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Who's an essential worker, what's an essential business?

New London — As of 8 p.m. Monday all Connecticut workers not deemed "essential" were asked to stay home until at least April 22, according to an executive order signed by Gov. Ned Lamont.

According to the state, dozens of jobs ranging from dog walkers to grocery store clerks are considered essential while small businesses will be allowed to remain open if they're run by only one employee.

According to Executive Order 7H, all non-essential businesses and nonprofits were expected to have reduced their in-person workforces 100 percent by Monday night.

According to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, essential workers fall under one of 12 categories covering 80 places of employment and types of jobs.

The first category is defined by the Department of Homeland Security as the nation's "16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors." They include communications; chemical; critical manufacturing; commercial facilities; dams; defense industrial base; emergency services; energy; financial; food and agriculture; government facilities; nuclear reactors, materials and waste; information technology; water transportation systems; healthcare and public health.

DECD listed its own 11 categories for essential workers, some of which overlap with the DHS. These include health care and related operations; infrastructure; all manufacturing and corresponding supply chains; retail; food and agriculture; services; providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations; construction; services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of all residences and other buildings; vendors that provide essential services or products; and defense.

Essential health care workers, according to the DECD, include doctor's offices and dentist's offices, home health care aides, medical marijuana dispensaries, pharmacies and veterinarians. Essential infrastructure workers include airport and airline workers, commercial truckers, hotel employees, and utility workers, and all manufacturing and supply chain workers related to those industries.

Retail and food stores including gas stations, grocery stores, electronics and appliance stores, gun and ammunition stores, and pet supply stores are allowed to stay open.

In Groton, pet supply store Pet Valu will remain open, but workers are taking precautions to help keep customers and staff safe, including only allowing two customers in the store at a time and having staff members do shopping for the customers.

"We are doing everything we can to operate as an essential business, while doing everything we can to keep people safe under these circumstances," said sales associate Brittni Hyzer. "Just like grocery stores are staying open we are making sure pets are fed."

Hyzer said the store is taking orders in the doorway or over the phone at (860) 326-5118 and calling customers when their orders are ready for pickup.

"We're asking customers to wait in the doorway or in their cars while staff goes to get the items they need and brings them to the register," said Hyzer. "That way the customer only has to touch the pin pad and the items they're taking from the store."

Hyzer said the store is encouraging people to only come for food and other absolute necessities and not to browse."

Genevieve Triplett, owner of Mystic Pet Shop, said that she locked her doors on March 17 because she was concerned that the shelves were going to be depleted and felt that the supply chain wasn't going to be able to keep up. So she implemented a no-contact curbside pickup and limited food purchases to one bag per customer.

"We haven't had any foot traffic and we're a foot traffic store," said Triplett. "It's almost like we're running an online catalog service. It's so foreign and unknown and different, it goes against what we do as a brick and mortar business."

As a small business owner, Triplett said, she is used to seeing her customers and their dogs on a regular basis and keeping up with her regulars as they browse the aisles. Now, she's standing 6 feet away for pick-ups and wearing gloves. She said she feels like she's forced to treat people she's known for years "as if they have the plague."

"I'm going to keep the animals fed and talk to my customers, because this is what we do and people are so scared," said Triplett. "I'm trying to keep a balance and find some normalcy in a world that doesn't have any right now."

According to the DECD, farms, farmer's markets, grocery stores, nurseries and restaurants and bars are also allowed to stay open. Restaurants and bars may only provide take out service.

At Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London, management is planning on keeping the store open to shoppers, but is prepared to implement new safety protocols if the number of coronavirus cases in the area increases.

"We're weighing the risk to the staff in the comparison to the need for food," said general manager Lexa Juhre, who noted that in New London, many people in the downtown area rely on the co-op as it's the only grocery store within walking distance.

Store hours and staffing have declined a bit as some staff members have chosen to self-quarantine or stay home with their children. The store isn't limiting the number of customers allowed inside and is only restricting purchases to two rolls or one four-pack of toilet paper and one package of chicken.

"There's going to be adjustments, you won't be able to get everything you want all the time," said Juhre. "People aren't going to starve, but they might not always be able to find their favorite brand."

Juhre said the store has "dramatically ramped up disinfectant protocols all throughout the day" to keep it clean. It is working on new technology for online orders and is prepared to offer curbside service soon, if necessary.

According to the DECD, services including animal shelters, accounting and payroll departments, bicycle repair shops, child care services, laundromats, news outlets, mail and shipping services and banks will stay open, along with workers who service "economically disadvantaged populations" including food banks and homeless shelters.

Workers in commercial and residential construction, including electricians, HVAC workers and plumbers, can continue working, along with workers whose services maintain building safety and sanitation, including doormen, janitors, security guards and landscapers.

Vendors that provide essential services can also continue working, including in industries such as billboard maintenance and technology support in addition to government employees.

Lastly, defense and national security-related business and operations supporting the U.S. government or a contractor to the government will continue. Lamont has also announced that non-essential businesses can continue curbside and delivery sales.

DECD Commissioner David Lehman said Monday that businesses that may not seem essential, such as bike shops and billboard maintenance, were included to make sure people have access to things they need on a daily basis, such as a method of transportation and important information that can be shared on billboards.

Lehman said the list isn’t final and “may get shorter” as the state monitors the virus.

George Fisher, owner of Fisher Florist, a family-run florist in New London since 1910, said Monday he won't be letting any more customers in the shop, but will continue to operate with delivery and curbside orders.

Fisher said the closure of nearby stores, such as the barber shops on either side of him, has hurt his business as a lot of customers stop in his shop after visiting them.

Fisher said he was relieved to hear that he could stay open. 

"We're feeling a decline, but I'm worried more for other restaurants and bars that aren't built for take-out service," he said.

Business owners who believe their business is essential but are not featured on the DCED list can request designation as an essential business online by visiting https://portal.ct.gov/DECD/Content/Coronavirus-for-Businesses/Essential-Business-Designation-Form.

t.hartz@theday.com

 

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