Local leaders say they are supportive of the governor’s efforts to keep Mississippi residents safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, although still concerned about the long-term impact the mandated quarantine will have on their community’s small businesses.
Gov. Tate Reeves’s stay-at-home order, which has been in place since the evening of April 3, expired Monday and was replaced with his new “safer at home” order, which still requires medically vulnerable people to remain home but allows more movement by others. It also allows businesses deemed nonessential by the original order to reopen at half-capacity, although person-to-person businesses like gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors are among those remaining closed. Dentists and physicians can again start offering elective medical procedures.
The new order still bans gatherings of more than 10 people and requires the state’s residents to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from one another. Public school buildings are closed for the rest of the spring semester, but Reeves has said he wants students and teachers to continue with distance learning efforts.
“This disease has not hit every American fairly. It is particularly cruel to some,” Republican Reeves said Saturday in a message posted on Facebook.
“And the economic damage has not hit every American fairly,” he said. “It has been particularly cruel to the working class: Those people who work on their feet. Those people who don’t have a home office or paid leave. Those people who come home with callouses on their hands–because they did a hard day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”
Fulton Mayor Barry Childers said local officials feel the pain their small businesses are enduring and supports the governor’s move to allow them to reopen slowly.
“We’re sitting here crying too because we’ve spent a long time trying to get these businesses built up around the town … and it just hurts our souls to see this happen to them,” Childers told The Times, Monday. “It hurts us. It hurts us up here at city hall to watch it all.
Even before the state’s “shelter in place” order, Fulton officials ordered local businesses to limit their services to curbside only. The mayor said that was a painful decision, but one he ultimately thinks was the right call.
But Childers also knows many local business owners are facing two crises – one related to health, the other to economics. At some point, one or the other will have to give.
He said it’s time to test the waters of opening local businesses back up.
“You’ve got one side that wants it open and one side that wants it closed, but you really do have to start opening things up a little bit or you’ll choke yourself to death,” he said.
Although the state’s new order allows local municipalities to set stricter guidelines, should they choose, Childers said Fulton leaders will follow the state’s recommendations for the time being.
In Mantachie, Mayor Matt Fennell said he believes most business owners are shouldering the economic burdens placed on them during the pandemic with aplomb.
“The Mantachie business community has been very cooperative during this trying time,” Fennell told The Times, Monday. “They are doing their part in combating COVID-19 while continuing to serve our community. Many of our non-essential retailers have found innovative ways to reach their customers through avenues such as online sales.”
Fennell believes the town’s business owners will cooperate with the state’s new guidelines as best they can.
“I see the 50% capacity rule being difficult to gauge, but I know our retailers will do their part,” he said. “We look forward to the day in which every Mantachie business is back open and thriving.”
Fulton’s mayor is eager for that day, too, although he expressed some pessimism as to whether the local business community would be as thriving as it once was.
“I think most of our businesses are handling it pretty good, but I worry about them not being able to pick themselves back up off the ground, start back up,” he said.
Asked if he thought some Fulton businesses wouldn’t survive the financial toll placed on them by the forced physical distancing measures, the mayor said he expects some losses.
“There’s going to be a few,” he said. “There’s going to be a few.”