By Becky Gillette
During the unprecedented coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) disruption to nearly every aspect of business and personal lives, Delta residents were looking to the city leaders for accurate local information and advice on how to be safe and prevent the spread of the respiratory illness.
At press time in mid-March, there were still relatively few people in the state who had tested positive for COVID-19. But the number had grown from ten to 249 cases in less than a week. The U.S. had a total of about 32,000 cases making it the country with the third highest number of cases in the world. There was concern about the disease spreading rapidly leading to unprecedented strain on healthcare facilities.
Greenwood had four of the first ten COVID-19 cases identified in Mississippi.
“They were all quarantined to their own homes,” says Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams. “They were all linked together and attended the same event. That is proof positive you do not need to be gathering in large groups and anywhere where you cannot have personal safety of six feet or more. Don’t shake hands, wash your hands, stay away from large crowds, take Vitamin C and zinc, and don’t do face-to-face business that can be done on the telephone.”
McAdams pointed out that both the President and Gov. Tate Reece had declared emergencies.
“It is serious,” says McAdams. “We need to do what we are told. We can’t do enough to contain and stop the virus. For restaurants at the local level, the city doesn’t have the authority to close them. But we are extending special thanks to restaurants that are encouraging take-outs to provide for the safety and well-being of customers and employees. We appreciate that dedication to our city.”
McAdams is working to get the word out by doing interviews with the radio station and newspapers, and updating the city’s website (www.cityofgreenwood.org) daily with information from trusted sources such as the Greenwood Leflore Hospital, the Mississippi Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is going to take all of us working together,” says McAdams. “This is indeed a crisis. But look at all the crises over which we have prevailed in the past. We will prevail, but it will require unity and level-headed thinking to get through this. Call the city if you need something, and we will try to provide it. Some people are running out of hand sanitizer. There is a recipe for that on YouTube.”
McAdams says local businesses are going the extra mile to help customers and continue to do business during the disruption. In Greenwood, one grocery store is planning a senior hour where seniors can shop for an hour before the store officially opens. People over sixty-five and/or those with underlying problems such as diabetes, lung illnesses and heart disease are at greater risk for death from COVID-19. We know for sure that seniors and people with a low immune system are in jeopardy. It is that great business people are offering these types of services. It is inspiring to see how our communities are trying to fight this.”
Usually the public is encouraged to attend governmental meetings. But, right now, McAdams is advising people to watch city council meetings safely on the city website. The city also sends out a summary after each council meeting.
“Right now, it is so critical to keep people safe,” she says. “Don’t come to our city council meeting unless you have a definite need.”
All major events have been cancelled affecting business revenues, economic development, tourism and the sales tax base.
McAdams says the old saying, “We are all on the same boat together,” needs to be changed now to “We are all on the same ship together.”
“It is huge,” McAdams says. “We have to do what it takes and, hopefully, Congress will follow through with some type of economic stimulus, especially to small businesses with a significant decline. It has been hugely disruptive. Yesterday, I could have shot a cannon down Howard Street; there was no one there. People are complying with self-quarantining until we can get this thing contained and stopped.”
Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell says everyone is hunkered down and doing the best they can.
“Without any doubt, we have concerns about the business impacts,” says Nowell. “Like all universities in the state, Delta State University has shut down. Students have largely gone home. That is a huge part of our economy. It has basically turned into a ghost town, which is encouraging in one sense because people are doing what they have been told to do by national, state and local leaders. Mississippi doesn’t have a lot of COVID-19 cases, but it has enough to be a big concern.”
Nowell was also concerned about lost tax revenues and was hoping for quick assistance through the federal stimulus programs.
“I hope we get federal and state help once we get past this ordeal,” says Nowell. “Business bailouts are needed sooner rather than later.”
Cleveland also had some stores opening early for seniors only. Many businesses and individuals have stepped up to adapt and help. Some restaurants are doing curbside pickup and some are delivering meals. One grocery store has been offering breakfasts and lunches for children who are out of school where they normally get two meals a day.
“People can call ahead, pull in and pick up meals for children,” says Nowell. “That is a very generous store. We have a drug store that is delivering prescriptions. We have people offering to bring things to people who can’t get out. We have a good social network in Cleveland. I also heard today that people seem to be a lot nicer during hard times. Folks are a lot nicer through this situation right now.”
With children out of school unexpectedly, that can put a strain on working parents to find child care. Nowell and his wife are taking turns caring for two grandchildren.
“Grandparents do come in handy sometimes,” says Nowell.
Greenville Mayor Erick Simmons also expressed great concern for the local economy, particularly mom and pop and small, women-owned, and minority businesses that have either closed temporarily or seen a large decrease in customer traffic flowing in and out of their businesses.
Simmons says this is the primary reason the Greenville City Council placed in their preventive measures the term “recommended” that no more than ten people should be together in restaurants, bars, businesses, churches, clubs, etc.
“The bottom line here is to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Simmons. “Put in the hygiene standards for cleanliness and adhere to social distancing guidelines, but still support our businesses.”
One way for businesses to stay alive is to allow more people to work remotely, when possible. There has been what has been referred to as “a business tsunami” all over the world. Businesses are shifting to allow more people to work remotely. It is a trend that many think will continue long after COVID is just a bad memory.