Now is the time to reopen Mississippi


Illustration by Kathleen Hetherington.

After Governor Reeves lifted the shelter-in-place order, mayors across the state of Mississippi have decided to reopen their cities. Different towns are opening to different capacities, but some change is better than none. Now is the time to reopen. Our communities will not make it if nonessential businesses remain closed. Mayors like Toby Barker are making the smart decision by reopening nonessential retail in conjunction with a new safety protocol for shopping.

There’s some general variation on how open these nonessential businesses are. Hattiesburg is reopening nonessential retail businesses with some major restrictions. There is an additional mandate that all customers above the age of six must wear a mask inside any business. Nonessential retailers across the coast are also opening. Oxford reopened May 2 with similar restrictions to those of Hattiesburg. Brookhaven is reopening under the exact orders that Governor Reeves detailed. Another smaller town, Southaven, is opening to that capacity as well. However, Jackson is staying closed. The mayor has decided not to reopen and has even ordered a curfew that lasts from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Over the past few weeks, many businesses were incapacitated by new and experimental regulations. Some people did not have access to critical services such as psychiatrists or private doctors’ offices, which is needed to help fill medications. Though the lack of medication here is not life-threatening, under normal circumstances, these doctors would not have to turn down patients with a personal need.

This does not even touch on the financial purposes for nonessential businesses. My own mother works as a delivery driver and relies on her car to make money. Last week, she got a nail in her tire and was unable to find a single business in the Jackson area that could replace it for her. For three days, she was hemorrhaging money because she couldn’t work. To some people — members of the community, our own parents — nonessential businesses are essential. Those people who are not able to hoard money are the most at risk of COVID-19 related financial complications, possibly endangering all of their assets.

The entire idea of essential vs. nonessential is foolish to begin with. Most businesses are essential to our community. Whether we like it or not, there is no way for a city to function without commerce. It is just the way things work in this country. There are public services that must run, and those public services must be paid for. There are businesses that might be necessary for some people to be able to work at all, like car repair, dentistry or family owned restaurants. Even if the city sacks a bunch of employees to save money, they still have to pay for the resources to manage things like waste management, fire rescue and healthcare. The system works because we buy stuff. Without nonessential business, this infrastructure crumbles, and a lot of people enter a dangerous situation. 

No matter what, more chances for close human contact means more chances for viral transmission. Everyone should take proper precautions. As human beings, we cannot rely on our governing bodies to keep us safe from our own decisions. 

We have to use common sense right now. Mayors are making the right decision. Local economies are hurting and small businesses need to operate. People need to work. It is up to us to make the smart decisions and take care of each other. Do not risk your neighbor. Instead, wear a mask and wash your hands.

The most important thing right now is for cities to reopen in a “steady, measured and safe manner,” as Toby Barker said. If citizens comply with the mandates on wearing masks inside of businesses, the number of cases should drastically decrease even as business resumes to normal. It’s the best way to combat the transmission of COVID-19 while allowing our communities to survive.