Uncertainty is again on Predominant Road as Delta variant rattles reopening

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The rise of the Delta variant, a highly contagious Covid-19 strain, is disrupting reopening plans across the country and creating even more uncertainty on Main Street. Almost six in ten small business owners in the newest CNBC | Momentive Small Business Survey says the new threat is driving them to change their business outlook for the rest of 2021.

Overall small business confidence, as measured by the survey of more than 2,000 small business owners conducted from July 26 to August 3, remains underwater with a score of 45 out of 100, well below the 61 pre-pandemic score in Q1 2020 That figure is unchanged from the survey last quarter, when daily Covid-19 case rates were around half what they are now.

The new wave of Covid across the country is leading to rising hospitalization and death rates across the country, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates. Some hospitals are now just as congested as they were last April when Covid-19 first spread in the United States

This is happening just as American society began to fully return to its pre-pandemic routines. A Gallup poll conducted in June before the surge in the delta variant wave found that two-thirds of adults in the US said their life was either “somewhat” or “completely” back to normal, up from 37% in the US last fall.

Delta disrupts a total return to normal

Small businesses have learned to cope with this environment. Restaurants were moving towards takeout instead of eating, brick-and-mortar retailers invested in setting up online shop windows, and gyms began offering virtual workouts.

After a year and a half of adapting to these ever-changing circumstances, 66% of small business owners in the newest CNBC have | A Momentive poll says they can work for more than a year under the current terms and conditions – unchanged from three months earlier.

Now, a major advantage over earlier stages of the pandemic is that few cities and states are resorting to full closings or curfews to handle the surge in cases. That means restaurants, hair salons, and stores that rely on personal pedestrian traffic can still keep their doors open.

Hairdressers Roni Baba and Michael Nasimov cut hair with a protective face mask between the plastic partitions during the second stage reopening during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the Joseph Hair Salon in Port Washington, New York, on Jan.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

So far, consumers have been happy to return to their pre-pandemic life. In a new Washington Post-Schar School poll, 76% of people said they had eaten indoors at a restaurant, 74% had seen a doctor or dentist’s office, and 55% had cut their hair at a local hair salon or salon let last three months.

While most small businesses have cope with this new environment and some are thriving, there are still many hoping for a return to business as usual in 2019.

Only about half of small business owners in the arts, entertainment and leisure industries (48%) say they can survive for another year under current terms and conditions – the lowest of any industry. These are some of the stores caught in the crosshairs of the Delta variant.

While many people have been excited to return to concerts, clubs, and more frivolous activities this summer and fall, the surge in Covid-19 cases is forcing some of these long-delayed reopening plans to be canceled. After a year without concerts, baseball games and daily commuting to the office, many find that they can continue to shape their lives differently than before.

Vaccinations have hastened the reopening

What is different about this latest wave of Covid? Vaccinations. More than two-thirds of adults in the US have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and those who are fully vaccinated are largely protected from the worst effects of the virus. Covid-19 now poses so much greater risk for those who have not yet received a vaccination that the Biden government has called the current situation a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

In previous waves of the pandemic, local governments resorted to curfews and total shutdowns of businesses to contain the spread of the virus. Instead, much milder guidelines are now being implemented.

New York City will soon require restaurants, bars, gyms, and other businesses to require their guests to provide proof of vaccination before they enter. Meanwhile, some of the country’s biggest employers and brands – Walmart, Disney, United Airlines – are starting to require their employees to provide proof of vaccination before they return to work in person.

Even with these more relaxed changes, the surge in cases caused by the delta variant can lead people to reevaluate what they do on a daily basis. In our CNBC | Momentive poll, 25% of the population say they will change their outlook “very much” for the remainder of 2021, 41% say it has changed “little” and 32% have not changed their outlook “at all.”

Even with increased mask acceptance and vaccine passports, public concerns about the Delta variant could shift as the perceived risk increases and decreases. Small businesses will continue to have to adapt.

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