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'Does This Virus Only Spread in Small Businesses?' Protests Rising Against 'Non-Essential' Label

People protest at the State Capitol during a rally in Lansing, Mich., May 20, 2020. Barbers and hair stylists are protesting the state's stay-at-home orders as small businesses are eager to reopen (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
People protest at the State Capitol during a rally in Lansing, Mich., May 20, 2020. Barbers and hair stylists are protesting the state's stay-at-home orders as small businesses are eager to reopen (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

American small business owners are on the brink of bankruptcy, and they're pushing back against the shutdown. They're fed-up with being labeled "non-essential". Now that states are reopening, why are these businesses still being put on hold?

Salons and barbershops in Connecticut were scheduled to get back to work on May 20, as part of the state's Phase One reopening plan, but just two days before, the governor decided to pump the breaks.

"A lot of us here today did what was necessary and what was called on us to do. The rug just got pulled out from underneath us," Skull & Combs owner Jason Bunce told the media during a protest in New Haven, CT. 

Gov. Ned Lamont said his decision was in response to complaints from salon owners who needed more time to prepare for reopening. Many others, however, were counting on an income stream to return a week ago.

Hair Canvas Salon owner Erin Coyle tells CBN News she spent time and money ensuring her business followed the government's guidelines. 

"We separated the stations a little bit more, we put plexiglass dividers between the sinks, my husband built a hand sanitizing stand because you couldn't find one anywhere...we ordered in a ton of bleach wipes, and alcohol and alcohol dispensers, you name it, face shields masks, extra gloves," Coyle said.

Across the country, small business owners have already reached a tipping point. Many, frustrated that they're being treated differently than the big national chains, like Target and Walmart.

Virginia Beach gym owner, Amanda Crowe, told CBN News that she too was expecting to reopen as a part of her state's Phase One plan. Then at the last second, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam decided it wasn't safe. 

"I guess his big argument was that people would be touching everything so that's why it's not safe, and then the sweat, but again, I go to Walmart and open up the refrigerator and grab milk, no one sanitizing that handle, ya know touching all the bread. I would think the gym we can control that environment and it would be more sanitary and more clean and less risk for people to catch COVID or any other disease versus going to Walmart," she said.

Petitions to reopen are circulating in dozens of states. ReOpen NY rallied in the city last week, demanding small businesses be allowed to get back to work and pushing back against the label, "non-essential."

"Does this virus only spread in small businesses? And yes, I know, I've heard the argument, we are not essential. You know what, to my children, my small business is essential. It is with money from my brick and mortar store that I put food in their mouths and fill their bellies. Our businesses are essential to our families and to our communities. I can't imagine what NY will look like if we don't open now," said Simcha Minkowitz, owner of Amor Fine Jewelry.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, salon owners are again preparing to reopen, the latest date set by the governor: June 1.  

"I'm absolutely terrified, I'm probably the most nervous person of this virus that I've met, but if I'm allowed to go back, I'm going back. I'm going to wear my mask, my face shield, my clients are going to wear their masks, we're going to follow all the precautions that we're told," Coyle told CBN News.

While decisions on when and how to reopen are left up to individual states, President Trump has been critical of states he feels are moving too slowly, encouraging governors to allow those who want to work to go back and those who are still fearful, to stay home.

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