For the first time in weeks, some Georgia businesses have reopened their doors as the state loosened coronavirus restrictions. But many business owners still have questions about whether to reopen, and how to do it safely. CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta brings those questions to Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University.
You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read our transcript below.
Gupta: As you may know, in Georgia, many businesses have been given the green light to reopen under a new order from Gov. Brian Kemp. Now, those business owners are trying to figure out the best path forward - for their employees, their customers, and their livelihoods.
So we asked some small business owners in Georgia to share their questions and their concerns about reopening. And today, we’ll do our best to address them.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Gupta: Georgia is one of several states that are reopening in some form this week. But there’s been a lot of debate surrounding those decisions.
And while many Georgia businesses reopen following rules of a new normal, there are still plenty of questions.
Shannon Stafford: We looked at the state board guidelines and tried to implement as many of those things that was possible.
Gupta: Some, like hair salon owner Shannon Stafford have cautiously decided to open their doors.
Stafford: But it’s going to be difficult because we’re so hands on. So that’s why it’s gonna be kind of vital to making sure that we both wear masks. Hands are being cleaned. We have fresh garments. We have to put things like that in place because eventually we’re going to all be able to reopen, this is happening.
Gupta: While others like chef Ian Winslade still feel like it’s too soon.
Winslade: There’s a lot of things there that we can’t get ahold of right now. Face masks are a big problem. Finding sanitizer is a big problem. And so we’d have to address all of those things before we can even consider reopening.
Gupta: There’s a lot for business owners to consider when thinking about reopening – can you limit the number of customers? Make sure everyone is keeping a safe distance? Do you make everyone wear a mask? Not to mention, how will each decision ultimately affect your bottom line?
Joining me today to help address some of these concerns is Dr. Carlos del Rio.
Dr. Del Rio is an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, where I am also on staff. His life’s work is in HIV research, but he’s now doing work on Covid-19 treatments and a vaccine.
Gupta: Politics aside, Carlos, are we ready to reopen?
Del Rio: You know, I don’t think so, but I would say, Sanjay, that, you know, from a health standpoint, it’s always too soon. From a business standpoint, it’s always too late. It’s always such a hard decision. And what I think we need to do is find a place that we can have some business, some economic development at the same time that we are doing it in a safe public health way. And the problem is, we don’t know the answer to that. Because we’ve never experienced this before.
Gupta: I’d like to send a couple of questions from these business owners to you, and I’ll preface by saying that everyone’s situation is going to be a little different, how they approach this is going to be different, how people assess risk is gonna be different. But I think there was a common sense that there’s a lot of information out there, but maybe not enough clarity on what people should do.
So this is a question from Alex Brounstein, he’s the owner of Grindhouse Killer Burgers in Atlanta. And he had this question:
Brounstein: Right now, I mean, six feet seems to be the standard. But, you know, if your tables are six feet away, sometimes somebody walks by, that’s inside of six feet or your server has to come to your table. I mean, how do you, you know, logistically make all this work? I don’t know.
Del Rio: So a couple of things. Unless you have somebody who’s a hyper spreader, a super spreader, walking by, somebody being close to somebody, for just a few seconds may not transmit this. Maybe it’s very different if you’re sitting at the table. You know, you and I have talked a lot about this article from China with the three tables. People were sitting there. They didn’t talk anything about the waiters or the cooks. It was people sitting at the table that got infected. Right. The people that were there for a long period of time. So I think that’s one thing to think about.
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Gupta: Just to clarify for our listeners, Dr. Del Rio is referring to a study that recently came out of China.
In that study, they looked at how the virus had spread within a restaurant.
There was one infected person who wasn’t showing symptoms at the time, and what they found is that this one person seemed to have spread the virus to nine others. Both at the person’s table and surrounding tables.
It shows that the real risk there is that you’re exposed for a prolonged period of time, such as when you’re sitting and eating.
Del Rio: The other thing is I think that I think we have grossly underestimated how much of this transmission is by fomites, by things you touch. So how do you make sure that when people walk in, they don’t need to open the door? The door is open. And what policies do we have in place from a human resource standpoint that that that makes it easy for a waiter if they’re not feeling well to not come to work? Because if they said, no, I’ve got to go to work because otherwise I’m not going to get paid, well, that person is going to come to work and potentially can start a transmission. So we really have to change a lot of things, including HR policies, it’s not just where we put our tables.
Gupta: Let me send you a question from Savannah, Georgia, now. We talked to David, who owns a nail salon there in Savannah. And he said that because the number of cases in Chatham County where the city of Savannah is located is really low, he feels that the risk to open is pretty small. And I think that that’s something that people are wondering. Is it true that it’s safer to reopen in places with fewer cases?
Del Rio: Do we know truly that there’s fewer cases? I mean, do we have good data? And I agree. I mean, I think that opening a place in New York City may be very different than opening a place in Iowa. I think decisions here have to be local. It’s gonna be very different depending where you are. And that’s why making a national decision is difficult. A state decision is difficult. You have to follow the data.
Gupta: Let me ask you this question from Michael Michaelides, who owns CrossFit Downtown Atlanta.
Michaelides: What are the things that that are here to stay and that we should already be preparing for? And what are the things that are just temporary? And if they are temporary, how do we know when that’s over?
Del Rio: Again, I think until we have a vaccine or until this somehow magically goes away, I mean, I would think a gym will will need to reformat how they are positioned and the hours of operation and what they do and maybe what they allowed to happen. And I’ll give you an example. I’ve been thinking about the gym that I go to. The running machines are too close to each other. And, you know, somebody could be right next to you and sweating and you’re you’re not six feet apart from the other person. And then you’re grabbing the the handle. And there’s like I think there’s two places to get hand sanitizer in the entire place. That needs to be a lot more. So maybe gyms can have certain hours that are just for people over 65 right? So you try to spread out your clients a lot more. Which of course would be something that many of us may say, well, that’s not convenient with the hours I would like to go, but I think convenience is something we’re gonna have to sacrifice in order to keep our health.
Gupta: I think that’s such a critical point. I mean, we are all in this together. People have heard that phrase over and over again, but that’s what it means, is that even if you don’t get sick, you could still spread this virus to your family, to your community, to the people you love. And it’s not just about you at this point, given that we’re dealing with a contagious virus.
Gupta: Obviously, what’s happening in Georgia is something that the country, perhaps the world is really paying attention to. Are there going to be lessons that come out of Georgia?
Del Rio: Yeah I mean I think I think there will be. I think either, you know, people are going to say the governor made the right decision or people going to say the governor made the wrong decision. I also think there are important lessons about how the population responds to this decision. I mean, CDC is here in Georgia. I mean, I just I just hope that there is a more coordinated response. I can tell you that I know a lot of the business leaders and a lot of other people are concerned and are trying to do whatever they can to try to be effective. It’s almost feels like, you know, like we’re trying to to prevent this boat from sinking because we’re all on it, right? I mean, I live in Georgia. So the reality is this is this is personal. And that’s why I tell people, you know, I, I’m not going out. I’m wearing my mask. I’m not going to restaurants and I’m continue practicing social distancing and I’m continuing doing it because I care for my health.
Gupta: Just because you can go out doesn’t mean you have to go out.
Del Rio: That’s exactly right. I mean, nobody has been knocking on my door saying, hey, you need to go bowling, right?
Gupta: (laughs) Right. They’re certainly not knocking on your door knowing all the work that you’re doing in this area. I hope to see you in person sometime soon, but until then, we’ll see each other on the screen like this. So thank you very much.
Del Rio: Sounds good. Take care.
Gupta: Okay thank you.
We’re all still in uncharted territory here – and because of the way the virus behaves – it could take weeks before we see the impact reopening has on communities.
That is why we need the data to lead the way. This is going to be a long tunnel, but I do think there is a light at the end of it. If we all do our part, hopefully we’ll move closer to the end sooner rather than later.
If you have questions, please record them as a voice memo and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org – we might include them in our next podcast.
We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
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