Another Coronavirus Overreaction: Indiana County Bans Essential Businesses From Selling Non-Essential Items

In the world of coronavirus, essential businesses are considered those – and this is a very general definition – that allow Americas to survive. The businesses that sell food or medicine or the ability to keep a roof over your head, and the businesses that supply those businesses, those are considered essential. But some of them, from WalMart to Target to Meijer, also sell clothes…and books…and sunglasses…and a myriad of items that aren’t considered essential.

Howard County, Indiana has decided to force those businesses to stop selling those “non-essential” goods. Translation: Social Distancing doesn’t matter when you’re buying eggs or cereal. Social Distancing is the law if you want to buy your kids a coloring book.

In a Facebook post explaining their decision, the county Board of Commissioners claim the issue is Howard County residents who are gathering at these stores. As written in the order, the Board claims store employees are saying people are shopping because they are, “bored at home” and they, “buy only non-essential goods.” From the Board of Commissioners:

This is not fair to businesses that have closed in compliance with the county’s order….Obviously (having people congregate in businesses,) this is not in keeping with the crucial need to practice social distancing and to limit social gatherings.

The order from the county applies to goods including: jewelry, furniture, home and lawn decor, toys/games, carpet/rugs/flooring, non-emergency appliances, music/books/magazines, craft and art supplies, paint, entertainment electronics

The problem here is that the Social Distancing doctrine is applied unequally, and shows again why the nation-wide approach of shutting down business was more overreaction than logic and science.

People are allowed in supermarkets. People can brush by one another around the fresh vegetables, where Person A can pick up a red pepper, examine it, and then put it back in favor of another red pepper. Person B then chooses the pepper Person A was just fondling. I’m not saying Person A or Person B has coronavirus, I’m stating the observable fact that someone who could be infected may have touched your food, and that seems to be acceptable in Howard County and across America. (And, for clarity, it’s not just the fresh vegetables. It’s the cereal aisle, the packaged chicken, the milk, the cans of soup: everyone is touching everything, and then everyone is less than six feet from each other in the checkout line.)

Howard County is engaged in over-reaction here. And that also comes from Indiana Republican Governor Eric Holcomb, who shut down the state. But he’s not the only one; Illinois Democrat Governor JB Pritzker shut down his state. Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine shut down his. Governors of both parties have gotten into the game across the country.

The Democrat Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, shut down the state-run liquor stores. To Wolf, bourbon isn’t essential, and wine isn’t essential. Clearly, he’s not one of the millions of Americans now home schooling their kids.

Social Distancing makes sense. Sick people, and those at most risk of being sick staying home makes perfect sense. Shutting down business – and curtailing business from already open stores – does not. Getting America back to work matters, as we have heard repeatedly from Main Street, from President Trump and from high-profile Democrats like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has stated publicly, “The smartest way forward is a modified public health strategy that dovetails, and compliments, a get-back-to-work strategy.”

What we did was we closed everything down. That was our public health strategy. Just close everything. All businesses, all workers, young people, old people, short people, tall people, every school, close everything. If you rethought that or had time to analyze that public health strategy, I don’t know that you would say quarantine everyone. I don’t even know that was the best public health policy.

Governor Cuomo continued:

Younger people can go back to work. People who have resolved can go back to work. People who — once we get this antibody test, show that they had the virus and they resolved can go back to work. That’s how I think you do it. It’s not we’re going to either do public health or we’re going to do economic development restarting. We have to do both.

Howard County is correct in that it is unfair to closed businesses that open businesses can sell the items that closed businesses can’t. But the answer is not to stop the open businesses from selling the goods. If you want to follow Social Distancing doctrine, you can limit entry to areas or to the entire store (like has been reported at Costco stores) or you can move racks further away from each other. Not being a retailer, I don’t have the answer. I think the market can find the way, just like it figured out how to have special shopping hours for those who might be more prone to getting ill.

Fear has not helped anyone get through this pandemic. Howard County, and America, have to rethink their strategy. America has the capacity to stay safe and stay in business at the same time, and it must do both.