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Coronavirus Impact: How a Crisis Is Changing the U.S.

Michael Corkery
Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

In states hit hard by the coronavirus, like New York and California, governors and mayors have mandated the closure of all but the obviously essential stores, like supermarkets and pharmacies. And the Department of Homeland Security has laid out guidelines for businesses across the country to follow when deciding whether to stay open, even in regions not known to be hot spots for the virus. The agency is careful to note that its definition of a “critical” work force is not an official standard, leaving it up to corporations to decide for themselves.

Given this latitude, retailers have kept thousands of stores open, even as health experts warn that the virus is likely to spread more widely across the country in the coming weeks. Several retailers — like Sears, Kmart, and Joann Fabric and Craft Stores — have provided employees with letters they can share, arguing that their businesses are essential.

At Guitar Center in recent days, customers have been trying out guitars, then putting them back on the shelves after touching them, said two employees at two stores in…

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