Stopping the pandemic without killing the economy is a tightrope walk that will test each one of us.
It could be on a personal level of how far each of us is willing to venture back out into our old lives.
Would you go see a ballgame this summer if you could? Are you going to wear a face mask?
Others will be tested in business, where retail foot traffic disappeared in an instance when COVID-19 hit. Many businesses hope to reopen soon, while many essential businesses — like tire dealers — operating throughout the pandemic would welcome an increase in customers.
Precautions taken to combat COVID-19, like stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-essential businesses, may have spared the lives of many people. But it also put a lot of people out of work — around 30 million unemployment insurance claims have been made since mid-March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
For tire dealers, it has been a struggle to maintain their workforce. Layoffs and furloughs have happened. In many shops, employees saw their hours reduced so no one had to lose his or her job. Many shops applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to help cover payroll.
In March and April, these small business owners battened down the hatches and waited out the storm.
After two difficult months, is the sky clearing?
For one example, let's look to Patrice Banks, the owner of Girls Auto Clinic in Philadelphia. She closed her shop and the adjoining nail salon when coronavirus cases first spiked in Pennsylvania in March. During a Tire Business roundtable discussion with tire dealers on April 15, Ms. Banks explained it was an effort to save money and keep everyone safe. This allowed her employees to seek unemployment and saved her money on overhead while everyone waited out the worst of the pandemic at home.
"I've always seen the downside as an opportunity to prepare for an upswing — an opportunity to learn, get better, get stronger, get closer to your customers," Ms. Banks said in early May. "Winners are made in tough times, not easy times. The strong, smart, resilient and adaptable survive. This is where we show what we are made of."
She applied for and received a PPP loan through the Small Business Administration.
A month later, she was back in business. She has brought back five of her seven employees — the other two declined to come back for personal reasons.
"We saw a drop in customers coming in when the shutdown first started to occur in the Philadelphia area. But now we are busy," Ms. Banks said. She added the shop is actually short staffed for the amount of appointments coming in, and she will likely hire another technician.
The new normal at her shop, Ms. Banks said, is employees wearing proper protective gear. Each tech has a disinfectant station and procedure for disinfecting customers' cars. All appointments are contact-less.
"Smart and clear communication is what people need right now," she said. "I make it clear to everyone that the mental and physical health of myself and my staff is priority. The physical health/safety and confidence of my customers is second.
"If I can operate my business and communicate these priorities during the pandemic, we will successfully make it through."