Op-Ed: You Should Ask If Business Owners, Workers Have Tested Negative for COVID-19

Health care workers were required to get tested. Newark residents should demand the same of nonessential businesses as they prepare to reopen
Ras J. Baraka

There is much talk today about “rights,” as some states, such as New Jersey, go through the painstaking process of trying to balance the economic damage already caused by COVID-19 against the potential consequences of relaxing our proven sheltering-in-place and social-distancing methods that so effectively slowed the spread of the disease.

In Newark, we have seen the “curve flattened’’ after weeks of enforcing shelter-in-place orders, an 8 p.m. curfew and social distancing in essential businesses. Between the city and the Board of Education, about 1 million meals have been distributed to feed people, especially the elderly, so they could avoid the inherent COVID-19 risk of leaving their home to go food shopping.

In buildings that house our elderly, we closed common areas and began sanitizing inspections. We also got most of our estimated 2,200 residents without addresses sequestered in safe quarters.

This was all done to save lives. Our top priority remains the health and safety of our residents, and we continue to instill in all Newark people that it is their civic duty to cooperate and follow our rules, not only for their well-being but the well-being of all with whom they come in contact.

So today, as we look to allow nonessential businesses to reopen, I’m asking all Newark residents to take on another civic duty, while exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.

Ensuring your safety

Before you enter a store or restaurant to part with your hard-earned money, ask the owner or employees if they have tested negative for COVID-19. If they say it’s none of your business, then exercise your right to ensure your safety and take your money somewhere else.

It is your absolute right to protect yourself from this disease. It is your absolute right to ask that others protect you from it. It is your absolute right to gather as much information as you can to keep yourself safe, and that information must include whether the person cutting your hair, doing your nails, making your food or providing any other service, has COVID-19 or has not been tested.

Last week, there was a story about a Missouri hairstylist who had not been tested for COVID-19 but returned to work after the state allowed salons to reopen. She infected 91 people in less than a week, which is frightening enough, but when you think about the exponential rate at which those 91 people infected another number of people, and that number infected another number, you see how quickly this can get back out of control. That would be deadly for our city.

There is no shortage of testing sites in our city, and they are found on the COVID-19 link from the city’s website. Newark residents have no excuse to not get tested. City employees who are frontline workers have all been tested, and many essential businesses tested their workers and removed those who tested positive.

Now that the definition of “frontline” is expanding to nonessential businesses, customers should demand it of those business owners. We would like to create a culture where their livelihood, as well as the lives of their customers, depended on it.