States Deciding Which Businesses are "Essential"

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

CORRECTS TO CULVER CITY, INSTEAD OF LOS ANGELES An employee stands at the entrance to a guns shop Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Culver City, Calif. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would like to see gun shops shut down. “We will be closing them, they are not an essential function,” Villanueva said. Adding guns to households where more people are at home during a crisis increases the risk that someone will be shot, he said. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

As more and more states, counties, and cities issue “stay-at-home” orders, it has left many people googling what that means in reality. Essentially, it’s an order from the government to restrict movements to suppress or mitigate an epidemic or pandemic, in this case COVID-19, by ordering citizens to stay at home with the exception of conducting tasks deemed to be necessary or going to work at essential businesses. An obvious follow-up question is – which businesses are essential? This is of the utmost importance for Americans across the country planning to spend the next few weeks at home.

You may be surprised to learn that businesses considered “essential” can vary based on the specifics of the stay-at-home orders issued by the elected officials in those states or localities.

Recently, the Federal Government rightly issued national social distancing guidelines, which called on Americans to avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people and for governors in states hard hit by the virus to close schools. The guidelines also recommended to governors that restaurants and bars, as well as gyms and other venues where people gather, should also be closed.

The administration, in an act that many have applauded, left a lot of the decision making up to state governors, who would know the needs of their residents far better than a federal bureaucracy. So far, 35 states have issued stay-at-home orders, with some states having targeted stay-at-home orders for densely populated areas.

Thankfully, leaders from both sides of the political aisles and in most states agree on the need to protect the food supply chain by deeming grocery and convenience stores as essential, as well as other locations that sell food like restaurants, which are allowed to continue delivering as long as social distancing measures are taken into account.

And that’s good news given that these local businesses are helping to stand on the front lines to provide much needed goods and services during this critical time and are working to do so in the safest way possible.

Convenience stores, for example, are playing a critical role in this pandemic. The average convenience store is much smaller than a standard grocery store, making it easier to clean regularly and transactions are much faster at convenience stores, which is essential when helping to promote social distancing. Many of them are also located in rural and densely populated communities where grocery stores are hard to find, and most convenience stores are open 24/7, which is essential for our first responders and members of the medical community that often don’t leave work until most grocery stores are closed.

Most policymakers have not had to face these types of logistical questions, at least on this scale before. However, as we read about the rampant panic buying that is occurring across America, with hour-long lines at large grocery stores and essential home goods often nowhere to be found, our leaders are rightfully putting a greater emphasis on protecting retailers and businesses that provide food and essential goods.

The Federal Government made the right decision to issue general social distancing guidelines, while giving states the autonomy to specify the stay-at-home orders that best suit the unique needs of each individual state. As we can expect to see more states issue stay-at-home orders in the coming weeks, I hope governors and local leaders will continue to make the right decisions when determining which businesses are deemed essential. That way, together, we can all come out of this crisis as safe, sane, and healthy as possible.

Katlyn Batts is the Chairwoman of the Wingate University College Republicans and an employee of the Jesse Helms Center.