Understanding the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Small Businesses and Workers Using Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

Jenna Honan, Maia Ingram, Carolina Quijada, Marvin Chaires, Jocelyn Fimbres, Catherine Ornelas, Sam Sneed, Leah Stauber, Rachel Spitz, Flor Sandoval, Scott Carvajal, Dean Billheimer, Ann Marie Wolf, Paloma Beamer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously exacerbated and elucidated inequities in resource distribution for small businesses across the United States in terms of worker health and the financial stability of both owners and employees. This disparity was further intensified by the constantly changing and sometimes opposing health and safety guidelines and recommendations to businesses from the local, state, and federal government agencies. To better understand how the pandemic has impacted small businesses, a cross-sectional survey was administered to owners, managers, and workers (n = 45) in the beauty and auto shop sectors from Southern Arizona. The survey identified barriers to safe operation that these businesses faced during the pandemic, illuminated worker concerns about COVID-19, and elicited perceptions of how workplaces have changed since the novel coronavirus outbreak of 2019. A combination of open-ended and close-ended questions explored how businesses adapted to the moving target of pandemic safety recommendations, as well as how the pandemic affected businesses and workers more generally. Almost all the beauty salons surveyed had to close their doors (22/25), either temporarily or permanently, due to COVID-19, while most of the auto repair shops were able to stay open (13/20). Beauty salons were more likely to implement exposure controls meant to limit transmission with customers and coworkers, such as wearing face masks and disallowing walk-ins, and were also more likely to be affected by pandemic-related issues, such as reduced client load and sourcing difficulties. Auto shops, designated by the state of Arizona to be 'essential' businesses, were less likely to have experienced financial precarity due to the pandemic. Content analysis of open-ended questions using the social-ecological model documented current and future worker concerns, namely financial hardships from lockdowns and the long-term viability of their business, unwillingness of employees to return to work, uncertainty regarding the progression of the pandemic, conflict over suitable health and safety protocols, and personal or family health and well-being (including anxiety and/or stress). Findings from the survey indicate that small businesses did not have clear guidance from policymakers during the pandemic and that the enacted regulations and guidelines focused on either health and safety or finances, but rarely both. Businesses often improvised and made potentially life-changing decisions with little to no support. This analysis can be used to inform future pandemic preparedness plans for small businesses that are cost-efficient, effective at reducing environmental exposures, and ultimately more likely to be implemented by the workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-100
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of Work Exposures and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2023


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • community-engaged research
  • cross-sectional survey
  • environmental exposures
  • occupational health and safety
  • small business
  • social-ecological model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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