Dear Miriam | Reopenings Open Up Concerns

Coronavirus written newspaper close up shot to the text.
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Dear Miriam,
Now that things are starting to reopen, I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the way it’s being done and the precautions that the people in charge are taking. Are there appropriate ways to express my concerns?

Badly Back to Business

Dear Business,
Let us be clear: No one knows how this is all supposed to go. No one currently making these decisions has ever overseen reopening after a pandemic, and there are still so many unknowns about the virus itself that no reopening plan is even close to foolproof.

I do think that most people are making a good-faith effort to follow the guidelines we have and that businesses, customers and people generally in society want life to get back to normal and want to do it safely.

And yet, your apprehensions are rational and reasonable. Numbers of COVID cases are rising in many parts of the country, whether because they never stopped rising in the first place or because there may be higher numbers after reopening. As I am neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician, I claim no strong analysis of these numbers, but I read the news, and I hear about new cases, and I understand your concerns.

If you are worried about the reopening practices of a business in your neighborhood or one you would like to frequent regularly, your best option is not to go to that business. If you see something especially egregious (staff without masks, for example), you could consider a call or email to management explaining the specific concern and that you won’t return until it’s fixed.

But if your concern overall is that it’s too early to reopen or that people shouldn’t be gathering, as long as the business is within the state or city guidelines, you don’t have much of a basis for your complaint.

If, however, you’re worried about the reopening practices of your own workplace, or a place you must go (like a doctor’s office or pharmacy), you are absolutely right to say something. I would still advise you to do so in the framework of, “I know this is hard and we’re all doing our best, but …” rather than scolding or reprimanding.

Positioning yourself as a know-it-all, when no one knows all right now, is unlikely to give your recommendations much credence, and quoting state and/or municipal public health guidelines is likely your best source material.

There are, of course, many more ambiguities than what I’ve laid out, including what to do about places that are allowed to open but are not mandated to open, and hygiene practices that are recommended but not required. There are no perfect answers. There are many imperfect and incomplete and unsatisfactory answers, and the uncertainty and fears and the sheer length of the shutdown are making life difficult for everyone.

Criticizing businesses or organizations likely won’t improve outcomes, so if you can find a productive way to communicate your concerns without judgment, go ahead and, if you can’t, I hope you can find reasonable and safe ways to stay away until you feel that the situation has stabilized.

Be well,


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