Will COVID-19 precautions force businesses ‘out of business’?

Business owners can be forgiven for being confused in this age of COVID-19 and the social distancing that government officials at all levels agree is key to controlling the potential havoc it could wreak on the health care system.

In Teaneck, Samantha Saltibus St. Prix is among those trying to sort out a swirl of varying messages coming from officials in Washington, the State House, Bergen County and the township. The issue: whether her daycare center can continue to provide its necessary service.

“You can actually practice social distancing by having one child work with an individual activity over here,” she said. “You can have another child working at the table, even one end of the table and the other, is a six-foot distance.”

But for now, Creative Montessori is among the dozens of shuttered businesses is this Bergen County town hit hard by the outbreak. Over the weekend, Dean Kazinci, Teaneck’s township manager, ordered the voluntary self-quarantine of 41,000 residents, an order that also limited grocery stores to 50 customers at a time.

“If I can’t open, then I definitely see myself going out of business,” she said.

“I realize some of the impacts these decisions will have in the community and I stand by them,” Kazinci said. “They are not being made to alarm our community but will further serve to safeguard our residents from the spread of the virus. I can’t stress it enough: These actions will help save lives.”

Statewide, Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered schools to close for an indefinite time, limited gatherings to no more than 50 people and ordered an array of businesses to cease or significantly limit their operations, All indoor shopping malls, amusement parks and amusement centers are closed, and restaurants and bars can only serve takeout or delivery customers.

At the same time, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco has sought to go even further, ordering health clubs, gyms and movie theaters to close and limiting big-box stores like Costco to sales of essential goods like food, restrictions that resemble the county’s Blue Laws — at first earlier this week, and now by Saturday.

And then on Wednesday, after Murphy had asserted the need for consistency in regulations around the state, Tedesco said he had submitted a revised executive order to Trenton for review.

“It is important that everyone be on the same page and work together to better protect residents from the spread of COVID-19,” Tedesco said in a statement. “As soon as we hear back from the Governor on my revised Executive Order, I will be hosting a conference call with Mayors and state legislators to outline what the Murphy Administration has consented to in our emergency declaration to eliminate possible confusion between the County and State emergency plans. We look forward to hearing from the Governor’s office.”

Tedesco has maintained he has the moral authority to take the necessary steps to protect the public in a county that now has 114 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

He also said programs are available or being developed to help businesses financially.

“I can deal with the financial piece at the end,” he said. “I don’t want them dealing with having to bury one of their workers.”

But business owners like Saltibus St. Prix have questions. How will her hourly workers, some who live paycheck to paycheck, they pay for food and get by?

“How are those people going to live?” she said. “Yes, there might be relief in the long run, but what’s happening immediately for those people? What do they do right now?”

“I don’t have all the answers,” Tedesco has said. “But, if I don’t do something today more people are going to die.”

Saltibus St. Prix says she’s trying to figure out how to pay her hourly workers to avoid looming hardship.

Relief for workers and business might be coming by way of fast-tracked legislation in both Washington and Trenton, designed to keep financial ruin from becoming another symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic.