Just because it’s legal to go out doesn’t mean it’s safe

Yusuf Shafi

After a short month and a half lockdown, Texas is steadily reopening businesses. First, retail stores and movie theaters, and now barbershops, salons and gyms. While Gov. Greg Abbott might not care about combating the rising COVID-19 death toll in Texas, you probably should. 

Statistical models indicate that Texas has already reached its peak for COVID-19 cases or will likely reach the peak soon. This is only happening because, so far, the state has enforced social distancing rules that limit the spread of the virus. The strict limitations on business have encouraged most people to stay at home while delivery services and curbside pickups helped them get the food and groceries they need. 

Now that businesses are reopening with looser restrictions, it is very likely that a second wave will hit Texas hard if people don’t act cautiously. Legal restrictions on the shelter-in-place order may be getting relaxed, but that doesn’t justify going out.

Even during the stay-at-home order, people overlooked the importance of safe interactions. Working in the foodservice industry, I have encountered countless groups of customers who ignore their safety and others’ by ordering food in groups, breaking 6-foot bubbles between themselves and other customers, and neglecting recommendations to wear face coverings. The reopening of small retail businesses will foster an environment where interactions such as these become more and more common. 

Americans love embracing their privilege, especially when it’s for their own convenience. As laws begin to loosen, so have customers’ attitudes toward the virus. Last week at work, two large signs were plastered on the front of the store instructing customers to call in their order to prioritize the safety of our employees and customers. This didn’t stop several motivated individuals from barging in. 

I had to explain over and over again that just because Greg Abbott allowed the reopening of businesses, it didn’t mean that our lobby was accessible to the public. While some people understood this, others were irritated. 

Many people like to argue that the economic implications of the shutdown outweigh the health risks, but I don’t think it should have come to that. In an ideal world, our federal and state governments would have worked together to provide unemployed workers with financial assistance to withstand a long-term shutdown. 

Instead, both were unprepared. Unemployment claims skyrocketed while thousands of benefit packages were left pending. Now, immunocompromised workers have to risk their lives and reenter the workforce. 

As someone who has been on the front line since day one, I know we aren’t ready to reopen the state. While my store worked diligently to create a safe environment, no amount of work can prepare us for even one asymptomatic customer. Now, thousands of newly reopened businesses are facing the same issue. 

Understand these implications and weigh the risks before you decide to go out. Law plays a critical role in shaping our view of the world, but we need to understand that laws aren’t moral absolutes. So, please consider the impact of your outings. Think about workers on the front line, think about immunocompromised people and think about your loved ones. 

Shafi is a government junior from Round Rock, Texas.