May 15, 2020 - Health

America at half-occupancy

"Some vacancy" sign
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's not just restaurants and bars: The reopening of America will be centered around reducing our pre-virus conceptions of how many people can congregate together indoors.

The big picture: Social distancing and spacing is strongly encouraged by the CDC in its new guidelines for reopening various parts of American life.

  • It leaves the "how" more up to local government, but you can easily imagine the scale of this challenge.

The 6 sectors:

  1. Workplaces: Even keeping at-risk staffers at home will require creative planning to allow social distancing.
  2. Restaurants and bars: The service sector was built around thin margins, and many businesses will fail if they can't run at full occupancy.
  3. Child care: America already lacks availability for affordable daycare. That won't get cheaper if providers have to tighten capacity.
  4. Schools: Those that do open in the fall will need lots more space — or creative scheduling. Richer districts might be able to figure it out. Poorer districts — especially while states are bleeding funding — might be on their own.
  5. Youth programs and camps: Parents were already sweating summer plans. Now the guidance tells camps to spread out and distance. This won't be easy for the barracks-style housing for campers.
  6. Mass transit: New Yorkers and Washingtonians know that it's way easier to suggest distancing on trains — not to mention the platforms — than to handle it during rush hour.

Between the lines: The virus is also unleashing a supply chain issue for taking care of kids — much like restaurant closures messed with the food supply.

  • Social distancing for schools could easily mean that some kids stay home on certain days — leaving the parents scrambling for care.
  • The virus will also leave many former providers unwilling or unable to work because of health concerns.
  • Finally, parents with concerns about putting their kids in either school or day care will face agonizing choices this fall.

The bottom line: This doesn't need to be our reality forever, but until this virus is fully under control, get used to this new normal.

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