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A sign voicing the uncertainty of business operations hangs in the window of Vape Dynamics in downtown Athens, Georgia on Sunday, March 22, 2020. On Thursday, March 19, the Athens-Clarke County government passed mandatory "shelter-in-place" laws that forced the closure of "non-essential" businesses and urged citizens to avoid unnecessary trips outside their homes, limit gatherings to 10 people, and maintain six feet of distance between others. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach)

Speculation about when and how to reopen the economy has been rampant. On April 20, Gov. Brian Kemp made a splash when he announced he would allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, aestheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists to reopen on April 24. Theaters, private social clubs and restaurant dine-in services can reopen today.

However, Kemp’s decision won’t prevent economic hardship. Right now, people are too afraid to go to public places. Without a strong customer base, businesses won’t be able to operate as they did before the pandemic.

Fears about the economy are justified and might be more powerful than fears about the virus itself. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, 70.4% of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about becoming infected, but 86.5% of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” worried about the economy as of press time.

Still, opening up the economy won’t fix the problem. In fact, it’s unclear how many places will open back up at all right now.

Despite permission to open, several businesses have decided to remain closed for the time being. For example, Athens businesses Republic Salon, Pain & Wonder Tattoo and Body Piercing, and Pedal Driven Cycles in Athens have all decided not to open back up.

There are likely a couple of main reasons for this. First, business owners are worried about their health and the health of their workers and customers. If they don’t think it’s safe, then they won’t want to go to work.

But it also might not make sense from a business perspective. In some cases, being open and having only a few customers costs more than being shut down. This is because it costs money to operate. Although businesses have to pay for some things like rent no matter what, other expenses like supplies, wages, utilities and maintenance are much higher when the business is open. And, because of the novel coronavirus, cleaning costs will likely be higher than normal.

There simply may not be enough willing buyers to make opening back up worth it. Facing high unemployment, people might want to conserve their money. And, amid a pandemic, customers might be too scared to go out to public places. For example, according to a poll from Seton Hall, 72% of Americans said they wouldn’t attend sporting events before a coronavirus vaccine is developed, including 61% of sports fans. I could be wrong, but given that the public does not want to attend games, I doubt they’d be willing to risk possible infection for bowling.

Restaurants probably won’t be able to go back to normal either. Part of the reason we’re willing to drive to restaurants to pay higher prices is the atmosphere of the place, but the atmosphere won’t be the same when everyone is afraid of getting too close to anyone.

We can’t stay on lockdown forever, and at some point, the economy will have to open up again. Right now, however, it’s pointless to open things back up while people are too afraid to go to public places. Until we make sure it’s safe to bowl, Kemp’s orders won’t mean much.

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