MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - WMC Action News 5 asked mayors from across the Mid-South to join our COVID-19 town hall, along with the doctors who are guiding the politicians through this confusing and sometimes frustrating reopening process.
"We agree that the priority should be to preserve and to save lives,” Mayor Lee Harris said.
Mayors and medical experts are teaming up to map out the Mid-South’s road to recovery. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says it is a data-driven process.
“As we entered the executive orders on the front end of this by listening to the doctors, we will listen to the experts as we loosen the restrictions to get back to business," said Strickland.
The Memphis and Shelby County Mayors have heard your concerns about your health and well-being, and about your livelihoods.
“It’s obvious that a lot of the community is concerned about barbershops and beauty salons and nail salons, and that’s become a special area of focus for us," said Harris. "They could be put on the brink of losing a lot if we don’t figure out a path to recovery.”
Restaurants and retail in neighboring Mississippi opened Monday.
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite wanted to reopen at 33% capacity, but followed Mississippi Governor Tate Reeve’s plan which calls for 50% capacity. Musselwhite urged patience.
“I think we ease into this thing," he said. “Obviously when you shut people down for that long, they don’t flip the switch back on. A lot of businesses have not had a chance to open back yet, so it’s way too early to tell the impact.”
Further south in the Magnolia state, testing is a major concern for Clarksdale, according to Mississippi Mayor Chuck Espy.
“We’re dealing with the psychological aspect,” he told WMC Action News 5. “And we’ve noticed at testing sites where we have police officers or the Mississippi Highway Patrol there are people who are nervous about the police being present. We want you to know the testing sites are a safe zone for you.”
Espy said his focus now is preparing for the second wave of coronavirus, especially since the first wave had a disproportionate and heavy impact on his city’s population.
Access to testing is also an issue for West Memphis, according to Mayor Marco McClendon. His city is aligning its blueprint for recovery with Memphis and Shelby County.
“I’m going to follow the plans of my big brother right across the bridge to make sure we’re part of the solution, not the problem," said McClendon.
And as businesses do reopen, health experts remind us that social distancing is still important. And businesses must follow the guidelines established, like employees wearing masks and operating at reduced capacity. Officials are prepared to handle any uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“If there begins to be a resurgence, we can take action to be able to, as people said, close the faucet back up and ratchet back a little bit to reduce transmission," said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, the director of the Shelby County Health Department.
Musselwhite admits safer-at-home orders were tough on a lot of folks. Reopening, he said, will be even more complicated.
“Is it going to be a challenge to get everyone back open safely?” he said. “Yes. It is going to be a challenge. But I’m very confident we can do it effectively.”
Memphis and Shelby County leaders are watching for a 14-day downward trend in the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Testing must also ramp up before Phase One of the Back to Business reopening plan begins. Hair salons and barbershops don’t reopen until Phase Two, which doesn’t start until Phase One has been successful for at least two weeks.