While states move forward with easing restrictions formerly in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers of cases in some areas have increased. As a result, business owners, patrons and community leaders have taken precautions against the possibility of another wave of the virus.
“A lot of people think that the green phase means back to normal,” said Dr. Brian Lamb, a Pittsburgh primary care physician within the Allegheny Health Network. “What we have to realize is that this is a new normal. It’s still supposed to include social distancing and wearing masks.”
Ogden Newspapers spoke with people in five states to gauge how comfortable they are now that restrictions in their communities are being lifted. The following is what we found.
In Lawrence, Kansas, owners of close contact businesses such as tattoo parlors, nail salons and barber shops say they believe the community is starting to feel more relaxed about getting out and about, and it’s showing in the return of their client bases.
Jon Amyx, whose barber shop is on the main street of Lawrence’s downtown, said he’s been “gradually starting to see a few more people downtown. I think people are relaxing.”
Amyx, who owns Downtown Barber Shop, said that on May 18 — the business’s first day back after reopening — the waitlist peaked at about 65 people. Now, they have “worked the crowd down” and are back at a normal pace. Amyx said they are also starting to see more elderly customers, who were at first skeptical, inquire about coming in.
Tracy Meisenheimer, a nail technician who runs Nails By Tracy, said that since reopening on May 18, at least 90 percent of her clients had returned. Meisenheimer has been in the business for 28 years, so she has built a good rapport with her customers, she said, and everyone seems to feel comfortable with her procedures.
At the Lawrence Tattoo Company, office manager Patricia Barnes said that while they are not allowed to have walk-in clients, they have been getting a lot of calls and emails to schedule appointments.
“A lot of people are like, ‘I’ve been sitting here thinking about these ideas for months,’” she said of clients eager to return and get new tattoos. “It seems like people are open to being out in the public again and being around people.”
The director of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, Dan Partridge, said that despite the county moving into its third and least restrictive phase yet of the four-phase reopening plan, he’s seen citizens remain vigilant about maintaining safe practices.
“In visiting other neighboring counties recently after the stay-home order lifted, I am not losing confidence in our public here and their efforts to be smart and safe with our reopening,” he said in an email. “Personally, I have noticed a stark difference in people’s practices here like wearing masks in public and maintaining a safe social distance from others, and that gives me confidence.”
With stay-at-home orders being lifted and the economy restarting with a boom, some in Ohio are ready to get back to the way life was before the pandemic.
Tiffanee Beard, who has four children, including two who have special needs, said the threat of the virus still keeps her up at night.
“If one gets the flu, they all get the flu,” she said. “If one got coronavirus, then guess what: They all get it. My husband works nights, 12-hour shifts. I’m only one person with zero help and the thought of having four kids with the coronavirus and possibility of a hospital has me stressed. How would I manage?”
Beard said the thought of her kids returning to school “unnerves” her, but her two oldest children are regressing without their education.
“My second child gets upset now just taking a car ride, where before, we had no problem,” she said. “I wish there was a middle point for me. I’ve had people angry with me because I won’t let my kids out to do things or babysit. But I know my children and I know mentally what I can handle and emotionally and mentally I couldn’t handle my children getting the coronavirus. And neither could they.”
Michael L. Moore, president and owner of Myers-Ziemke Insurance, said he took a hard look at what was being reported and what was required and expected of him.
“My business was classified as an essential business so I was not required to close, but, since our office was in the same building as a coffee shop and hair salon, we decided to go remote,” he said. “I’m blessed with great people and between Zoom, Slack, emails, and phone calls, we survived.”
He said he’s unsure if some things will ever go back to normal but he also said he doesn’t mind if the country gets back in business.
“When we decided to reopen the office, we took all steps required to protect ourselves and our customers,” Moore said. “I will say I thought much of it was excessive, but the last thing I wanted to do is slow down the process of other businesses from opening.”
“We will continue to do what’s required of us in the office,” he added. “I will continue to do what’s necessary to keep myself, friends and family safe, but I expect our new state and country leaders to do what’s right for the businesses and the citizens of this great land. We are too far advanced in science, medicine, and technology to ever have to go through something like this.”
Kellie Pancost, of Wakeman, said she appreciates DeWine and Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, and their preventative plan.
“No one knew how the virus spread and no one knew how bad it could be,” she said. “Under those circumstances, it was right to exercise caution. Because of their actions, Ohio did not get hit hard like some other places. Unfortunately, because we escaped the worst, people are upset and think we overreacted.”
Pancost said she would rather take precautions than under-react and allow people to die. She said she plans to continue to avoid crowds, wear a mask and use hand sanitizer.
“People are so used to having all of the information at their fingertips that we forget that science is a process,” Pancost said. “It isn’t possible to know everything right away and that is frustrating. But it is important to realize that this isn’t over, and we still need to take precautions. If it turns out that doing those things is overreacting, I’m OK with that because I’d rather take precautions that risk killing someone.”
Meanwhile, Melanie Myers, public information officer for Huron County Public Health (HCPH), said the pandemic is not over yet.
“COVID-19 is still here and it is still a very real threat,” Myers said. “HCPH urges Huron County residents to continue to take it seriously.”
She suggested residents continue to social distance, wash their hands or use hand sanitizers, cover their mouth and nose with a cloth face covering, avoid gatherings of 10 or more and disinfect and clean highly touched surfaces daily.
“Locally, in Huron County, we continue to see an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases each week,” she said. “Our number of confirmed COVID-19 cases within Huron County remains lower than many surrounding counties. This lower number can be attributed to a variety of reasons including residents continuing to properly social distance and following the Ohio Department of Health guidelines.”
She said the positive case counts do not truly reflect the amount of disease in our community because testing is saved for priority groups. Myers said it is assumed there are a large number of individuals in the community with mild or moderate illnesses who are not meeting requirements to be tested.
“As additional testing becomes available and businesses begin to reopen, it is possible that we will continue to see an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in upcoming weeks,” she said.
“As the state continues to responsibly reopen, residents may begin to feel that the pandemic is over. However, there are multiple examples of COVID-19 outbreaks as well as facts and statistics shared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that are shared locally that can serve as a reminder that it is in fact still very real and still a cause for concern.
“There is still not a cure available or a vaccine to prevent COVID-19,” she concluded.
In Pennsylvania, most businesses and restaurants have opened up and are operating at 50 percent or less of their occupancy. Many stores are no longer requiring customers to wear masks, but even in stores maintaining the requirement, many customers are choosing not to wear them.
Families and friends are also starting to meet up and gather as people try to make the most of summer. Parks have been filling up and youth sports in some regions are starting to practice outdoors once again.
However, in near-daily updates, the state’s Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has asked repeatedly that people still take precautions, even while in this “green phase” of reopening.
“Each of us has a responsibility to protect ourselves, our loved ones and others by wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and washing our hands frequently,” Levine has stated in multiple news releases. “Together we can protect our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, our essential workers and our health care system.”
Dr. Brian Lamb, a Pittsburgh primary care physician within the Allegheny Health Network, said he’s worried the area could see a spike in virus numbers and deaths if people don’t continue to take precautions.
He added that communities in California, Texas and the Carolinas have started to see numbers rising, now that places are starting to open up more.
“We did such a good job at flattening the curve that I think people assume it was overblown,” he said. “People assume it was a lot of media hype and don’t give each other credit for helping stop the spread here. People came together and did what the CDC recommended. It really did stop the spread of this disease.”
Even though the case numbers are down in the region, Lamb said there’s still a risk of getting sick, especially for vulnerable populations.
“Without a question, people should still be wearing masks,” he said. “They should be social distancing, washing their hands and avoiding large crowds. The only real difference is that stores are open and people are allowed to see each other. So it’s not social isolation, but it is social distancing.”
In his own practice, Lamb said he’s had a few positive COVID-19 cases related to “people who were lax” in social distancing standards.
“From a social perspective, people have reached a boiling point and want to just go back to normal,” he said. “I know people want to get back to their normal lives and enjoy the summer. Vacations and air travel, these are still high risks.”
He said he knows many people in healthcare who are worried about seeing an earlier second wave and the possibility of seeing a third and fourth. He said that historically, pandemics end one of two ways — either “science and doctors find a way to eradicate a disease through vaccines,” or people ignore medical advice and “people say ‘consequences be damned, I’m going to do what I want to do.’”
“We don’t know how deadly this disease can be,” Lamb said. “When people just start to go back, when they lose that fear, it can have some dire consequences.”
With the reopening of many businesses, restaurants, salons and parks in Northern Michigan, most workers are wearing masks, but some members of the public have taken them off. In the bigger stores such as Walmart and Meijer, only about half the customers are wearing masks now that the spread of the coronavirus has slowed down. But most small businesses are still taking precautions.
“I’m aware of many businesses that are taking it very seriously,” said Adam Poll, president and CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. “They are taking all the precautions, per the CDC guidelines, and there are a number of them that have gone above and beyond, and they’re getting the PPD where they can find it.”
He noted that plexiglass shields commonly seen in stores as a result of the pandemic have not been easy to find.
“We were able to secure a small amount here, and they went pretty quick,” Poll said of the shields.
With the reopening of barber shops on Wednesday, groups of men waiting outside State Barber Shop were all wearing masks, as required by the business owner in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening guidelines.
But just next door at Lee’s Miniature Golf, nobody was wearing a mask as they enjoyed outdoor recreation. However, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer were readily available, and the workers were wearing masks.
“Ultimately, there are probably also some businesses that aren’t necessarily taking it too seriously,” Poll added. “I can’t speak for general people’s attitudes, but I will note that I have seen fewer people wearing masks in public. As far as the businesses that we’re in contact with, I would say that the majority of them are taking this seriously, taking some extra steps, at the very least, to prevent further spread.”
The threat of a second wave of the coronavirus is at the forefront of some people’s minds.
“The Chamber would rather not see a second spike that would force us to have to close businesses,” Poll said.
Classic Plastics Toy Store reopened at the Grand Central Mall in Vienna on June 1. Owner Tony Workman wore a mask in the collectibles-and-nostalgia-focused business, but he was in the minority.
“I’d say 15 percent of the people are wearing masks,” he said, when asked about the customers he’s observed in the mall.
Most are taking advantage of the hand sanitizer Workman has out near the cash register, he said. Social-distancing observance is hit and miss.
“The other day, the store was kind of getting crowded and it was making me anxious,” Workman said.
Six people, likely a family, walked in shoulder-to-shoulder and began to spread out through the store, he said. But before Workman had to warn people that the shop was reaching its reduced capacity limit, the new arrivals realized they’d made things a bit too crowded and headed back out.
Workman said businesses needed to reopen but people have to continue to be safe.
“I think things are getting a little too relaxed,” he said. “It’s not over. The concerns from the start are still there.”
After months of sheltering at home and limited interactions, it’s only natural for people to want to return to their previous activities, said Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, about an hour-and-a-half north of Vienna.
“At some point, the public does become, ‘OK, I know the disease is there, but I have to do something else,’” he said. “I do believe they are beginning to want to do things more normal, and as a result, we have a little less focus on the disease.”
The health department has recently received inquiries from people again about vaccines required for international travel, Gamble said.
As activities reopen and increase, there will be new cases of COVID-19, Gamble said.
“We still need to see this as an infectious disease,” he said. “We are going to see people get sick. We are going to see spikes.”
The keys to handling the disease going forward are the familiar refrains of hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks, Gamble said.
“If we don’t do that, then we will see rates that we can’t control,” he said.