What many of us have dreamed about for the past year may be turning into reality. Almost half of the nation has been fully vaccinated, the CDC has announced businesses can reopen along with lifted mask guidance, and the glimmer of hope is shining brighter each day.
However, as we cling onto this hope and adjust to what many are calling the “new normal,” we must not forget what we have learned and what practices we must bring into this next chapter with us. The reality for many Black communities, especially Black-owned businesses, is that they must continue to rely on lawmakers and regulators to protect them from virus spread and outbreak.
A year ago, in a quick fix reaction to the pandemic, the FDA released emergency guidance that lowered the standards for germ-fighting products like hand sanitizer in order to get more on the market. This led to an ongoing wave of hand sanitizers that both smell horrible and seem to do virtually nothing. Now, a year later, city streets are refilling, businesses are starting to operate at full capacity, and we have a more reliable supply of hand sanitizer. Yet, businesses are still providing questionable products, and we are even seeing reports of products with toxic carcinogens steadily pop up.
With this in mind, I look to lawmakers and regulators to resolve this issue. As we come out of this emergency, it’s time for the FDA to withdraw the temporary guidance, and for Congress to use its power of oversight to ensure these toxic products are off the market for good.
We want to provide our patrons and employees with a safe experience; however, we are not public health officials. Clear and consistent guidance from those in power is vital to deciphering what hand sanitizer products are safe and effective, where they should be positioned in our stores/offices/etc.
Because as is the case with many issues in this country, it is no surprise that the Black community has been hit the hardest by the ripple effects of COVID-19. As the President of the Black Chamber of Commerce, it is my responsibility to advocate for the 310,000 U.S. Black-owned businesses we represent. With reports of hand sanitizer products containing high levels of methanol, benzene and other toxins, how can these employees, customers and business owners feel safe?
Not only are Black people more likely to contract and die from COVID-19, but because of systemic inequities, Black-owned businesses more likely to lack sufficient resources needed to stay afloat and protect their customers.
This shows that while safer, more effective products may be available again, without clear guidance and access, there is a barrier to entry for them to arrive at small, often Black-owned, businesses. The latest census shows that 28 percent of U.S. businesses are Black-owned. The U.S. economy relies on their success and health, and we will not see them flourish if they continue to be ignored.
The FDA fought to get more hand sanitizers on the market when we needed it most, but now we must deal with the unintended consequences that came along with it and rescind the emergency guidelines. I hope that along with the FDA, lawmakers, especially those on the Congressional Black Caucus, are as concerned about this as I am and will use their power to stop it.
Black business owners have enough on their shoulders. They do not need to worry about the toxicity of hand sanitizer products they put out to protect their patrons, but instead should feel confident that they have the support of regulatory bodies to keep them safe.
Ron Busby, President & CEO, U.S. Black Chambers, Inc