Spiraling

wind spiral 0320

While I thought I was being relatively pro-active and taking semi-reasonable precautions, it turns out nothing really sunk in until late yesterday afternoon. No, I don’t believe I have covid-19, but that’s when it occurred to me that I stand a very real chance of losing my business unless my staff and I can be smarter and more creative than I’m feeling these days.

That’s because it became apparent that this “new normal” is not going to be a matter of two weeks or a month. For whatever reason, landing right in the middle of a week, everyone in the valley seems to be targeting April 8. Libraries: closed until April 8. Schools: closed until April 8. My dentist, who likes to mix things up: closed until April 4 (except for emergencies).

Oz’s dog groomer: closed until April 8, as I discovered when I walked down the street after work last night to see if they had a sign posted. Oz is supposed to have a badly-needed grooming appointment today, and I feel it shouldn’t have been too big a hardship for the groomer to call and let me know his appointment was cancelled, but apparently it was.

This seemed like a business that could continue: meet customers at the front door, take the dog in where he’s getting bathed with plenty of soap and water — and our county extension agent reported to the KBUT program on Monday that there is no evidence of transmission either to animals or using their coats as germ carriers — accept a credit card payment over the phone and release the dog at the front door. But no: closed.

Today the new term all over the news is “shelter in place.” It’s too early for our county’s 11 a.m. update, but as of right now Gunnison County is a long way away from that position. I did send my question to the call center e-mail about the wisdom of shutting down downtown while leaving all our perimeter stores open for business as usual; this will probably be like the time I just wanted to know what tax to charge at the farmers’ market for food and ended up changing the way a couple of large stores did business.

The county is currently telling builders it’s okay to stay in business as long as they fill out a form (there’s also a form to tattle on businesses you think are violating the public health order), which would have to mean that lumber yards are included as “hardware stores.” On my way home last night I noticed flashing “open” signs for the 24/7 self-serve gymnasium, Tractor Supply (which probably counts itself as both hardware and department store) and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

I didn’t stop at any of these places, and maybe signs on the doors or protocols are overriding the inviting signs, but while I am telling a friend and even Lynn they can’t set foot inside Pat’s Screen Printing, where it’s down to Kara and me, I don’t see the county’s efforts slowing the virus like they want.

Here are our numbers, as of this morning: 11 positive cases and nine negative, with 39 tests pending. The nine negative, which got through our rigorous screening, suggests there must be at least one other virulent virus going around. Eighteen people at the drive-up clinic yesterday were swabbed for flu, with 0 positives. Of the 48 people total who reported to the clinic, only 12 were swabbed for covid-19, which means a lot of people with serious symptoms have been sent home with instructions to self-isolate.

Without testing kits, here’s the large unknown: 185 people self-reported as symptomatic. All 185 of these self-reporters used the English version of the form, so we may further have an underreported Spanish-speaking population.

But what is our total infection rate? Clearly, no one has any real idea. I thought I heard something yesterday about people who have recovered may possibly have antibodies in their blood, but I suppose no one’s going to go around after the fact spending money to find out who really had it and who didn’t. Assuming anyone even came up with a test for that.

My next question is, if you’ve recovered, are you now immune? And if so, why couldn’t those people be put back to work?

I have more questions than people have answers.

In the meantime, after reading how a sluggish response by both the United Kingdom and the United States is offering up a projection of a possible 3 million dead across both countries (2.2 million in the U.S.) in a worst-case scenario, and reading a column by a woman in Italy quarantined at home with her husband and four children, I realized we are in this for a lot longer haul than I was bargaining on.

All we’re really going to do on April 8, particularly if we all keep shopping at the same time at City Market, is put new signs on our doors extending closures. And for a business that relies on schools and events of people gathering together, this was not a good thought.

We had a big plan, pre-virus, this spring, to get a bigger jump than usual on our summer orders, but even if we had a healthy printer, that now seems a foolish risk to take. One of my on-line trade magazines yesterday suggested that restaurants could sustain themselves by selling branded merchandise, but I am not about to call customers who have laid a bunch of people off (and I hadn’t even thought about all the food they might have that could get spoiled) to suggest this would be a great time for them to spend more money.

It’s a sobering thought, to realize my business might not survive a pandemic. We teetered on the brink a bit back in 2008, but while my politics skew liberal my business practices are extremely conservative and risk-adverse. My biggest obligation is my lease, which prior to this I had never worried about, because I was sure someone would come along and want the space. My landlord is rightfully proud that his building has only been vacant one month in all the time he’s owned it.

But yesterday, as I went past a building that’s been for rent for several months (after the fly-fishing store bought a building that had been empty for at least two years), I’m thinking that I could be on the hook for several more thousands — many of the thousands we have in savings — than I’ve ever bargained for. For the first time, a long-term lease seems more a liability than a benefit.

Without much income, and probably, if the U.S. Senate ever understands its obligation and conducts some votes, a mandate to pay employees for up to 14 weeks (although we are small enough to apply for a waiver to opt out of the required 12 weeks of family leave at two-thirds pay), and if Gunnison has to remain closed into if not through the summer . . . well, my staff and I had better get creative fast.

Kara is counseling one step at a time, and my mother is suggesting I not stress (ha! That’s what I do best), and the chamber of commerce has posted a link for disaster assistance, which makes me realize this is the sort of spot Mother Nature puts businesses in all the time, with big wind, water and fire.

I also realize my outlook generally tends toward glass-half-empty, which reminds me of an old Far Side comic that had the four types of people: glass half-full; glass half-empty; is it half-full or half-empty; and “Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!”

I need to be the cheeseburger guy. There has to be some way forward in this, and I am surrounded by good, creative people (most of whom are currently down with a variety of symptoms) . . . we’re going to try to figure it out. Wish us luck. And health.

I’ve taken long enough that the 11 a.m. report is in:

county stats 0320

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