Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Landscaping companies, gun stores, golf courses, live wrestling matches: Businesses considered "essential" in one state aren't designated the same way in others.

Why it matters: A patchwork of coronavirus-era policies is causing confusion — plus envy and resentment — across the country, with calls for clearer federal guidelines about what should and shouldn't remain open.

There's consensus about a handful of obvious essentials, like hospitals and grocery stores. But others are more controversial:

  • Hobby Lobby, the crafts chain that kept doors open because it sells "essential" supplies to make masks and other personal protective equipment, defied initial orders from a number of states to close.
  • Bath & Body Works, which specializes in fragranced toiletries, made the case that it sells soaps and hand sanitizers — and some of stores were reportedly given the go-ahead to reopen in Ohio after initially closing.
  • In Florida, World Wrestling Entertainment was deemed an essential business by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who argued that Americans were bored by reruns of televised sports, telling reporters: "People have been starved for content."

The backstory: The federal government released guidance on what industries could remain open, though it's left to states — and sometimes cities — to decide who is allowed to operate and who isn't.

  • Who's essential includes broad swaths of workers, from bankers and auto mechanics to teachers and veterinarians.
  • But in some cases, state's early guidelines were too vague. It's forced them to double back and tell grey-area businesses to shut. For instance: Ohio's new Dispute Resolution Commission clarified last week that pet groomers were not considered essential businesses.
  • “There remains a need for clear national guidance to resolve questions caused by a number of conflicting state and local orders,” the National Retail Federation, retail's chief lobbying group, wrote in a letter to the White House.

Between the lines: The inconsistencies have created opportunity for businesses, which are flexing lobbying muscle to convince governors to deem them essential.

  • While liquor stores and medical marijuana dispensaries are deemed essential — to prevent people with chemical dependencies from having medical emergencies, among other reasons — some eyebrows have been raised.
  • In Massachusetts, for instance, recreational pot stores aren't considered essential. The decision drew furor from its cannabis industry, which says the outlets would be allowed to operate under other state guidelines.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker feared those shops "would attract people from out of state and hinder efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus," WBUR reports.

What to watch: "Essential" isn't going away — indeed, its definition could prove even more contentious as states and local areas begin the process of opening back up.

  • The businesses considered most important by governors will return to work first, which means that states will have to add more guidelines and gradations.
  • “So we want to start to bring the economy back, move up one tranche on how you define essential. What’s the next level of essential businesses?" New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.