Ron Colone: Pondering those ‘essential services’

Ron Colone: Pondering those ‘essential services’

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As each state went through its own process and timeline for shutting things down and creating separation and distance between people to try and suppress the coronavirus, the phrase “essential services” emerged as a topic to consider.

Essential services are generally defined as “the services and functions that are absolutely necessary, even during a pandemic. They maintain the health and welfare of the municipality. Without these services sickness, poverty, violence and chaos would likely result.”

Included in this category are hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, police and fire departments, banks, and public services such water, gas and power, but there are other businesses and services that are less obvious and some that are downright questionable.

Churches, for example. Should they be open for public services? As far as I know, there aren’t any federal, state or local orders mandating the closure of churches, other than broad general guidelines pertaining to the size of social gatherings, the physical distance we should keep between ourselves, and warnings about contaminated surfaces, including items that may be part of a religious service.

I am not unmindful or dismissive of the need for spiritual support, the comfort and encouragement that can be found in a soulful homily, or the power of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, but can’t we pray to or commune with God in the privacy of our homes or on a solitary walk? Can’t bread or any solid food become the body, in any setting, and can’t wine or water or anything we drink become the blood?

I can see sitting in a near-empty church, temple or mosque to pray, ponder, commune or confess, but to gather with hundreds of people — 1,800 in the case of the Louisiana Pentecostal church — seems irresponsible. Ask that pastor and those parishioners, though, and they’ll say God is more powerful than some virus, and church is definitely “an essential service.”

What is and what isn’t considered essential depends on where you live and who’s running the show.

In some cities, gun stores have been closed down as non-essential, while in most other places, the local sheriffs have proclaimed them “essential,” citing the role they play in providing law-enforcement agencies with tools to ensure public safety, and adding “gun stores sell a lot of other items for self-defense, hunting and meat-processing.” Yeah, I bet there’s a lot of new meat-processing going on these days.

Meanwhile, gun sales have risen by 300%, maybe because people are concerned that someone is going to come steal their food, their toilet paper or their hand sanitizer.

In Monterey County, Pebble Beach Golf Links, which is one of the most renowned golf courses in the world, closed for the first time since 1919 due to a statewide shelter-in-place order, while 120 miles to the south, the Paso Robles Golf Club remained open.

I have a friend who works for a heating and air-conditioning company. He stands in the aisle at a home-improvement store selling installation and service plans. He’d rather not be exposed to shoppers, but if he wants to keep his job, he has to go to work. I get that a malfunctioning heater or air-conditioner could pose a problem, but can’t you just call and have them send out a service technician?

Liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, dry cleaners, car washes, almost all remain open. Car washes? How, in these weeks when we’re trying to flatten the curve, are they considered essential? If all these businesses are essential, shouldn’t their workers be adequately compensated? Remember, “essential” means absolutely necessary.

I think one of the positives that could come out of this is we emerge a little wiser, with our priorities adjusted and a better sense of what really is essential.

Ron Colone can be reached at


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