COVID-19 precautions are now “a part of the dialogue” for small business owners


TORRINGTON – The smells of fresh-baked French bread and Russian Babka still filled the air inside The Bread Doctor bakery in downtown Torrington on Saturday, but the smells and tastes were some of the only reminders of what life was like before COVID-19. 

Main Street itself was nearly empty. Torrington eateries have closed their dining rooms, and the efficiency of their curbside and carry-out options have kept the traffic moving and the parking areas bare. 

Inside the bakery, there are six marked locations for customers to wait before placing their orders. Each one has been meticulously measured by Dr. Ezdan Fluckiger, who owns and operates the bakery. When one customer gets their food, the next one steps up to station No. 1, which is the counter. Everyone else advances their position. 

It’s different, but for now, it’s normal.

“It’s something he came up with,” Haley Grimes, who works at The Bread Doctor, said. “It kind of reminded me of a cake walk, with the numbers on the chairs. As he measured them out, he numbered each position and it reminded me of a cakewalk.”

When all of the spots are full, Fluckiger emerges from the kitchen and cheerfully rolls a dice. Whatever number hits, the person in that station receives a free chocolate. 

“He joked one day that we should roll the dice and play a game,” Grimes said. “He was like, I think I’m going to do that. All spaces have to be filled for him to play.”

It’s a fun game made possible by Fluckiger’s effort to follow new federal and state mandates to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“He measured it out himself,” Grimes said. “He’s very aware and cautious of the CDC recommendations and he’s playing it by the book. As soon as it was recommended, from 10 people, to seven people, to now it’d down to five people. 

“I know as his employee, I feel he has really taken that into consideration. He’s trying to be mindful not only as the customers, but very mindful of his employees and trying to keep us safe and keep us organized.” 

The world has changed in the effort to combat the virus, but Grimes said customers understand the measures The Bread Doctor has taken - which includes asking the seventh person in line to wait outside. 

“We’ve had great support from our customers,” she said. “I haven’t seen any anger from it. I have seen some people maybe giggle and laugh at it, thinking maybe we’re joking, but for the most part everybody has come in and they see the number and they go right to the next number. That is part of the dialogue. On Saturday, we did have to tell several people to please wait outside and I didn’t get any grumbles.”

The term ‘social distancing’ has only been a part of our collective vocabulary for about two weeks, but its impact has been felt in every facet of life. 

Small businesses, like The Bread Doctor, are feeling it, too. President Donald Trump and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines last week that recommended avoiding groups of more than 10 people, and Gov. Mark Gordon made it a statewide mandate on Sunday. 

Gordon ordered schools, theaters, nightclubs, coffee shops, employee cafeterias, self-serve buffets, gyms, conference rooms and museums to shutter their doors to prevent the spread of the virus. 

As of press time, there are 41  COVID-19 cases in Wyoming, and the number is growing almost nightly. Worldwide deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 10,000 on Friday. 

On Saturday, Gordon issued an additional order prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people in a single room, or confined space. 

Both orders are in effect until April 3. 

“It is an absolute fact that social distancing slows the growth of coronavirus disease,” Gordon said. “I very much appreciate the willingness of our state’s residents to comply with this action. Particularly because it is now becoming clear that young adults 18-50 are also at risk of being hospitalized from COVID-19.”

According to Goshen County Attorney Eric Boyer, the orders are as good as law. 

“Enforcement of the health officer orders is possible under WS 35-1-106 criminally, and there are arguably other civil, criminal and/or regulatory enforcement remedies available, too,” Boyer said.

There are exceptions to the orders. Gatherings of more than 10 are still allowed in “private residences, in hotels for lodging purposes, government facilities and businesses, grocery stores and retail or business establishments that can provide adequate social distancing spacing of six feet or more,” the order said. 

“People of any age can spread this disease to others who are especially vulnerable to more serious or life-threatening illness,” Harrist said. “We’ve recommended limits on gatherings; this order is an official step to put those recommendations into action. Slowing and limiting the spread of disease is our goal.”

Gordon has been adamant about finding ways to keep the state’s economy up and running during the pandemic. During a press conference last week, he announced the formation of five task forces to handle the COVID-19 on all fronts. The state’s top elected officials will head up units to deal with the pandemic’s impact on healthcare, state services and operations, business and finance, transportation and infrastructure, and education. 

“This is going to be a very long period of curtailment of business activity. This will have an effect on our economy,” Gordon said. 

“We are beginning to think about the other, very real crisis that this virus represents, which is the total shutdown of academic activity.”

On Sunday, he announced that small businesses in Wyoming are eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration. Businesses are eligible to borrow up to $2 million each in long-term, low interest loans from the SBA. According to SBA.gov, these loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.

“I thank the SBA for giving final approval to make Wyoming businesses eligible to apply for these funds,” Gordon said. “I also thank our Congressional delegation for working to make this happen.”

During the press conference, Gordon said opening those channels for small businesses is one of the reasons he declared a State of Emergency. 

“The reason I did the emergency declaration was to open some of those channels,” he said. “Part of the business task force is really based around amassing those resources to make them available so people will have access to information and resources.”

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