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As Colorado businesses get ready to reopen, some say they're ready while others are reluctant

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 14:16:11-04

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DENVER -- Businesses across Colorado are beginning to slowly reopen as the state moves from a stay-at -home to a safer at home order.

During a news conference on April 20, Governor Jared Polis unveiled the new order, stressing the toll the stay-at-home order has had on families and the state economy.

“For many Coloradans, for this to be at all sustainable they need to be able to earn a living and we need to have an economy that functions,” Gov. Polis said.

However, he emphasized that things would not be returning to business as usual. Instead, he said that businesses would start gradually reopening with the novel coronavirus at the top of mind.

Some areas, like Weld County, say they're ready to reopen completely while others, like Denver, have chosen to extend their local stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19.

So, how should businesses reopen responsibly? Denver7 went 360 to offer multiple perspectives on the topic.

Reluctant to reopen

At Brow Babes in Denver, co-owners Kelly Wilson and Angelica Lopez are reluctant to reopen. It’s the type of profession where social distancing isn’t possible. The salon offers brow waxing, microblading, tweezing and other services, and there’s no way around being in close contact with clients.

The salon has only been in operation for a couple of years, so every bit of business is important. Normally, the business sees up to 60 clients a day. For more than a month, however, the chairs have sat empty.

When the novel coronavirus came to Colorado, the two decided to close shop even before the stay-at-home order was announced.

“Ultimately, we felt a moral responsibility to our clients, to the public and to ourselves to make sure we were doing everything we could to make everyone safe,” Lopez said. “Obviously we knew it would affect our bottom line.”

Since then, the two have been calling the unemployment office regularly, relying on state and federal help to pay their bills and keep their business afloat.

So when the governor announced he would allow businesses to start gradually reopening, Wilson and Lopez decided they wouldn’t reopen right away. The pair is not planning on reopening their business until at least June 1, well after Denver’s stay-at-home order is set to expire.

“We would rather take that loss than not be part of the solution. We just don’t want to be part of the problem,” Wilson said. “We’re not alone, you know? There are so many salons that we’re in contact with right now that feel the same way and are doing the same thing.”

One of the hurdles the two are trying to navigate around is where to find hand sanitizer, masks and disinfectant; they don’t want to take that type of equipment away from medical workers who need it.

They also don’t believe the state has provided enough guidance for how to protect health and safety. The business uses the same pallets and pencils on all of their clients. In between each use, they spray the pallet and pencils down with alcohol, but they’re not sure if that’s enough.

Wilson says she would like more answers or guidance as well as more widespread testing before she will feel comfortable reopening.

“At the end of the day it’s all about the moral responsibility that we have and doing what’s right and of course, do we want to be working? Absolutely… but we can’t do any of that if we’re not healthy, and if our clients are not healthy, we can’t be successful,” Lopez said.

When they do reopen, the store will look very different. A couch in the waiting area and the coffee table will both be removed so the chairs can be spread further apart. Clients will be asked to wash their hands as soon as they walk in and wear masks whenever possible. Guests will not be allowed to come with the clients as well.

For now, though, the doors of Brow Babes will remain closed.

Money matters

Other businesses are getting ready to gradually reopen. Hairstylist and makeup artist Alison Gudzinas works out of a salon in Denver. When the city lifts its stay-at-home order, she says she’ll have to return to work.

Gudzinas also works in a close contact profession and is uncertain about the prospect of returning to work.

“I’m a little nervous to be completely honest, but I mean, what other choice do I have?” Gudzinas asked. “It’s the difference between can and should. I can and I have to start replenishing my bank accounts so I can pay my bills.”

While the federal stimulus bill and state unemployment have helped, Gudzinas has been out of work for a month and-a-half and says she needs the money.

If she chose to stay closed, she’s also afraid her clients will simply go to someone else who decides to reopen.

“I’m definitely scared for my own health. I am struggling with a lot of anxiety around going back,” she said.

When the salon does reopen, it will also implement more safety measures like requiring people to wear masks, frequent hand-washing and requiring guests to wait in their cars and then be called in for their appointments.

Gudzinas is also pushing for temperature checks at the door for all clients.

While she’s preparing to reopen, Gudzinas says she doesn’t think either side should be judged for the decisions they are making to either open or stay closed during an unprecedented pandemic.

“I respect anybody who doesn’t think it safe enough to go back to work yet because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s not to be taken lightly,” Gudzinas said.

Patients and patience

Despite the fact that they are treating thousands of COVID-19 patients and are on the front lines of the pandemic, hospitals are also suffering financially.

Elective surgeries were brought to a standstill in the state when the stay-at-home order was enacted in an effort to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and other vital medical supplies.

With the state starting to reopen, hospitals like Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree are getting ready to resume those surgeries.

“We need to figure out how to get all the people who need healthcare and who need elective surgeries in so that they can get back to their lives,” said chief medical officer Dr. Jason Kelly.

Dr. Kelly doesn’t believe there’s a perfect time to reopen but says he believes the Governor is making sensible decisions for the state.

The hospital is also making changes, however, to protect its staff and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really going to test everybody prior to surgery because we want to make sure that we’re not missing any positive patients. Those are patients that we would postpone their procedures,” Dr. Kelly said.

Even while the hospital is getting ready to resume elective surgeries, it’s preparing for another possible surge in patients.

“We’re kind of on parallel paths where we are reopening surgery, but at the same time, we are making sure that we have the resources so that if there is a second surge and we have a lot of sick COVID-19 patients, that we can take care of them,” Dr. Kelly said.

He believes the hospital is in a better place now than at the beginning of the pandemic in terms of the available supply of PPE’s and ventilators.

Ethics vs. economics

There is an ethical dilemma to reopening businesses during the middle of a pandemic. For Corey Ciocchetti, a professor of business ethics and legal studies at the University of Denver, the first ethical decision each business needs to make is whether to reopen.

“It’s an interesting ethical calculation, right, you’re sort of weighing human life versus human suffering, one life versus hundreds of people suffering is a really tough ethical dilemma,” Ciocchetti said.

Once that decision has been made, for the businesses that resume operations, the second ethical decision is how to do so responsibly.

There are also legal and liability questions that businesses need to consider, such as the safety of employees and customers.

Ciocchetti says it’s difficult to compare this scenario to anything that has happened in the past. He would encourage businesses to go back to the basics and focus on their core values when they contemplate these ethical dilemmas.

“When you open up your business you have a set of core values in mind of what you want to be, the type of business you want to be and those are virtue words like, 'we want to be compassionate, we want to be respectful, we want to be optimistic, we want to be loyal.' So, what would it mean in these times to be compassionate?” he said.

Ciocchetti believes there is a way to begin gradually reopening responsibly with businesses keeping their core values in mind.

His wife, Dr. Jillian Ciocchetti, is a general surgeon at Saint Joseph’s and runs her own medical spa. She is getting ready to reopen her medical spa with some big changes in mind.

“We came up with the cleaning protocol for the office, we’re taking away things like coffee service,” Dr. Ciocchetti said.

The office is also putting up plexiglass for the receptionists, offering hand sanitizer and masks to patients and screening all clients before they come in the door to make sure they have not expressed any symptoms in the past several days.

“I won’t allow our business to take N95’s or PPE’s away from the healthcare personnel working on the front lines, but we are finding alternative solutions,” she said.

For Dr. Ciocchetti, the bottom line is that there is no perfect time to reopen and owners know their businesses best.

“I think a lot of people are looking for exact answers and exact data like we can’t reopen until we know where everybody will be safe in all situations and that’s just not reasonable. It’s going to take a long time and it’s going to have to be retrospective looking back before we have that kind of data. We’re making a lot of decisions in a gray zone right now,” she said.

Can vs. should

Benjamin Hale, an associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, studies disaster economics.

He believes it’s important to make sure the economy persists through the pandemic as much as possible and believes the new safer at home order will give businesses the answers they need to survive.

He believes the key, however, is offering flexibility. For the state, that means not putting too many requirements on businesses so that they can’t begin the process of reopening.

“If the governor had laid out very clearly what we’re supposed to be doing and what every business was supposed to be doing, on one hand that would provide a lot of guidance, but on the other hand it would hamstring a lot of businesses, and so there’s flexibility of this and then also a little bit of a burden,” Hale said.

For businesses, it’s important for the owners to also provide flexibility. That means allowing some employees who are particularly worried about their health to still telecommute, shift their schedules or take other safety precautions.

It also means being sensitive to the concerns of customers and taking them seriously.

“They have to think about all the various different individuals who might be clients or customers of theirs and that means being much more understanding,” Hale said. “We might be able to find some kind of happy medium; business owners have the flexibility to do what they need to do specifically for their businesses and customers and citizens can be safe.”

Most importantly, Hale believes businesses and customers need to be respectful of one another, sensitive to each other’s need and fears and understanding of the fact that this pandemic is unprecedented so there are no perfect answers.

Individual responsibility

While the businesses and employees determine how to reopen responsibly to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the owners and experts say the customers also play an important role.

“Hopefully everyone considers the morality of going back out there,” Ciocchetti said. “That’s part of the social contract a little bit, right. I mean you’re part of this larger society.”

Just because the stores are starting to gradually reopen, that doesn’t mean things are returning to normal or that consumers can go back to their old shopping habits.

“We’re asking them to be responsible about things like, don’t come in if you have sick family members,” Dr. Ciocchetti said.

For people in the more vulnerable populations, the state is still encouraging them to stay home and to limit social contact as much as possible.

For younger adults who want to support their local businesses but aren’t sure how to do that and also stay safe, the state is recommending for everyone to wear masks outside, keep their distance from one another and still only leave the house sparingly.

“Just because we open back up, that doesn’t mean we can go hang out with all of our friends and go party at the park. The responsibility is coming from both ends,” Gudzinas said.

For Governor Polis, the bottom line is that everyone still needs to take the pandemic seriously in order to make sure that there is not a second surge.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that our job isn’t finished. Your job isn’t finished. This hinges on individual responsibility of Coloradans,” he said.