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Businesses urge public to help with COVID-19 economic impact

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(The Center Square) – North Carolina business leaders are urging consumers to support local businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Several stores and restaurants in the state have reported reducing hours they are open, stock shortages and less foot traffic caused by concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Tom Keis, president of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce in Morehead City, is asking consumers to be proactive and help save North Carolina’s economy by finding alternative ways to continue the flow of money amid lockdowns and social distancing.

“We are urging people through our social media and electronically to use this opportunity to buy gift certificates that they can use at a later date or order take-out,” Keis said.

Keis said he has not yet received reports from the chambers’ 900 members about losses because of COVID-19, but he is confident it will negatively impact businesses.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 63 reported cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, according to health officials. There have been no deaths reported in the state.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 75 deaths in the U.S. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Saturday ordered all K-12 public schools closed for two weeks and banned gatherings of 100 people or more. The ban excluded gatherings at restaurants, malls, retail and grocery stores and shopping plazas. On Sunday, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning against gatherings with 50 or more people. Many college campuses also have announced closures and have switched to remote learning.

Representatives from the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association said the college lockdowns could lead businesses in college towns to take a huge hit.

“When consumers decrease their spending significantly, it has a direct impact on the economy, and huge impact on retail,” the association wrote in a statement. “The coronavirus has created such a situation, as there has been a noticeable decrease in foot traffic and consumer spending at brick and mortar retail stores.”

Large businesses in North Carolina, such as Publix and Walmart, have shortened business hours to restock shelves and increase cleaning amid nationwide shortages in cleaning products, hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper and gloves. Social media posts show rows of empty shelves at the giant grocery retailers.

Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, said retailers also are trying to find a balance between serving customers and protecting their employees. The association’s membership includes more than 25,000 stores.

“Retailers are identifying essential business functions, cross-training employees and, most importantly, communicating with their employees and customers to avoid as much interruption as possible in serving their customers,” the association said.

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association is calling on residents to reach out to U.S. senators to alter a bill awaiting a final vote by the U.S. Senate.

The bill provides federal aid for paid sick leave for employees with COVID-19, but NCRLA said employers will have to wait on tax payroll credits to be reimbursed when restaurants and hotels are “already struggling to maintain cash-flow.”

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday asked the U.S. Small Business Administration for a disaster declaration for North Carolina business owners hurt by COVID-19.