‘Delta’ hysteria another blow to already flattened small businesses

We’re in a frenzy — again. And small businesses are poised to suffer for our panic — again.

The Delta variant is circulating, cases are up. But with three vaccines on the market, and nearly 60 percent of eligible Americans fully vaccinated, the picture is much brighter than the breathless headlines would have us all believe.

COVID hospitalizations and deaths remain low. So-called breakthrough cases among the vaxxed, endlessly hyped by the blue-check media, account for a little over 1 percent of infections and 0.8 percent of deaths.

In short, we have figured out how to contain COVID-19. But it’s hard to let go of paranoia.

Neurotic politicians like Mark Levine, chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, whip people into a tizzy and demand a return to masking. Levine — who in February 2020 urged Gothamites to join the huge crowds in Chinatown celebrating the Lunar New Year in a “powerful show of defiance of the #coronavirus scare” — has also talked down the idea of school openings and repeatedly pressed for keeping restaurants and other small businesses closed.

Levine hasn’t missed a single paycheck during the 16 months we’ve spent in various stages of lockdown.

The hysteria has consequences. Laptop-class workers don’t suffer, of course, as big tech firms delay reopening their offices. But all the small businesses that support the big businesses in Silicon Alley suffer.

It’s the restaurants that rely on business lunches, the shoe shiners, drycleaners and parking-lot attendants who pay the price of laptop-class hysteria on both coasts.

The pajama-wearers, as I’ve written in these pages, can always type away from their couches. They collect their checks, feeling superior for having fought the pandemic just by staying home. They love to conspicuously obey the latest public-health directives, however irrational, and they can afford to do so.

The laptop class never suffered as other New Yorkers did. Its members didn’t spend sleepless nights wondering if their businesses would ever reopen. Their livelihoods never came under attack.

By contrast, officials, especially in blue-ruled cities and states, spent the COVID pandemic pummeling small businesses — and not just with lockdowns: The federal government continues to pay an unemployment bonus that discourages people from returning to work.

For firms struggling to attract and retain staff, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has a solution: Just pay the employees more! It’s so simple!

Psaki, who has obviously never owned a business, has no concept of how tough small biz has it. She sits atop the most expensive White House payroll in history, throwing out ridiculous diktats to people who are the engine of our economy.

Mom-and-pop operations are hanging on by a string while big corporations with pajama-class employees continue to rake in record profits.

In her book “The War on Small Business,” Carol Roth lays out the sustained attack small businesses have endured over the pandemic. It’s a terrifying story. If we had wanted to destroy small businesses while shoring up big corporations, it’s unclear what we would have done differently. Roth writes that by fall 2020, “34 percent of small businesses that hadn’t yet closed couldn’t pay their October rent. Meanwhile, many of the biggest US businesses were getting larger.”

This has gone on long enough. The idea was never to reach zero COVID cases. We were supposed to “flatten the curve” so hospitals could get ahead of the virus. We did that more than a year ago.

We can’t continue to live like this. Small-business owners embody the American Dream. We’ve spent too long crushing that dream in the name of an irrational safety-ism that ignores all other dangers to human flourishing.

Our safety has cost small business so much. We have to face the reality that we are going to be living with COVID for a long time. We have done what we could to minimize the risk of it.

The dream of absolute safety (from any risk) is a nightmare. The attempt to bring it about will exacerbate our social inequalities and decimate what remains of the American middle class.

“We’re all in this together” went the COVID mantra, remember? Prove it.

Twitter: @Karol

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