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Tom Clyde: The new abnormal is still unfair

Well, this is just ducky. The Health Department has ordered us to stay home and hide from the virus until May 1.

Visitors were given until sundown on Friday to get out of Dodge and take their germs with them (but please don’t take any of ours with you, because the idea is to quit spreading it around). The rest of us will stay here, huddled at home, largely unemployed, until somebody decides it’s safe to go out again.

Trump thinks that will be Easter. People who know what they are talking about are thinking more like May 1.

The headline is pretty alarming. We are allowed to move about for “essential” purposes, and “essential” businesses can stay open. There’s a list in the actual order of the types of businesses that can stay open: grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, gas stations, auto repair, hardware stores, plumbers, electricians and “other essential utilities and services.” The cable TV people are still scheduled to show up between now and September. That ought to be broad enough to cover most anything, though I think the tattoo parlors are done. But it’s quirky. If you are trying to hook up a TV in another room so you don’t murder your kids during all of this, is the store that sells the magic cord with the weird plug on it “essential?” Absolutely. Best Buy may be closed, Wally-World is open. As long as you buy your electronics from a grocery store, it’s ok.

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The monster stores will stay open because they straddle several categories. The smaller stores will close because they don’t.

The order also allows “essential transportation services” to remain open. So you can get a ride to the auto parts store from that Uber driver with a hacking cough. Does that include car rental places? Car dealers?

On a more personal level, it will soon be essential to my sanity to get out on my bike — maintaining 6 feet of distance from the nearest potgut. But I need a new tube for the mountain bike. Are bike shops “essential transportation services?” I think they are, but somebody else might disagree.

In the retail world, that creates some very difficult issues. Walmart is open because they sell groceries and the pharmacy. They also sell everything else. So I might be able to buy an essential bike tube from Walmart, if they had the right size, but can’t from one of the locally owned specialty bike shops, who really need some cash flow right now. That’s unfair. The workaround might be for the bike shop to buy a case of Spam and go into the grocery business alongside the bikes.

Working at home is encouraged, and real estate offices are not on the list of “essential” services. They can function from home, but not have their offices open. As if there were anybody here looking to buy a multimillion-dollar second home under these conditions. Stores that sell supplies that enable people to work at home are able to remain open. So you can buy a desk chair from Staples, but if you want to binge watch every episode of “South Park” from a new lounger (and before this is over, you will), you can’t buy it from a Right at Home. Unless they start selling Doritos.

The rules are new, the situation unprecedented, and so there’s really no way to have all the kinks worked out. What is essential in Park City is completely unnecessary in Kamas, where goat yoga isn’t even an option let alone essential. There’s room for all kinds of hair-splitting in the interpretation.

There’s also an inherent and unavoidable unfairness resulting from the scale and breadth of product coverage of a Walmart and the local shops we all love and support. The monster stores will stay open because they straddle several categories. The smaller stores will close because they don’t. The closures will hit the local businesses the hardest, and they are the least able to withstand it. Their employees are suddenly on their own. The federal legislation is supposed help them in a month or so, but there will be a lot of people who fall through the cracks. It’s going to get ugly.

The basis for the “stay at home” order is completely rational. On a per capita basis, Summit County is as coronavirus-infected as New York City.

That shouldn’t be a surprise.

All winter long, every week, we bring a different batch of 10,000 visitors in from around the world. They touch doorknobs and sneeze into salad bars all over town. And the locals think nothing of flying half way around the world. It’s your kid’s 16th birthday, so of course you need to fly to the Galapagos, and might as well spend the weekend in Paris. If there’s a germ out there, anywhere, it’s here. I don’t know how we missed Ebola.

We’ll get through this. It won’t be pleasant, and for some it will be disastrous. It’s the new abnormal, and we all need to take a deep breath (don’t exhale) and get used to it.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.


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