(This post originally appeared on The Hill)
We’re all hearing the numbers: Coronavirus cases are rising. There’s no need to repeat them here.
And no need to delve into what this means, because the numbers can be interpreted very differently. Yes, cases are rising. But then again, the U.S. just recorded its lowest daily death total since March. And severe cases – the ones requiring hospitalizations – are also on the decline. The political lines are obviously drawn. The Democrats say, “Stay at home, wear masks, be safe, cases are up!” The Republicans say, “Get back to work, maybe wear masks, be safe, deaths are down!” We’ll hear this argument through the November elections, and no one will be completely certain who’s right and who’s wrong.
But there is one thing that’s for certain: The rise in cases is not just the fault of younger people, religious extremists and more testing. It’s a result of bad and illegal practices by many small business owners across the country. I’m an advocate for small business — but not for these small businesses.
As I write this, bars are being forced to shut down in parts of California, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. Crowds are “packing” New York City restaurants to such an extent that the state’s governor has threatened, “Don’t make me come down there.” Philadelphia officials, now facing an extension of their pending “green” period, are “pleading” with businesses to comply with the rules. A New Jersey bar has had its outdoor dining license revoked because its beer garden was “packed with people.” Illinois restaurants are also “packed.” Crowds are partying at bars and restaurants in holiday spots, city centers and outdoor events, many not wearing masks and many others clearly violating social distancing guidelines. And they’re being fed and fueled by small business owners who know the rules are being ignored but are just too eager to make up for their coronavirus losses.
Yeah, I know that it’s been a tough few months for small business owners. Many I know are frustrated that they were not considered “essential” and had to curtail their operations. I realize that many restaurants and bar owners are facing ruin because of the shutdowns that took away their customers. I understand the need to get back to business and recover. I get it.
I also get that not all small businesses are flouting the rules. Many are doing their best to be law abiding. But unfortunately, too many aren’t. And it’s not just the restauranteurs and bar owners. A gym in New Jersey was finally forced to shut down in May because it had opened without permission. A salon owner in Los Angeles risks jail time for starting her business too early. Businesses in Washington State are re-opening based on their own rules, and not necessarily the government’s. A restaurant near San Diego was shut down for not enforcing face mask rules, and despite numerous complaints that many small businesses in South Florida continue to ignore health requirements targeted at reducing infections.
And these are just the businesses we read about. How many more small business owners that we don’t know about are out there ignoring the health rules designed to minimize cases? Many, I’m sure. They’re turning a blind eye to the crowds of customers pushing through their doors. They’re gambling that police and local officials are too busy with protests and other matters to pay them much attention. They’re ignoring customers not wearing masks and crowd limitations. They’re exercising their First Amendment rights and exhibiting their political leanings. Those small businesses that generated so much sympathy and outpouring of compassion during this pandemic are now risking all of this political capital…for a few bucks.
But hey, maybe these people are right. Maybe – and considering the lowered death rates, improvement in care, the increase in available treatments and a pending vaccine – it’s more important to address our economic concerns over public safety because those health concerns aren’t as bad as we originally thought. Maybe it’s OK to have millions of Covid cases in the country because 99.99 percent of them recover fine, and we’ve paid enough of an economic price. In all likelihood, this is probably true.
But we don’t know this yet for sure. What we do know is that cases are rising, and hospitals are filling up. Many people are getting sick. And it’s the many small businesses – and their owners – who are to blame.