Coronavirus Data Review: Rethinking the One Size Fits All Approach to Reopening in the U.S.
Director of Urban Policy
As each state across the U.S. navigates the reopening of their economies, the topic has generated heated, diverse debates across many communities in the U.S. Zencity analyzed 3.3M resident interactions across 120 cities over the month of May to understand residents’ attitudes towards the reopening of certain industries and business sectors. Read on to learn more.
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Nearly two months after the novel coronavirus forced the United States into lockdown, all 50 states are now in the process of reopening in one way or another. This topic has generated heated, diverse debates across many communities in the U.S as each state is facing its own unique set of obstacles, concerns and necessities.
Zencity conducted an analysis of 3.3M interactions of resident’s discourse across 120 cities in 25 states covering the month of May in order to extract recurring themes from across the country. A key takeaway that immediately stood out is that reopening was a central issue in the discourse on coronavirus, making up a quarter of all coronavirus related discourse.
- The high level finding from the data is that resident discussions online show an understanding that “successful” reopening cannot be implemented using a one size fits all approach; different businesses, venues and sectors require different restrictions, precautions and timelines until they can fully reopen.
- Movie theaters, gyms, beauty salons, parks, and restaurants all generated varying levels of excitement and anticipation or trepidation and concern. The response of residents to the reopening of businesses and venues was based, for the most part, on the perceived ability of these venues to comply with guidelines and ensure patrons were protected. This of course was also dependent on the likelihood that customers and patrons will adhere to the regulations themselves.
Resident Interest by Sector
With the majority of Americans having been confined to their homes and their immediate surrounding areas for over the past 3 months, it’s reasonable that the data showed that the highest level of interest was generated by the reopening of entertainment venues. These include movie theaters, drive-in theaters, museums, etc., followed by restaurants, retail businesses and parks and beaches.
This increased interest in entertainment venues is likely the result of this being the only sector that was entirely closed during the past two months due to the pandemic, and its reopening is likely the most controversial (as it usually involves large groups or crowds). Comparatively, restaurants, some businesses and parks were operating or open at some capacity throughout this period (depending on state and city).
- Additionally, as official statements began being released about the reopening process, residents took to the comments to ask or reply about specific types of businesses that were opening or were remaining closed.
- Particularly prominent were discussions surrounding the reopening of beauty salons and barber shops and, to a lesser extent, gyms, fitness centers and shopping malls.
CORONAVIRUS REOPENING - MAIN AREAS OF CONTENTION AND DEBATE:
- Preference for outdoor spaces to open and concern about closed venues
- This has lent itself to confusion on why certain indoor spaces are opening while parks remain close
- Debates about certain businesses’ ability to maintain and adhere to guidelines, indicates this as a strong consideration for people
- Support for small businesses and local restaurants is high, although there is evidence of people and businesses not complying with the regulations leading to public frustration
Zencity Data: Entertainment Venues
While there was enthusiastic support for outdoor venues (drive-in theaters, zoos, mini-golf) to reopen, visits to indoor venues were met with reluctance due to the higher risks associated
- Citizens are showing enthusiasm and excitement regarding reopening of some entertainment venues, such as zoos, mini-golf courses and drive-in theaters, i.e. entertainment venues that are outdoors or open.
- Residents displayed a desire to have leisurely activity options available to their families, and much of the positive feedback consisted of gratitude and people tagging friends and family, announcing their intention to go.
- On the other hand, there was opposition to certain entertainment venues reopening, such as water parks and indoor movie theaters. Commenters noted that these venues were “dangerous”, due to poor ventilation, difficulty to maintain physical distancing or control the numbers of people, the inconvenience of wearing masks, or poor sanitary conditions.
Local Government References: Entertainment Venues
Drive-ins are making a huge comeback and seem to be THE entertainment venue of the season. Across the country, cities and businesses are reviving old outdoor cinemas as well as turning underused parking-lots and even airports into entertainment venues. Prices per vehicle range between $20-$30 and sometimes include a gift-card to a locally operated food truck which delivers directly to your window. Incentives like these are initiatives to prevent large crowds gathering in lines. These venues aren’t only used to screen movies, but also accommodate local band performances and even church services. Vehicles are also required to adhere to physical distancing guidelines and most of the venues operate at a 60-70 percent capacity to allow for safe distances to be kept.
When it comes to indoor cinemas, a full reopening seems much farther away. Some cinemas in Texas have begun the process, and currently operate at about 25% capacity with requirements for temperature checks, masks and gloves. Unlike open air cinemas, maintaining sufficient sanitation in indoor cinemas is much more complicated and it will therefore take longer until the right balance between keeping movie-goers safe while providing them with a close-to-real cinema experience will be struck.
Zencity Data: Restaurants
There was overall support for restaurants to reopen, many commenters stated their intent to put off dining-in at a restaurant; there was concern that guidelines will not be adhered to.
- Restaurants, cafes and bars had online commenters split in their positions. While there was excitement about being able to dine out and support local restaurants, there was also concern that people will not wear masks while eating, trepidation about restaurants being able to maintain a 25% capacity (or, if they do, being able to survive it financially) and disappointment towards evidence of people going to restaurants without masks or crowding at the doors.
- Many of the commenters were happy to see restaurants open again, but also expressed their intention to officially wait longer before dining out, sticking with home cooking or takeaway (to show their support). There were also comments arguing that the dining out experience will be ruined by having to wear masks or have the waiting staff wear masks.
Local Government References: Restaurants
With restaurants allowed to slowly resume dine-in operations at some capacity and with special measures in place, many find themselves in need of innovative dine-near solutions. Cities around the world have stepped up to create new regulations and temporary permits to use adjacent public spaces such as gardens, parks, parking spots/lots and even roads as seating areas for restaurants. On their end, restaurants commit to the space’s upkeep, maintaining the required distance between patrons as well as ensuring masks and gloves guidelines where those are required. Jackson, MS recently shared their detailed guidelines for restaurants’ operation on an ELGL webinar. The city is currently piloting a gradual reopening of a small strip of restaurants and is monitoring the situation closely in order to implement its learnings in other areas of the city.
Zencity Data: Retail
High support for small business and little anxiety about compliance (there was more concern about disregard for regulations in large stores and retailers)
- With respect to retail, there was overall support that small businesses are able to open and that small business owners will be able to make a living. There was also less anxiety about these establishments being able to comply with physical distancing regulations and mask-wearing.
- As many comments noted, support for small businesses was high especially given that larger chains and retailers were allowed to remain open, which assured residents that smaller businesses are safe as well, possibly even more so.
- That being said, some residents also expressed criticism about businesses that decided to open before it was officially allowed. Others reported incidents of people not complying with regulations, especially mask-wearing and keeping spatial distance in lines.
Local Government References: Retail
‘Reopening Phase Two’, currently taken in many states, includes the safe reopening of retail. Regulating footfall in and around shops is a joint mission of cities and businesses that now need to convey a sense of health and safety to customers and other ‘street-users’. One way to ensure less “people bunching” incidents, are temporary one-way sidewalks that while disrupting the natural Jacobian “intricate sidewalk ballet”, easily reduce the flow of people. Another way is widening sidewalk space by temporarily (or not) removing parking spots and the flow of car traffic to allow people to move more freely in the space while self-governing social distancing.
Shops themselves will also need to follow and ensure certain guidelines such as extended sanitation, masks and gloves, limiting the amount of people allowed in the store at one time, one way aisles and more.
Zencity Data: Parks and Beaches
Strong support to reopen parks and beaches, but a lot of confusion about why certain amenities were opened while others were not
- Residents mostly expressed support online for parks and beaches to be opened. The central claim by commenters was that it was necessary to allow people to use outdoor spaces to exercise, entertain children and maintain their health.
- However, there was a lot of confusion about parks, with some amenities being opened while others remaining closed. Commenters asked for the rationale behind these decisions, and often inquired about when certain amenities will be also made available.
Local Government References: Parks and Beaches
Parks, beaches and other open spaces are already playing a major role in our recovery from this pandemic. Cities, such as Pittsburgh, PA, created clear messaging for their park goers about the health and safety regulations which they are expected to observe, while other cities such as Asheville, NC have also placed sanitation points in key park locations. In order to help users maintain physical distance, New York and San Francisco have gone the length of marking recreational spaces for people with safe spacing between them. Both cities measured the effectiveness of this initiative around Memorial Day and found it to be helpful in spacing people out when there are large crowds around.
We are also seeing many cities being innovative in their attempt to increase the accessibility and variety of green and open spaces by turning roads and parking spaces into spaces for people, opening up golf courses and cemeteries for public use, and enhancing existing green spaces such as community gardens, pocket-parks and greenways.
When it comes to beaches, in their early days of reopening, some beaches like those in LA were only allowed to open for individual active use including surfing, jogging and swimming. In Europe, countries that have managed to somewhat flatten the curve including Greece, Italy and Spain opened part of their beaches for recreational use while enforcing a set capacity of people, spacing out sunbeds and umbrellas and even disinfecting them between new users. The city of Tel Aviv, Israel set out its “Blue Sea, Purple Badge” policy in early May with similar social distancing regulations to those in its European neighbors while also making most transactions at the beach contactless.
Resident Interest by Business Type
Beauty Salons: an issue of contention, which was very prominent in the discourse; the core of the debate was whether these establishments were safe or posed high risk
- There was significant interest in the opening of beauty salons and barber shops, with a lot of comments asking about the status of this matter.
- This was also a contentious issue, as residents were split in their opinion about the capacity of beauty salons to comply with regulations and follow sanitary guidelines.
- While some people argued that these establishments were already used to following strict cleanliness standards and were better able to control the number of people inside, adding that wearing masks is not an issue in this type of business, others thought it was too difficult to keep a proper distance between clients and aestheticians.
Gyms and Fitness Centers: debates about the ability of gyms places to maintain proper sanitation and physical distancing leads to this being a highly contentious issue
- While many people expressed interest in seeing gyms open, including inquiries into it or calls for it to happen, this was also at the core of a contentious debate. The central point of contention was the gyms’ ability to maintain proper sanitation, physical distancing and comply with mask-wearing guidelines.
- As with beauty salons, some commenters felt that gyms already had a culture of maintaining cleanliness and wiping equipment after use, while others thought the exercise in closed spaces was too risky.
- The issue of masks also came up with people commenting that it is unlikely that people will wear masks while working out.
Shopping Malls: overall, there was consensus that it is better to not open shopping malls at this time as there is higher risk and less capacity to limit crowds and ensure proper sanitation
- Many people expressed opposition to going to indoor shopping malls, arguing it will be difficult to limit numbers, keep physical distancing and maintain the cleanliness of the areas.
As the downward curve in coronavirus deaths propels more states and local authorities to consider and pursue the reopening of different sectors, residents’ discourse is still split between those encouraging a speedy reopening and those asking for a cautious approach to be taken. Cities need to balance their economy’s recovery with the preservation of their residents’ health and safety, leading many of them to take a regional approach. More importantly this requires them to address reopening in a smart and gradual manner and continuously monitor its effects on their residents.
To learn how you too can leverage Zencity to better understand your residents’ discourse around your reopening efforts, schedule a demo.