As Businesses Reopen, Will COVID-19's 'Psychological Toll' Keep Consumers Away?
Much of Colorado has moved into the "safer-at-home" phase of the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Non-essential businesses reopened on Monday with curbside pick-up and other services can resume on Friday.
But what about consumers? Just because they can get out and shop again, will they?
"I'm a big fan. I mean, I'd prefer that we had kept the let's stay maximally distant for a little bit longer," said Rafe Brox, a resident in Northern Colorado. "But the safer-at-home, this sounds like a gentle step towards normalcy but not forcing everyone's hand."
Brox lives in Loveland and works for the USDA in Fort Collins. The past few weeks have been a stressful time for him. He's been at home with his 12 cats, working off a tiny laptop.
"Plus, there's the extended worry of my elderly father across the country and I obviously can't go visit him," he said. "My girlfriend is high risk and in Texas; I can't go visit her."
Nicole Teel is a counselor and the substance use disorder behavioral health provider at Sheridan Health Services, which is run by the University of Colorado College of Nursing. COVID-19, she said, has taken a psychological toll on people.
"It's presented as fear, anxiety," she said. "It could even be traumatic for folks and cause some trauma to them."
The coronavirus pandemic has affected people on many levels, Teel said. There's the economic impact of a being unemployed or potentially losing a job.
"Which if you think of those pieces," she said. "Can certainly affect also confidence, self-worth, sense of purpose right now."
The lack of human interaction has also dramatically changed our daily lives. There's a spectrum, said Teel, where some folks thrive on being out and about and social, while others are homebodies. But the pandemic forced everyone into the same "stay-at-home" box.
"Just knowing that that option has been taken away for them to do more if they wanted to, can be scary," Teel said.
The next phase of "safer-at-home" begins on Friday. Retail and personal services can open to the public only after implementing proper safety measures.
"They're asking customers to have a mask on prior to entering the salon," said Mary Guiden.
Guiden lives in Fort Collins and works at Colorado State University. Her stylist reached out to her last week to schedule an appointment. She set one up and then got cold feet.
"I texted my stylist this morning and just said, 'You know, it's not you, it's me. And I think I'd rather just wait a couple weeks to kind of see how this plays out,'" Guiden said. "She wrote back right away and said, 'I totally understand.'"
If people are unsure about getting their hair cut, dog groomed or other non-essential services, Teel recommends listing the pros and cons of such an action or using a scale from one to 10.
"What is the risk in your mind? The perceived risk of 10 is super risky and one is not risky at all," she said. "Where would you place yourself?"
Greeley resident Chad Gimmestad would probably choose an eight or nine right now. He and his family have been striving for zero contact. Gimmestad is an essential federal employee. He goes to work in Boulder, gets gas once a week and either picks up essential items or has them delivered.
"At this point, we're not really planning on changing much until we know that this is going okay," he said. "It still feels like the threat hasn't really changed that much. If you look at the numbers, it's not that much different from a month ago."
During "safer-at-home," people will fall into three categories, Teel said. Fearless folks who can't wait to get into a store, people who are still fearful and anxious and will stay at home, and then there are those in the middle. They will venture out, but with caution.
"Folks who will go out for essential services and maybe for some non-essential services, maybe more social time," she said. "But we'll see those folks with gloves on and masks on."
"Safer-at-home" doesn't apply to all Colorado residents right now. Some counties and cities are more restrictive and have extended their stay-at-home orders until May 8. This includes Denver.
"I feel like Denver looks very different than other parts of the state," Denver resident Sheridan Castro said. "At least where I'm living, I'm living at it in a community that's predominantly people of color."
Castro is referring to recent data that shows residents of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. She's happy Mayor Michael Hancock extended the order.
"I was really proud of him for taking that step," she said.
As a woman of color with asthma, Castro won't be taking any risks. She said she'll continue her daily cleaning regimen and she, her husband, and two young sons will keep wearing masks.
"My family won't stop taking our precautions until we're convinced that there is either a treatment or a vaccine," she said.
Phase three of "safer-at-home" begins in Colorado on May 4. Offices can reopen with 50% in-person staffing and childcare facilities can also reopen or expand. All businesses must follow the requirements issued by the state.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correctly state the number of cats Rafe Brox lives with.