One merchant’s story: In the era of COVID, even a scare can disrupt a business 

By on July 18, 2020


It began on the morning of June 30 when the son of one of her employees wakes up feeling sick with symptoms that seem to be a lot like COVID-19.

For the next week, the prospect of the coronavirus invading her workplace sent one local business owner scrambling though various scenarios and decisions to cope with that possibility.  And even though the story had a happy ending, some damage to the business could not be avoided — illustrating the challenges and difficult judgment calls facing those who run businesses and manage employees during this pandemic.

For the purposes of this article, the identity of the business and its owner are not being disclosed.

That same June 30 morning, the son — who lives in the same home as the employee — goes to urgent care for a COVID-19 test. He then calls his mother, who is working at the business, to inform her of the situation. The mother and the owner confer, and the mother quickly leaves the store to try and get a COVID-19 test. Her general practitioner tells her to call urgent care. The urgent facility says they are too busy at the moment and asks her to come in early the next morning for a test.

While the mother seeks a test, the owner contacts the Dare County COVID call center and is told she doesn’t need to be tested at this point because “I’m not in contact with the infected individual.”

That same afternoon, the owner contacts the rest of her employees, all over 60 years of age, to fill them in and discuss options. “I got several reactions,” she recalls. One employee is hosting visiting grandchildren for the first time since the outbreak started and doesn’t want to work until all test results come back.  Another employee says she is willing to work if the owner isn’t physically in the store. A third says she is willing to work, period.

Because the store will now be missing at least three of its five employees, “I was very quickly out of warm bodies,” the owner notes. So she makes a decision. The store will cut its evening hours on July 1,2, and 3—a crucial period leading up to the big July 4 holiday. And because of staffing issues, the store will close completely on Monday, July 6.

On July 1, the mother of the man with symptoms gets a COVID-19 test. The nurse there tells her she will have to wait six or seven days before she can get the results. In the meantime, she must quarantine at home until those results are known.

On July 7, one week after being tested, the man with the symptoms finds out his test result is negative. He does not have COVID-19. One day later, a week after she was tested, his mother finds out her results are negative as well.

At that point, it’s clear that no one within the circle of store workers has contracted COVID-19 and everyone is now willing to come to work. After a pretty nervous week and some lost business, everything is back to normal — or as normal as things can be in these difficult times.

In explaining her response, the owner tells the Voice that “I had tried to think though…what I would do, what would be my personal and business response in the event of a variety of scenarios.” She had decided that the business would close and that she would announce that decision on Facebook if an employee had tested positive.

“As it turns out, we didn’t close, we cut our hours,” she explains, adding that she tried “to take a prudent middle road,” between being “extra cautious” and being too concerned with “worrying about the business. impacts” One additional COVID-19 fear weighing on her during that week: Her husband is considerably older and has some health problems.

Again, with all the results negative, the story had a happy ending. But “as it was,” the owner notes, “we lost the equivalent of nearly two-and-a-half days’ worth of business in one of the most lucrative weeks of the year.”

For the record, she adds, revenue this June was about 50% of what it had been in June 2019.

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