States Vary on Reopening Protocols

Major retailers want a uniform back-to-business plan for the nation.

April 28, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As the jobless rate climbs, some states are preparing to ease quarantine restrictions, permitting some businesses to open this week, according to U.S.News.

Colorado, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana and Tennessee are set to join several other states in reopening businesses. Alaska, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina have already forged ahead to restart their economies after weeks of mandatory lockdowns that have thrown nearly one in six American workers out of their jobs. The states reopening this week are concentrated in the South, the Midwest and mountain West, where outbreaks have been less severe than in the Northeast.

Medical experts say strict adherence to business closures and stay-at-home orders imposed over the past several weeks by governors in 42 of 50 states have worked to level off rates of hospitalizations and ICU admissions to intensive care units. But health authorities also warn that testing and contact tracing must be expanded before businesses can be safely reopened on a wide-scale basis.

Business shutdowns have led to a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March. Before the pandemic struck, the U.S. jobless rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters on Sunday the jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April.

Some of the states hardest hit by the public health crisis are taking a more cautious approach to lifting restrictions. New York, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, reported 367 new deaths on Sunday, the state’s lowest loss of life in a single 24-hour span since March 20, but has extended its business restrictions through mid-May.

As NACS Daily reported yesterday, the Trump Administration’s three-phase plan for reopening the country leaves most decisions to governors. Epidemiologists say a state’s number of new cases should fall below a certain level before easing restrictions, but a national threshold hasn’t been set.

Retailers have their own thoughts about reopening, reports Bloomberg.com. The top two trade groups representing major retailers, such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy, are calling on governors to adopt uniform reopening standards as the pandemic subsides, including allowing warehouses and distribution centers nationwide to reopen all at once, rather than state-by-state.

On Monday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the National Retail Federation sent a six-page memo to governors outlining a three-phased plan for how stores can maintain public safety once they reopen. The guidelines call for stores to have “robust” health and safety protocols in place, including sanitation and social-distancing procedures. Measures include ensuring regular handwashing, use of gloves and face masks to protect customers and employees, plus limiting occupancy in some cases “to no more than 5 customers per 1,000 square feet of shopping space,” or half the national fire code requirement.

The retailers recommend that stores defer to governors on timing. States have been making those decisions by evaluating whether the number of new infections is declining and whether testing is adequate to prevent upticks in new cases.

Under RILA’s proposal, all states should allow retailers’ warehouses to open so long as they follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social-distancing, hygiene and sanitization guidelines. The memo cites the need for “a fully functioning supply chain with all distribution centers operational,” rather than piecemeal reopenings, which could prevent goods in warehouses in locked-down states from moving to stores in states that have lifted restrictions.

Most distribution centers are open since they are considered essential, but some are shut down in states where local orders conflicted with state directives or in states where warehouses didn’t house essential goods, including in Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts and Missouri, RILA said.

The trade group based its proposed safety guidelines on existing state regulations, recommendations from the CDC, and safety measures that still-open stores have already adopted. RILA isn’t the only trade group trying to shape states’ reopening plans. The Business Roundtable, which counts the chief executives of major U.S. companies as its members, has also urged a phased reopening, with the states coordinating with the federal government.

In an April 24 letter signed by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, the group’s chairman, the roundtable suggested testing and health screening of employees in accordance with CDC guidance, and in some cases as a condition of entering the workplace.

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