Starting this week, businesses across Minnesota could well be judged by a whole new set of factors — all of which go beyond “did you find everything you were looking for?”
Is the business clean?
Are the required hand-sanitizing stations in place, accessible and filled?
Are face masks required? Not just suggested, but required?
Welcome to in-person shopping in the era (and likely still early stages) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Put more simply, one question reflects the new standard: Is patronizing this business in person worth risking my health?
The reality is that with more than 1.4 million adults in Minnesota facing serious health risks if they contract COVID-19, it’s a fair question for consumers to ask. The highly contagious novel coronavirus — which poses serious health risks to about 92.6 million adults nationwide if contracted — already is reshaping behaviors.
Expect more of the same as small and Main Street businesses statewide reopen. And if Minnesota bars, restaurants, salons, gyms and even more businesses open June 1 as proposed, there is no doubt this paradigm shift will continue.
To be clear, the question of consumer safety is not in opposition to Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to allow more businesses to reopen and to let his stay-at-home order expire. Walz is doing an admirable job trying to protect public health while getting Minnesota on track toward its new normal. Witness his administration’s detailed expectations (and suggestions) for helping businesses reopen.
Expecting businesses to craft their own COVID-19 Preparedness Plans (built on a template from the state) essentially forces them to realize how easily — and unintentionally — they could be putting customers at risk.
And it also creates a starting point from which businesses will be judged by consumers on whether the products they offer on site are worth the risks consumers may face upon entering businesses.
Businesses — especially in the retail sector — have long had to properly balance product, price, ambience, convenience and, to a degree, cleanliness to survive. The coronavirus, though, redefines that challenge. New standards of cleanliness are now mandated. Whether and to what degree businesses meet and exceed those standards could easily determine not just whether they survive, but if they thrive.
And making that collective decision starting this week will be scores of Minnesotans — all of whom have different health statuses, varying income levels and myriad needs and expectations for shopping in-person during a COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid all that, we wish the best of luck to all reopening businesses. After two months of closure, it would be nice to see every one of them succeed. But free market principles dictate that won’t happen. Instead, it will be consumers who decide which businesses have the right balance of products, prices, convenience and — now — COVID-19 protections.
As always — and as it should be — their votes will be seen in their behaviors and their spending habits.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ST. CLOUD TIMES