My state is reopening businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. Am I selfish if I go, or am I selfish if I stay home?

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Dear Moneyist,

My state is reopening certain businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. I am torn between supporting our town and our nation’s economy, and ensuring that I don’t contribute to an increase in coronavirus infections. Am I selfish if I go, or am I selfish if I stay home?

Torn in Texas

Dear Torn,

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said that the Lone Star State’s stay-at-home order would expire on Thursday and, on Friday, museums, libraries, cinemas, retail stores, restaurants and malls would all reopen. They will only be permitted to operate at 25% capacity. “Now it’s time to set a new course, a course that responsibly opens up business in Texas,” the governor said.

The rate of new infections in the state has slowed, but it’s not yet clear whether it has reached its apex of new cases. The White House recommends that all non-essential businesses remain closed unless there has been a 14-day decline in new cases. Some governors, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, have said they would only gradually reopen portions of their state.

Even when New York starts up again, I will weigh what I should do and when. I would not expect my co-workers to travel during rush hour. We are among the lucky ones who can work from home, so we can stagger our commute times and give more room for those who don’t have that option. I will seek out businesses off-hours. Coronavirus won’t fully go away until there is a vaccine.

Dispatches from a pandemic:Letter from New York: ‘New Yorkers wear colorful homemade masks, while nurses wear garbage bags. When I hear an ambulance, I wonder if there’s a coronavirus patient inside. Are there more 911 calls, or do I notice every distant siren?’

Texas is not alone. Businesses, including gyms, hair salons, tattoo parlors and movie theaters, are reopening in Georgia, despite not demonstrating a downward trajectory of cases over 14 days as laid out by the White House’s benchmarks for states reopening. Nor has South Carolina, which has begun reopening beaches and department stores.

In Georgia and South Carolina, Macy’s M, +3.67%, the Gap GPS, +7.31%, Starbucks SBUX, -1.68% and Best Buy BBY, +3.28%, among others, have said they will not participate in the early reopening of these states, citing concerns over public health and also uncertain customer demand. They say they’ll rely on both state and local guidelines, but also their own market analysis.

Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming have also said they would start opening certain non-essential businesses. California has not reopened non-essential businesses, but Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, admonished people who took advantage of good weather to crowd beaches.

“Those images are an example of what not to see, people, what not to do if we’re going to make the meaningful progress that we’ve made in the last few weeks extend into the next number of weeks,” Newsom said. He said the decision to lift stay-at-home orders was driven by data and people’s behavior, adding, “This virus doesn’t take the weekends off.”

Also see:Can you alter your 2019 taxes in order to qualify for the stimulus check? ‘In 2019, tax-law changes made it advantageous for me to claim my oldest as a dependent. I now regret doing that’

What has all this got to do with your predicament? It speaks to one of my own rules of thumb — not just for pandemics, but for life. A few years ago, I was at a friend’s bachelor’s party in Barcelona, Spain. As we were stepping onto a boat to go white-water rafting, I somewhat glibly asked the instructor, “Where’s the motor?” He replied, “You are de motor!” I have never forgotten that.

When I think of those crowded California beaches and people crowding into Central Park last Sunday during a spell of good weather, and mull over whether I should take public transportation when New York City’s economy starts up again, I tell myself, “You are the crowd!” Some people live too far from work to take a Citi Bike or bus. I don’t. I could create more space by walking or cycling.

With that same principle in mind, my decision to go to a barbershop doesn’t just affect me. It impacts the person who is working there. What if they would rather stay at home because they live with a relative with preexisting conditions whom they don’t want to put at risk? What about people I come into contact with after that barbershop trip? What if I am asymptomatic?

And, yes, what if that barbershop needs business to stay afloat? How do you balance economic survival with the survival of friends, neighbors and, as importantly, people you have never met? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, I’m afraid. It may be safer to go to a movie theater operating at 25% capacity than a salon or restaurant where social distancing with staff is not possible.

Also see:More than half of renters say they lost jobs due to coronavirus: ‘They could face housing situations that spiral out of control’

Not every business will carry the same risk factors, and not every part of the state will have the same rates of infection. I sat in my local Italian restaurant last week. I was waiting for a takeout order and I was in the far corner of an empty room. I looked around at the owner, also wearing a mask, sitting at the bar and typing away on his computer, and the boxes and empty space around me. It broke my heart.

A member of the Moneyist Facebook Group had this suggestion: “If you want to support businesses that may not be safe right now, purchase gift certificates for future use. It might be taking a financial chance that they will still be around, but safer than the health chance of physically going there.” If infections start rising and more people die, those businesses may lose more in the long term.

We are responsible for our own actions. We are also responsible for each other — whether we want that haircut, massage, soup of the day and tattoo or not. Each worker, consumer, business and politician has a decision to make that will affect others. We are the crowd. Each of us must choose whether to take our lead from that decision, or to weigh the evidence and decide for ourselves.

Originally Published on MarketWatch

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