HOUSTON — Alex Belt, a single mother of three girls and the owner of Silly Silly Girls gift boutique, has a succinct way of describing her life in Houston as officials warn of an alarming spike in coronavirus cases: “Business as usual without the business.”

When Ms. Belt, 46, first reopened her store after weeks of mandatory business closures, a wave of loyal customers came in to show their support. Lately, though, the store has often been empty again as Houston residents try to make sense of a fluctuating series of recommendations from state and local officials and a virus that seems to be characterized chiefly by its unpredictability.

“It’s hurt us all over the board,” Ms. Belt said. “People are just scared.”

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