Palm Beach County has entered Phase I of reopening as quarantine restrictions were partially lifted just earlier today, and other counties and states are looking to follow a similar ‘soft-open’ process over the coming weeks. But what does that mean?
Phase 1 Soft-Open
When the Phase 1 reopening was announced there was a lot of initial confusion due in no small part to sloppy reporting. The Palm Beach Post claimed that essentially all services would be opened while other news outlets gave considerably more conservative predictions. Now it looks as though Broward and Miami Dade will be not far behind. What business are going to be allowed to reopen and in what capacity will be down to each individual county and will likely change as the situation develops. But here is what we know for Palm Beach County so far-
What Businesses are Re-Opening
The actual order for the county includes is a limited 25% capacity reopening of restaurants and retail outlets. This can have very different impacts depending on the business it applies to.
What this means is that if your favorite mom and pop restaurant seats 40 people under normal operating conditions, it can now only legally serve ten at a time. Likewise, if a clothing retailer can hold up to 200 people according to the fire department (think black Friday crowds), it can now have as many as 50 at any given time.
These restrictions will obviously impact businesses differently and it will be up to the individual business owner if they choose to reopen or not. While some larger restaurants may be able to make use of the 25% capacity, a lot of smaller restaurants may not. As a rule of thumb, if the restaurant was doing take out or door dash anyways the new order might help them. If they were not then the new rules will probably not change things enough for them to justify reopening. If you are not sure if your favorite restaurant is one of those re-opening or not, check their online presence and social media, or, if all else fails, just call. Yes it will get old after a while, but most will be happy you to invite you back in.
On the other hand, clothing stores and other retail outlets typically have higher capacity to begin with because they are not limited by seating. Meaning that those stores that we are all so desperate to run off to may be feeling a little crowded for us these days, even if they are at 25% capacity. This will be up to each individual store to monitor and control. Individuals can still be asked to leave or refused service without a mask and police will still be able to remove individuals, but as more and more stores open, it will largely be left to private security or, as is more likely, the girl behind the counter, to enforce these policies. In addition, stores can be fined and even shut down for violating the capacity restrictions
What Business are Still Closed
Other businesses, bars gyms, etc., will remain closed, though there is some considerable ambiguity around the dealing with restaurants that have their own bars in house. If a sports bar and restaurant reopen but everyone wants to be seated at the bar, the limited capacity restrictions will do little to prevent crowding.
In addition, you may find some plazas in general more open and less restricted, even if the actual stores that are open or closed have largely remained unchanged. It is almost impossible to maintain a mask order for shopping plazas if restaurants are open. While the decisions for malls to remain closed or reopen will be made by their individual owners, open air plazas will be a much more mixed results experience. Some have remained largely untouched as grocery stores, phone stores, Walmart’s, targets, pet stores and liquor stores have continued to remain open while others served as virtual ghost towns.
Other businesses and services are slated to join the list of openings, but the situation remains in flux as health officials still look to maximize openings while minimizing risk. Stores and salons will open but, if a hot spot of contagion or point of infection is identified, can still be shut down. Gyms and fitness centers, especially those who offer one on one, small group or outdoor classes, are likely to join the ranks of opened businesses soon.
What happens now?
We are entering the wild west of quarantine and social distancing as Palm Beach County begins its experiment with a ‘soft’ reopening. Mask advisories are still in effect and businesses can refuse entry to those without masks, but open-air plazas with mixed restaurants and shopping will have a much harder time of knowing just how to best handle the situation. Some businesses will remain closed while others are likely to experience more crowding than might be advisable, making the 6ft social distancing nearly impossible to maintain.
In general, most counties and states appear to be in the process of attempting to reopen and resume business as normal, though with heavy restrictions.
The states and public health officials are essentially working to shift the burden of prevention from officials to individuals. As stores and restaurants are open it will no longer be down to police enforcing a stay at home advisory and instead shift to people choosing to comply with social distancing and preventative measures. This is, in general, the same response expected for the common cold or flu. Wash your hands, cover your mouth, stay home if you are sick.
In theory, this will increase initial risk but create a more sustainable way to deal with the virus moving forward, or at least until a vaccine is found. COVID-19 has been our reality for over three months now, most people should know the proper way to protect themselves and others.
‘Soft Openings’ – Opinion
I am, unfortunately, less convinced. I still see people wearing their mask just below the nose because it is ‘more comfortable’ even though this essentially negates the point of the mask entirely.
This is something that will only get worse as temperatures climb into summer. People still wear gloves only to touch other surfaces and then touch their own faces, providing clear points of contact and contamination. And people store restrooms still either are not washing their hands thoroughly or even, as bad as this is, at all.
Beyond just basic hygiene and preventative practices, America has had difficulty with cooperation in ways that other nations have not. Individuals refusing to wear masks, people gathering in large groups despite public orders, and even carrying weapons to demonstrate their refusal to cooperate. While finding a sustainable way to live each and every day without shutting down is important, it all rides on everybody’s willingness to take on that individual responsibility and slow the spread.