Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves continues to take the correct approach by gradually lifting the business restrictions that had been imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, Reeves announced he was shifting from “shelter at home” to “safer at home” — a difference that is more than just a case of semantics.
He said, starting Monday morning, many of those retail businesses previously labeled “nonessential” could start allowing customers back in as long as they keep the number inside at no more than half of the commercial space’s rated capacity. This comes a week after he allowed these businesses to reopen for curbside or delivery service only.
Just as importantly, he said that hospitals can return to doing some elective surgery and other nonemergency procedures if they so wish.
Reeves is doing exactly as we had hoped — trying to find some balance between a health crisis and an economic one. Those who wanted to keep the clamps firmly on and those who wanted them more broadly loosened may not be pleased with the middle ground the Republican is seeking, but he is right to push toward it. And, unless he is just being a good soldier, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s chief health officer, endorsed the changes.
With lives at stake from COVID-19, this is a tough call. It could backfire if there is a sudden spike in deaths from the respiratory disease as a result of people feeling more comfortable about venturing out of their homes.
But the devastating financial impact of keeping so much of the economy closed up cannot be minimized. Over the past five weeks, Mississippi has added 165,000 to its unemployment rolls — more than 30 times greater than would be normal for that time span. The state can’t go on shedding jobs like that before it creates an epidemic of financial ruin and personal despair.
Many retailers have been worried whether they could ever reopen if the shutdown went on too much longer. And hospitals, including Greenwood Leflore Hospital, have been hit with a triple whammy ever since COVID-19 reached this state. They’ve had the additional costs of gearing up to treat those with severe complications from the disease; they’ve lost significant revenue from not being able to perform elective procedures; and they’ve had their already burdensome load of uncompensated care rise as many of those who have lost their jobs have also lost their insurance.
The Greenwood hospital has estimated that it is losing $4 million to $5 million a month due to COVID-19. The government stimulus packages and other federal programs are helping to cushion the blow, but not completely. Thankfully, the hospital has enough reserves to ride out the downturn for a while. But other rural hospitals in this state don’t have that kind of cushion. If they were to go broke, patients in those communities would go without speedy care, not just for COVID-19 but other serious ailments, risking even more lives.
COVID-19 is serious business. Even though it has not claimed as many lives as the doomsday scenarios were projecting, 52,000 dead in the United States — including more than 200 in Mississippi — is nothing about which to be cavalier. But neither is a deep recession and possible depression.
It’s worth the calculated risk to slowly but steadily reduce the restrictions on individuals and on businesses to see what will happen.