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Friday, October 9, 2020

Why our doors are closed

We've been asked fairly often why we aren't letting anyone inside the store. Here's a letter I wrote this morning in answer one of those inquiries; it summed up my feelings well, so I'm sharing it here with the recipient's name redacted.

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Thank you for your kind and supportive email. Yes, my staff are awesome, aren't they?

Unfortunately, we won't be letting people in soon. COVID is still regularly circulating in the population, and I'm not willing to put my staff at risk, or for that matter, any member of our community. The pandemic is not theoretical. The death toll for COVID in the US just reached 213,000 people. That includes 6 deaths yesterday in WA state alone, which could have been avoided if we, as a country, had taken this seriously from the beginning. Now, WA is seeing another uptick of cases - 727 new cases yesterday, and 806 the day before. Moreover, a lot of the survivors (some of our customers among them) have long-term damage to their health.

If our store were spacious and well-ventilated, with easy-to-clean surfaces, I'd consider letting people in (masked and distanced from my employees), one family at a time. But, our aisles are tall and narrow, and we have zero ventilation except for some air vents over the door. Masks are good, but they aren't perfect, and the CDC has shown great uncertainty about how long virus particles linger in the air.

The thing about a pandemic which we as a population are trying to get under control is that there's a point when *everything seems fine,* and everyone relaxes. And then, as we have seen happen so many times: suddenly, unpredictably - it will *not be fine any more.* I haven't seen any evidence that our country is handling this crisis appropriately, and the one thing I have control over is whether we participate or not.

I feel that as booksellers - purveyors of knowledge - we out of all people are *particularly* beholden to pay attention to science and what the numbers tell us, rather than fall prey to wishful thinking. So, too, do we, as a place of community, have a moral obligation to act in socially responsible ways. I don't think it's socially responsible to do anything that encourages people to be in close contact with each other. Lingering for long periods in a narrow, poorly-ventilated space most definitely qualifies.

It *might* be fine, sure. But it's a game of Russian Roulette. What's more, it's a game of Russian Roulette in which the lives we're endangering aren't necessarily our own. Our Rt number is again above 1, so that means the spread will go on steadily unless we all aggressively work together to distance from each other. If I were to make a list of people I care about, a lot more of them would be in the "high risk" category than not. Am I willing to involve them in this game of chance? I am not.

We *can* sell books by email, by phone, and online, so we *should*. We've done our best to keep some of the "browsing" feeling by posting photos of the shelves online at http://www.pegasusbookexchange.com/p/browse-shelves.html, and all our new arrivals get posted on Facebook and Instagram. I know it's not the same, but it's what we've got right now.

Thanks for listening. Wear a mask, keep your family safe, and please (for the love of science) stay away from other people!

Yours sincerely,

Emma Epps