries have their own versions of the big show in spring and summer. Whether they’ll be able to take the stage? That’s up to their local government.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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