As municipalities and states seek new ways to combat the coronavirus, plastic bags used to take food and supplies out of stores are finding renewed popularity as a safer alternative to reusable bags. It’s a strong reversal for many jurisdictions which have undertaken campaigns in recent years to ban the use of plastic bags.

Public health officials and store owners have acknowledged reusable bags brought in by customers from their homes could potentially carry dangerous bacteria, including the infectious coronavirus. The benefit of a plastic bag allows a consumer to use a sterile bag and dispose of it after a single use, greatly reducing the chance of the bag circulating around the community and in-and-out of heavily trafficked grocery stores and other shopping outlets.

Last week, the mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller, paused the ban on plastic bags of any kind for 30 days.

“For the next thirty days, businesses in Albuquerque will temporarily be allowed to use any type of plastic bag for their customers and the City’s Environmental Health Department will suspend enforcement of the plastic bag ban citywide,” the mayor’s announcement read, encouraging businesses to use paper bags if available.

“Over the last several weeks I’ve been holding regular conversations with businesses and food workers as we help them navigate the coronavirus pandemic,” Keller said, with the temporary halt “to ease concerns over paper bag shortages and free businesses and food workers to focus on continuing their essential operations.”

Paul Gessing, president of the free market Rio Grande Foundation, said COVID-19 concerns for health have temporarily driven back ardent plastic bag bans in New Mexico.

“We have two bag bans locally, Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque. The city acted first. Just two weeks ago, one of the big proponents of the bag ban, City Council President Pat Davis, tried to close a loophole on plastic bag thickness,” Gessing said, within days of the coronavirus outbreaks nationally.

Gessing told Western Wire that hammering plastic bags at this critical time was “out of touch,” echoing his own op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal last week.

In his op-ed, Gessing pointed to many recent studies highlighting the health issues related to the use of so-called reusable bags that plastic bag opponents tout as a responsible replacement.

“Apparently Davis has no concern about the impact of the virus, which has disrupted all facets of American life. This isn’t mere hyperbole on my part. The problem with reusable cloth bags preferred by Davis and other opponents of plastic bags is real,” Gessing wrote.

Denver is another major western city that seems poised to act on plastic bags as well during the Coronavirus outbreak. The city was scheduled to implement a fee on the use of plastic bags starting on July 1. But now Denverite reports that it likely the policy will be pushed to 2021 to protect public health.

New York and Maine have also delayed implantation of their plastic bag bans.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker acted not only to allow plastic bags but went a step further and banned reusable bags statewide.

WCVB reported that Baker said, “From now on, reusable bags are prohibited and all regulations on plastic bag bans are lifted.”

Some grocery stores have awaited state action and have prohibited shoppers from using reusable bags.

The National Conference of State Legislature says that seven states including California and Connecticut have plastic bag bans along with several major cities like Boulder, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The organization also notes, “State lawmakers have introduced at least 95 bills in 2019 related to plastic bags. Most of these bills would ban or place a fee on plastic bags.”

The use of plastic bags and other plastic materials is made possible from oil and natural gas byproducts. The Energy Information Administration states, “Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining.”

NPR notes that ethane is a “building block” for plastic and that America’s strong natural gas sector is powering a “booming” plastics industry.