Scientists worldwide advocate for a phased reopening of businesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but it remains unclear what this actually means and which places should be the first, or the last, to reopen. Needless to say, places like grocery shops, hospitals, and banks are both essential for everyday survival and wellbeing and vital for the economy, but when it comes to services and stores that are common and yet not essential per se, things become trickier.
For example, should we reopen hair salons before or after gyms? To address this question, the Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT) has conducted a systematic review of different businesses comparing the risk they pose to individuals to the value they contribute to the people and the economy. The researchers concluded that places like dental clinics and universities, while on the riskier side, are also more beneficial for society.
The research assessed businesses across 26 different categories, including places like sitdown restaurants, universities, electronics stores, bookstores, pet supplies stores, clothing stores, coffee houses, hair salons, and fast-food restaurants, among others. The authors looked at the average number of visits, the population density, and other potential dangers that could increase one's risk of catching COVID-19 in these places, and they weighed all these dangers against the economic and social contributions of each place to evaluate how beneficial a specific business is to society.
Among the most interesting data the authors included in the study was the list of places that should be among the last to reopen, as their risk to importance ratio was much higher than that of other public spaces. Below, we list 5 businesses that the researchers found should not reopen just yet and the often surprising reasoning behind that.
1. Cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors
Coffee shops and dessert parlors have been people's favorite way to meet a friend for a long chat and enjoy a cup of coffee and a tasty dessert pre-pandemic. However, MIT researchers claim that these places, along with juice bars, should be among the last to reopen because they typically have a high density and turnout of people every day. Still, economically speaking, people don't tend to spend a lot of money in these places, so ultimately, they are significantly more dangerous than they are beneficial for society.
Similarly to cafes, bookstores actually don't sell enough to make them economically feasible when compared to their accumulated risks, as shoppers tend to stay in the often narrow and crowded rows of bookshelves for quite a long time, flipping through pages and looking through several books at a time.
Given the now well-known fact that Covid-19 can stay on surfaces for quite a long time, and knowing how difficult it can be to maintain social distancing in bookstores and libraries, you can imagine that the risks of catching the dangerous virus outweigh the benefits. Thus, it's best to continue shopping online for our favorite paperbacks or favor e-books over paper ones altogether, at least for now.
3. Sporting Goods Stores
In light of the fact that sports equipment and attire are widely available online, a trip to the sporting goods store is hardly warranted these days. The MIT study points out that while not essential for consumers, unlike grocery stores and electronics stores, sporting goods stores share the crowdedness and poor ventilation standards of these businesses, rendering sports equipment stores equally as risky, but way less necessary than supermarkets and home supply stores. Thus, the researchers point out that these shops should reopen after grocery stores, electronics stores, and even furniture stores.
Staying fit amid the pandemic is definitely a good idea, as exercise promotes long-term health and strengthens your immune system, but the MIT scientists still recommend to stay away from gyms and favor outdoor sports activities and exercises that can be done at home. This is because mask-wearing is often difficult or useless in a high-sweat environment, and people typically cough, sneeze, yawn, and breathe directly onto the sports equipment for several minutes, skipping from one machine to another, potentially leaving behind droplets that contain the virus.
In addition, trainers and gym-goers alike will often be in close physical proximity to other people, making the gym even more dangerous than dentist clinics and hair salons.
5. Liquor and Tobacco Stores
The study authors suggest that tobacco and liquor stores ought to be the last stores to open, as we can hardly call their merchandise beneficial to anyone, really. On top of that, these businesses are often quite small and crowded, which makes social distancing difficult, if not impossible.
However, the reality has been very different - liquor sales have actually increased during the pandemic, and according to the researcher's data, visits to specialized liquor stores have dropped by only 5% across the United States since the pandemic had started, while that of educational institutions like colleges that have a much higher value and economic contribution have dropped by a whopping 61%!
Thus, all of us need to be wary and critical of the reopening guidelines in your area and choose the stores and other places you go to very carefully.