In case you have somehow managed to miss the news bulletin, various states and counties, including my own, have begun the process of a ‘soft open’. While this is great for small business owners and individuals who desperately need to get back to work (particularly in Florida where our unemployment system has completely and utterly crashed), it does obviously bring about an increased risk of infection and transmission. Personal responsibility and accountability will be critical during this time as more businesses continue to reopen and cases continue to rise.
But with businesses finally reopening and the weekend upon us, it can be difficult to resist the urge to be just about anywhere but out own living rooms for at least a short gap.
Different types of businesses will carry with them inherently different risks depending on a number of factors including crowding, ventilation, sanitation and duration of visit. So the real question is… what to do when the world re-opens?
Eat at your favorite Mom and Pop Restaruant
That local hole in the wall that you haven’t been able to visit in almost two months. The one where memories are made and good times are had. The place where they greet you by name and know your ‘regular’ order. The place you would miss the most if it closed.
That is the place you should visit. That is the place that needs your support the most right now.
As soft opens continue to roll out, restaurants and dine in eateries will be opening at different rates. Call ahead to make sure they are open and, if possible, review any changes in the menu online before you go. Go during the ‘off’ hours to limit crowding and increase the space between yourself and others. Dine outside if that is an option, as recirculated air and overcrowding are to be avoided. Order when you arrive and, as much as you should enjoy your visit, try not to linger for too long. This is for two reasons. One is that limiting the amount of time spent out also limits the amount of potential contact points. Two, we will all be itching to get out, but with such low numbers these restaurants will survive in part based on their turnover.
Call ahead, go in the ‘off’ hours where they might be less busy, sit outside if at all possible, enjoy being anywhere but your own home for a short time and then get out of their way so that someone else can enjoy them as well.
If you do not feel comfortable eating out but would still like to support these small local restaurants call to see if they offer gift cards for you to purchase and enjoy later. Or, when you do decide to indulge, consider getting your next take out order from them.
Visit a Park or Natural Preserve
While beaches are still closed for the time being, some parks and natural preserve areas will be reopening. Though many of these areas were ‘officially’ closed over the previous weeks, the parks in my neighborhood were far from empty, though they were generally less busy than normal and people seemed to be keeping their distance. Families played on the playgrounds while lone teenagers dotted basketball court. We even had a rather intense game of ‘Distance Dodgeball’ go down with a group of middle schoolers (while I applaud their ingenuity, I still wince every time I hear the sound of a dodgeball).
However, with their parking lots now reopened these areas are more accessible to individuals and families who may not live right next door. Open air activities, especially for families with small children, will be a vital resource. In South Florida, we are rapidly approaching the time of year where it will be too hot to be outside. Enjoying that now, before the heat renders outside play time impossible, will help families struggling to think of something to do.
Playgrounds will be tricky to navigate. Obviously having kids in the same area and telling them to avoid contact with others will be difficult but not impossible. Visiting parks and natural preserves, preferably in the early morning before it gets too warm or in off hours where there might be fewer kids, could be a great option for families looking to get out of the house while minimizing a contact.
Small Business and Essential Shopping
The small privately owned bookstore downtown, the bike repair shop that was not considered ‘essential’, that little place on the corner that sells things you really needed and missed but were not able to stay open amidst the lockdown. These small privately owned businesses are some of the those who will struggle the most during these unusual times.
While making huge purchases with every small business that I enjoy is #goals, it is also not realistic. Finances are tight right now for many people, and extravagant purchases are not advisable or even realistic.
I will, however, be making a conscious effort to choose a small or independently owned business to purchase the essential items that I would otherwise shop for at a big chain store. Aside from supporting small businesses, these stores are often a little off the beaten path and typically less crowded than a big chain box store. With fewer customers going in and out, there are fewer points of contact and potential transmission, though obviously individual sanitation and the use of PPE will still be the biggest factor.
What to Do Post Lockdown
As a general rule of thumb, any location or activity with plenty of fresh air and open space pose a slightly lower risk. Anywhere that may invite a crowd or involve wait times is a trip that you should probably think twice about making unless it is absolutely essential.
Businesses will continue to reopen in short bursts over the coming weeks and months, and as exciting as it is to rush out and enjoy, I feel the need to inject a note of caution. Despite the fact that we’re reopening, the numbers, particularly in Palm Beach County, are worse than ever. The relaxing of restrictions is not one of public health and safety, but rather of policy and sustainability. Many counties are struggling to have enough available personnel to meet essential public needs such as police, paramedics, utilities and other vital functions. Spreading those resources in order to maintain a lockdown over the long term is unsustainable.
Obviously, individuals with compromised immune systems or other serious health concerns will have to be even more vigilant than they were before. As more businesses open the risk of asymptomatic transmission will increase and it will be down to each of us to take personal responsibility in deciding what trips are justified and which are not. But it will be down to all of us to continue practicing safe hygiene and practicing social distancing in an effort to protect those around us.