May 15, 2020

Slowing the spread, businesses reopen, pandemic’s economic impact

Plus, what businesses and employers are liable for when it comes to preventing an outbreak.

Arizona’s stay at home order came to an end this week, after more than a month since it took effect. Governor Ducey also announced more businesses could reopen. With more people anticipated to spend less time at home and in potentially crowded spaces, we asked University of Arizona virologist Felicia Goodman what individuals can do to protect themselves from the virus even as the number of confirmed cases continues to climb.

“What I’ll be doing, and advise people I know to do, is to really keep very diligent attention to the social distancing. Keeping six feet distance between you and other people when you’re out,” Goodrum said. “And hand washing is really 98% of our battle against this virus. It’s an enveloped virus, it’s very susceptible to soaps and detergents.”

Goodrum also encourages people wear face masks.

“The masks give us an extra layer of protection,” Goodrum said. “The virus can shed even less than that six-foot distance.”

The pandemic and resulting restrictions have inflicted unprecedented damage to the economy, impacting about half a million jobs in Arizona. For insight into the setbacks and what the road to recovery may look like, we turned to University of Arizona Eller College of Management economist George Hammond.

“I think that the Arizona economy is going to recover gradually over the next couple of years. I think we’ll get back to the levels that we saw in late 2019 sometime in 2022,” Hammond said. “It’s also important to keep in mind that the Arizona economy was very strong before the outbreak struck. Arizona was generating jobs at roughly double the national rate. The Arizona economy was in good shape before the outbreak. And I think the longer-term prospects are very good for Arizona.”

Restaurants and gyms joined the growing list of businesses allowed to open their doors this week. In doing so, owners must now navigate a new normal that prioritizes safety from an invisible threat. Tony Paniagua reports on some of the precautions business owners are taking to protect their employees and customers, while other businesses are choosing to remain closed until they feel it’s safe.

Even as businesses in Pima County reopen, challenges persist for owners and their employees. From operating at a deficit during Southern Arizona’s slowest months, to a lack of childcare options for returning workers. We discussed those hurdles with Tucson Metro Chamber president Amber Smith.

“We are leading into our slow time of season. So, it really just depends on the industry. Restaurants now have the authority to be able to open but there are many strict guidelines as well that might hinder their ability to do that. Plus, there’s still concern out there as to is it really safe,” Smith said.

Smith also acknowledged the decision to reopen or remain closed has turned into a politically polarizing issue for some.

“I’m not taking a stance whether or not we should or should not reopen. But what I don’t like to see is that those businesses that made that choice that is allowed by our government representatives, they are now being judged by others which absolutely divides the community,” Smith said. She recommended that businesses choosing to reopen clearly communicate their plans to uphold public safety.

“It’s really important that consumers know that when they walk into a business, they can clearly see that every reasonable accommodation has been made to make them safe.”

As companies and institutions try to prevent workplaces from becoming hotspots for the coronavirus, some have adopted methods like requiring face masks or temperature checks. We discussed the legal basis for these added precautions with Tara Sklar, an expert in health law and policy with the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

“I think what’s helpful to keep in mind is what is the reasonable standard of care for businesses before we had the pandemic?” Sklar said. “Someone would be able to file a negligence suit. And if it was found that the injury or illness happened because of that business, then they would be liable for damages.”

Sklar said CDC and OSHA guidance that recommends physical distancing and face masks meet a reasonable standard of care that employers could insist their employees and customers follow.

“I think it’s important to think about this from an employer’s perspective of where they don’t want to be subject to a lawsuit because they didn’t exercise reasonable precaution,” Sklar said.

While some congressional lawmakers have voiced concern that employers will likely face a barrage of coronavirus-related lawsuits, Sklar said she does not support granting businesses immunity from legal complaints.

“It’s very hard to prove a lawsuit in this area. It would be very hard to show that you got the virus at that business on that day because the employer didn’t exercise reasonable prudent care,” Sklar said. “If that does get stripped away and there is immunity, then businesses may not act as prudently as they otherwise would to protect the public.”

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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