Gloved Hands

(MPR News file photo)

Consumer confidence.

Will the cleanest, “safest” stores be the ones most shopped at as the future slowly unfolds?

Are consumers going to say they are willing, and really want, to spend money with the merchants whose protocols make the most sense? You know, the merchants whose plans call for constant sanitizing, masks, gloves, shields at the cash registers, strict limits to how many shoppers can occupy at any given time, one-way aisles and the whole laundry list of best practices.

From what we hear, a good percentage of the population is so freaked out about COVID-19 that they are staying at home, sheltering in place and obeying to a T every stop-the-spread strategy.

Another sector of the population is careful but feeling safe enough shopping at all the businesses that are open while following the easy rules of social distancing and washing hands often.

The third population sector is interesting to watch, if you are an observer of human behavior, in that this sector appears to not acknowledge we’re in the midst of a pandemic.

Striking the balance between maintaining public safety and rescuing the economy is very tricky. We’d be short-sighted not to agree with much of what the stop-the-spread purists say and much of what proponents of free-flowing the economy say. Our governor and other leaders are working hard to strike the right balance.

Opinion alert No. 1: Wearing masks is a good idea, cancelling summer festivals is a must, keeping people apart is smart, and consumers scrutinizing every workplace for protections against the spread of COVID-19 is critical.

Opinion alert No. 2: If big box stores are open, virtually all stores should be allowed to be open; closing Boundary Waters Canoe Area overnight camping is not needed; and it’s OK that the big candy store is open.

Let’s circle back to consumer confidence. Has everyone had a chance to shop somewhere in the public, not online though, in April and/or May? What were your observations?

Bet No. 1: You, the shopper, quickly observed it’s going to be a good idea to protect yourself, while observing which stores are taking your safety seriously and at the same time taking their employees’ safety seriously.

Bet No. 2: If owning a hazmat was practical and easily cleanable, you would wear one to protect yourself from the sector of the population that doesn’t, at least apparently, acknowledge we are in a pandemic.

On top of all its other evils, COVID-19 has us in a chokehold with its ability to blackmail. COVID-19 says this: “If you advocate for any increased mingling of the population, then you are to blame for the inevitable increased speed of spread.”

Wow. No one wants to be blackmailed, especially by COVID when COVID is not lying.

Getting back to consumer confidence, please develop your personal plan with how you protect yourself against COVID-19. Like these: Do you at least lessen your use of public restrooms at this point; do you hyper-sanitize hands after touching gas pumps and grocery carts; do you avoid the airspace of anyone coughing?

Businesses are ramping up their procedures and protocols based upon best practices and carefully prepared advice from the CDC, OSHA and countless public health professionals. They are taking extensive, even expensive, steps to reduce the spread of COVID. Let’s all do our part.

Please support businesses! Support them now in their curbside, delivery and online opportunities. Support them when they reopen to invite customers back into their workplaces. And please support them, and their messages, when they say their livelihoods, and our quality of life, are directly tied to their efforts. Their allowed efforts.

Please remember that with much of this, you hold consumer confidence in the palm of your hand. Your overly sanitized, soap-and-water-washed, and better-yet-disposable-gloved hand.

Ed Lee is executive director of the St. Peter Area Chamber of Commerce.

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