What does ‘essential’ mean, anyway?

Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: Now that we’re officially in stay-at-home mode — the governor’s order took effect at 5 p.m. Monday afternoon — it remains somewhat unclear what is and what isn’t considered an essential business. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order cited federal guidelines, and you can find that list is here. But confusion nevertheless abounds. 

Most essential jobs are what you would expect. Healthcare and first responders, pharmacists, law enforcement, air traffic controllers and grocery store employees probably come to mind. If you thought about it a little bit longer, you might come up with others like postal workers and laundromats. The list is much bigger than that. 

The rest are a little bit harder to pin down. The governor does spell out a number of businesses that are explicitly closed, building on previous proclamations: amusement parks, museums, theaters, zoos, gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors and strip clubs. Most retail is closed up, save convenience stores, but car dealers are allowed to remain open. 

There is some wiggle room. The order has a blanket provision covering anything not explicitly laid out. Any businesses not covered can stay open if they observe social distancing policies, keep employees a minimum of 6 feet apart, and limit rolls to 10 people or fewer. By design or otherwise, the grey area allows some breathing room for commerce to continue. 

The order has halted some major employers. Lafayette’s Stuller Inc. announced ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline that it would stop operations and pay its employees for the duration of the shelter order. Others are continuing to mull where they fit in. 

Local authorities will enforce the order. Sheriff Mark Garber says the public can report violations via 911, saying his approach is to appeal to “common sense” first before escalating a clampdown. 

“The spirit of this order is to save lives,” Garber says. 
Are you working for a non-essential business but still required to go to work? Let us know. You can fill out this form anonymously.

About the Author

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

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