Op-Ed: Supporting Our Businesses Through the COVID Crisis

Inside a local laundromat, two customers speaking to an employee at the counter
Photo Credit: William Alatriste

Few places in the world have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic in quite the way New York City has. Our bustling city was forced to completely lock down, and countless businesses closed indefinitely while New Yorkers stayed at home, working and going to school from their kitchen tables. After months of quarantining and social distancing, we appeared to turn a corner in September when Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light to a gradual reopening of those businesses, even as some restrictions and potential shutdowns of entire zip codes remained a possibility. Now, as the country and the world are experiencing dangerous spikes in the virus, we still need to keep our businesses, particularly minority and women-owned small businesses, in mind. 

In the several months since the pandemic first landed in New York, we have learned a lot about this virus and how it is spread. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that COVID-19 is spreading primarily through small household gatherings rather than in public spaces. Using this and everything else that we have learned, New Yorkers have begun to safely reopen businesses when allowed to do so. That’s why instead of using a broad brush or purely geographic measures – even on a “micro-cluster” scale – Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others will need to take an even more finely targeted approach to control the spread of the virus which addresses the actual sources of outbreaks without shutting down businesses that are already doing everything necessary to keep people safe.

Indoor retail stores and shopping centers, for example, have been taking exhaustive steps to implement safe retail protocols and adhere to the guidelines laid out by health officials in order to keep their employees and customers safe. Mask-wearing is a requirement in stores throughout New York City, and reminders to stay at least six feet away from other shoppers are omnipresent. These efforts are the right steps to be taking right now, and they are going a long way toward helping our city continue reopening safely. 

With all that businesses are doing, and the particularly onerous burden borne by small and minority-owned businesses, we cannot risk an approach that will leave New York’s business community – and its economy – out to dry. Working-class New Yorkers will be left without work and unable to pay their bills, while others are left without access to the necessary goods these stores offer. Retail stores, as well as other local businesses that operate primarily indoors, are a vital asset to New York, and there is nothing thus far to suggest that they are causing the spread of the virus in the city. Shutting them down without any evidence to the contrary would do far more damage to workers and communities than it would prevent.

It is up to leaders like Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to ensure that doesn’t happen even as they plan to flatten the curve yet again. They have gone to admirable lengths to contain the virus in New York City, however, now they must commit to supporting the businesses that are taking the necessary precautionary steps to reopen safely. It would be a powerful demonstration of confidence in our city’s businesses, and help our city’s economy pick up again as we move into the holiday season.

We cannot afford another blanket shutdown like the earlier ones that indiscriminately closed businesses based on what goods and services government officials believe to be “essential.”

New York City will be a very different place this holiday season than in years past. The Thanksgiving Day Parade will have an entirely new look, while family gatherings are smaller and more socially distanced. However, I remain fully confident that both we and our elected leaders will work to do everything necessary to continue reopening safely, and keep our businesses afloat while also curbing further spread of this virus.