OP-ED: York leaders pushing for re-opening at expense of small business owners and workers

Bill Swartz
Spring Garden Township
A closing post at Great Clips in the Shoppes at Wyndham Friday, May 8, 2020. According to a consultant's report on York County's economic future, up to 30% of local businesses may have to shut their doors permanently. Bill Kalina photo

It’s deeply disappointing and downright dangerous that some members of York County political and business leadership, including some paid by the very taxpayers that they should be protecting, are essentially encouraging York County business owners to defy the governor’s orders and open.  

This irresponsible defiance by some of our leaders puts business owners, their clients, their customers and the entire York community at risk of further spread of COVID-19, a deadly virus that has already killed 13 of our neighbors and sickened more than 700 York countians in recent months.

This is a time when leaders must have the courage to protect our community. It is not a time to cite a specious “study” that’s clearly intended to sway public opinion away from the interests of health and toward the whims of large corporations that disingenuously claim they represent small business owners. 

More:York County DA won’t prosecute nonessential businesses for violating shutdown order, tells police not to cite them

More:Study: 30% of York County businesses could fail in coronavirus fallout

Health comes before profit. Our small business owners know that, and they’re adhering to guidelines even though it’s painful. The York County Economic Alliance and other business proponents should not be sacrificing small business owners by encouraging them to open, just to shield and/or justify the opening of large corporations.

Conversely, the economic alliance should be directing its full energy to assisting small business owners, those who are truly vulnerable, in developing innovative solutions, including e-commerce and other creative options.

Leaders should not be slyly encouraging these vulnerable small business owners to defy the governor’s order, an act that will, among other things, result in the nullification of many small business’s insurance policies. These policies will not cover small businesses while operating illegally under an emergency order that was legally (and courageously) extended by their governor. 

Leaders encouraging small businesses to defy the governor’s orders will unfortunately be leaving these businesses open to prosecution by the state. They’ll also be leaving them open to slip-and-fall lawsuits not covered by insurance that’s been cancelled due to illegal reopening. Small business owners will also be potentially vulnerable to wrongful death suits brought on by families of patrons who contract the virus. 

Or are local leaders intending for these businesses defying state orders to have every customer sign a disclaimer prior to entering the store, a statement indicating that they understand they are violating state law and disregarding the urgent guidance of health experts? Maybe just a quick form that mentions they might be made gravely ill and could possibly die, and that they might make others potentially gravely ill and/or dead by violating the order? Will the disclaimer also note that each patron waives their right to sue if a box falls on their head or they trip down the front steps? Will there be a notary set up outside the store, just so it holds up in court for the two-to-four people per day who actually show up with the confidence to shop?

Studies have shown an overwhelming majority of citizens nationwide from both parties (74 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats, per The Economist) do not think we are ready to start reopening. Those citizens are united in their strong belief that stopping the spread of the virus is even more important than resuming business activity. 

Is it worth incurring all of this liability, given that most people will not be shopping or otherwise visiting businesses that open before it’s safe? Most people are barely comfortable visiting the grocery store once a week at this point, let alone entering a nonessential business where the owner was cavalier enough to open against orders and against health advice.

Any patron will be thinking the obvious: A business owner who is cavalier enough to violate the governor’s order and open too soon is also likely among those who have put themselves and others at risk by failing to wear masks, failing to social distance, failing to wash hands and failing to take other safety measures.

It’s also worth adding that, by pushing to open too soon, local business and political leaders are actually delaying the restart of the economy, because reopening too early will cause even more people to become infected and die. A recent Wall Street Journal headline put the issue in stark relief: “Officials Warn of New Coronavirus Surge As States Reopen.” It’s also worth noting that York County’s number of infected citizens continues to increase every day. 

Most people understand that what’s right, in this case, might not be convenient. But like Gov. Tom Wolf, they are willing to do the difficult thing because the difficult thing is the right thing to do.

We just need York County leaders to catch up to that reality and stop bowing to a vocal minority. Any antics pulled with reopening early are really just going to have the opposite effect as more people contract the virus. Most importantly (and it’s sad that this even has to be stated), we should be protecting citizens instead of putting them at risk by prioritizing the profit of York County’s largest businesses.

— Bill Swartz is a resident of Spring Garden Township.