Local Businesses and COVID-19

As cases of the novel coronavirus start to surge in Lane County, you can still support the local economy

Eugene business owner Kim Marks recently saw an ad promoting shopping on Amazon during the outbreak of COVID-19 (or the novel coronavirus) to keep the multibillion-dollar corporation up on sales. 

But, Marks thought, what about supporting local businesses?

With 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Oregon as of press time and more expected as testing increases, some local Lane County businesses have felt the threat first-hand, and others wonder how much worse it could get if the respiratory illnesses reach the area. Since January, the virus has slowly spread around the world, causing panic.

If COVID-19 does reach the area, the county has procedures to follow if the virus is confirmed. In the meantime, you can still support the local economy.

In an email to Eugene Weekly, Lane County Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Jason Davis explains the county’s playbook for dealing with the virus.

So far, they have sent tests for 22 individuals to the state lab and are currently monitoring others. Lane County is only testing individuals with fever and respiratory symptoms, people who were exposed to a known case or those who have traveled to a level three country, as outlined by the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control.

Davis says the county will follow the manual that covers novel respiratory illness outbreaks like the coronavirus.

“We are also, of course modifying those operations procedures to best fit practices around coronavirus learned from other areas,” he says.

Davis says the county is not calling for the public health tactic of social distancing, which the city of Austin used when it canceled the South by Southwest music festival, because coronavirus hasn’t progressed that far in Lane County as it has in places like King or Multnomah counties. Enacting such a public health tool could negatively impact economic activity, which public health is concerned about as well. 

He says the county isn’t testing more people since providers are the ones who request tests. If more people locally tested positive, the messaging would be the same: people with compromised immune systems would be cautioned against going out in public places, just as during flu season. 

Marks, owner of the sexual health store As You Like It; The Pleasure Shop, says she has noticed a change in businesses across town.

“Other businesses around town are running on the empty side, which is eerie,” she says. Marks adds that the heavy flu season might also contribute to slow business.

Even bigger chain stores are seeing the wipe out in supplies around town. Stores such as Albertsons and Target are putting up signs that say they are out of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

Marks is taking measures to ensure that her store is extra clean and sanitized for customers shopping, and notes that it may be smart for other businesses to assure patrons they are keeping their stores clean.

“It’s probably wise for businesses to remind people to wash their hands, or here’s ways we are trying to take care of you while you use our space,” Marks says. “I feel like I’m seeing a lot of impact already from people’s concerns of what this virus is capable of.”

For Dyan Wittmann, owner of Hoka-Hey Healing, Centre for Massage, the initial panic of the virus in Oregon and Washington a few weeks ago caused the most cancellations of appointments she’s ever seen.

“Last week ended up being a no-work week for me. If the coronavirus does actually come down to Eugene and we close up, I don’t know exactly what I would end up doing,” she says. Wittmann is self-employed, so she operates on her own schedule and depends on clients to keep the business going.

She adds that it may be different for restaurants, where servers often work through colds and other illnesses, but now more than ever, employers need to be more lenient about sick days.

Some businesses, though, are gaining customers through the virus fears. Mountain Rose Herbs is based in Eugene, but operates through a nationwide online market, too. Molly Katz, who works at the store in Eugene, says that bacterial fighting oils are being sold quickly both online and in the store. Their warehouse, she says, has been overwhelmed with online orders.

Shopping with Amazon may be the most convenient choice, but continually investing in the community is important too, Marks says.

“It’s time to prepare and think about the community,” Marks says.

The bottom line is, Marks says, that you can still take care of yourself while investing in the local economy. We can’t always control the spread of the virus, but we can control how we support the community.

Additional reporting by Henry Houston. 

Not all the businesses Eugene Weekly called wanted to go on record about their concerns about the novel coronavirus but they did weigh in on tips for supporting local businesses and staying healthy.

  • Wash your hands anytime you go out in public.
  • Get food delivered from restaurants.
  • If a local store has an online option, use that.
  • Build your immune system now.
  • Enjoy yourself. The virus isn’t here yet.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Ask shop owners what they have done to sanitize their store.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.

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