To the Editor:
I am asking that my name be withheld from this letter so as not to damage the reputation of my business or cause speculation about any of my employees.
Just a few days ago, local residents celebrated Connecticut and Wilton for our success in slowing the progress of COVID-19 among residents. It seems just as people were hitting “enter” on their optimistic social media posts, a round of new cases popped up in Wilton.
I am writing this letter not just as a Connecticut resident, but as a Wilton business owner. The coronavirus has, of course, been most excruciating for anyone that has been infected by the virus or had a loved one infected by the virus. The economic impact is certainly secondary to the health impact. But the impact on our local businesses is not trivial. Because the health and safety of employees and customers are the top priority of most small business owners, most of us closed our doors–even before state or local mandates–to help keep everyone around our businesses safe.
I actually felt a sense of pride to be part of this group. Local businesses united, shared ideas, adapted, and tried to maintain a positive outlook. Loyal customers chipped in by purchasing gift cards and conducting transactions over the phone and the internet. Small businesses are inherently customer-focused and nimble, and our strengths served us well during the shutdown.
We moved through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of reopening with limited hours and limited staff. We wore masks, sanitized surfaces, and limited our capacity. Things started to feel fairly good. Customers were gracious and patient. No one complained about the new procedures or refused to wear a face cover. Welcoming back customers reminded me of seeing old classmates again after summer break.
Now, this new “bump” in cases has occurred and it has impacted businesses in a curious way. It seems that the most recent cases are related to social gatherings among young residents. Many of these young residents are employees at our local businesses.
Traditionally, most people attempt to keep their personal lives and their professional lives quite separate. I respect an employee’s privacy. If they spend their evenings reading at home or attending parties seven nights a week–it makes no difference to me. Team members are evaluated based on their performance at work, not their social lives outside of work.
With COVID-19, however, the most important thing we can do to slow the spread of the virus is to modify our social behavior. Hugging friends, attending slumber parties, sharing a beach blanket–these are memories I cherish from my younger days. If the virus struck when I was 18, I do not know what guidelines my family and I would have followed. I know it is difficult for each individual to figure out what’s right for them right now. Each person needs to balance physical health with emotional well-being and figure out how best to live their life.
What we cannot do though, is expect that everyone is ok with the same rules. If you decide that stringent guidelines for social distancing do not work for you, it’s best to communicate with others and limit your interactions to other people that have made the same decision as you.
Back to the main point…I am a business owner. If you work for a business that is adhering to strict social distancing guidelines and you are not following these guidelines outside of work, consider having a discussion with your employer. If you are a parent of someone that fits this description, consider having a discussion with your child. Businesses have all lost quite a bit of revenue this spring. We are working hard to create as safe an environment as possible for customers and employees. Unfortunately, what we do within our business is hugely impacted by what our employees do outside our business. Those that choose to take greater risk are free to do so, please just make sure you are not jeopardizing businesses that are working so hard to minimize risk right now.
Editor’s note: While the letter writer asked GMW to withhold his/her name, they are not anonymous to us. We have published this letter knowing who the writer is and having verified its provenance.