Repair is essential.
Before COVID-19 overtook the world, this was more of a rallying cry than a policy up for debate. But as governments big and small shut down more and more businesses and functions, they’ve consistently ruled that most repair businesses and centers are essential to keeping society moving.
To some, it might seem obvious. If you can’t drive your car or pedal your bike in an emergency, turn on your computer for work, or halt a damaging leak, you—and those who rely on you—are in bad shape. Utilities, crucial industries, and security operations all need parts and services. And hospitals are going to need all the help they can get keeping respirators and other crucial devices running—that’s why we’re rapidly gathering manuals for them.
But when we’re all told that we have to limit physical exposure to one another as much as possible, it might make you wonder why the bike shop is open while your favorite restaurant is closed. Or why your neighbor who works in IT is heading to work while you and yours are sheltering in place.
Repair keeps the nation’s essential critical infrastructure operational, says the Department of Homeland Security. Those who test and repair in healthcare, water, communications, and a half-dozen other categories need to work, and their work, it is implied if not stated, is worth the risk of exposure
Most U.S. states and the District of Columbia, taking a cue from the federal government, have carved out essential status for repair businesses, no matter how strict their protocols. California makes information technology (IT) workers and repair techs explicitly essential. Kentucky’s governor clarified the state’s policy in a tweet, noting that cellphone repair and hardware stores may remain open. Ohio’s Department of Health deems essential anyone whose support or materials keep other essential businesses or employees working, “including computers, audio and video electronics, [and] household appliances.”
We’re glad to see this. And we know about it because of the efforts of Robert Reichner, CEO of RepairShopr, which provides business management apps for repair shops (Disclosure: iFixit is an investor in RepairShopr). He and his team created an open online spreadsheet to compile “essential business” laws regarding repair shops. Reichner wants people to update it, correct it, and expand it to as many locations as possible.
While it’s heartening to see governments consider repair essential, we could be much more prepared to deal with the repair needs of an epidemic, said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association.
“OEMs have so limited our ability to fix things that we don’t have the ability to cope with increased demands for repair of nearly all electronic infrastructure,” Gordon-Byrne said. “For example, tens of thousands of ventilators are being put into service but without the means to keep them working. Similarly, we’re deploying thousands of pieces of networking infrastructure to support new work from home efforts, but the OEMs won’t help anyone learn to fix them.”
“The next big challenge is to keep our investments working, and that means Right to Repair.”
Product makers are struggling to provide authorized repair while keeping employees safe, Apple and Nintendo among them. After years of making repair harder for everyone, we are all now called upon to fix our things, because many of the stores to buy new versions of them are closed (or hopelessly out of stock). Distributing repair and maintenance information to everybody could help us weather outbreaks like COVID-19.
Here’s hoping that happens sooner rather than later.