By JACK WEATHERLY
Restaurants are taking advantage of the loosening of pandemic restrictions.
Gov. Tate Reeves announced last week he was allowing more people to dine in starting May 7, as long as restaurants do not exceed 50 percent of seating capacity.
The idea is to leave room for social distancing, a major part of precautions, along with deep desanitizing to fight the spread of the deadly and highly contagious virus that began in China and has spread throughout the world.
Mississippi’s total of presumptive cases of Covid-19 now stands at 9,908 after the Mississippi Health Department reported 234 newly identified cases on Tuesday.
There have been 457 total deaths reported.
Confirmed corona virus cases in the United States reached 1.31 million on Tuesday, as various states and countries moved ahead with reopening plans. About 80,000 Americans have died from the disease.
At the same time, the shutdown of the nation’s economy has thrown it into a deep recession, thus the need for reopening it to slow or stop the downward spiral.
Pat Fontaine, executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said that most eateries that did not shut down altogether have been relying on curbside pickups and deliveries.
Looking to the immediate future, Fontaine said, “Help is still an issue.” Unemployment pay and additional money from the federal government must be considered, he said.
The federal bonus of $600 a week for up to four months is seen by some as a disincentive to returning to work. The money is part of the $2 trillion stimulus package.
Texas and Georgia expanded the dine-in option a few days ago and outside seating is “the more popular choice,” Fontaine said.
Restaurants in the city limits of Jackson will have to wait till May 15 to expand the dine-in option because of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s decision.
Natchez will wait till the end of May to offer that option, Fontaine said. The Oxford Board of Aldermen decided earlier this week to wait to act on that option.
At least two other of Mississippi’s largest towns – Hattiesburg and Natchez – have decided to wait before opening restaurants.
Meantime, the Mississippi Coast, which accounts for about one-third of the state’s tourism revenue, will see restaurants take advantage of the latest order from Reeves.
Gus Harris, owner of Cajun Crawfish in Long Beach, said that “everybody is pretty excited.”
“This is high season for crawfish,” Harris said.
Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said on the city’s website that “we know everyone is anxious. We’re anxious, too, but we want businesses and their customers to adhere to these responsible precautions.”
Gulfport, the state’s second-largest city behind Jackson, likewise is taking advantage of the new ground rules, according to Lashaundra McCarty, communications director for the city.
Back inland, Mark Shapley, owner of MM Shapley’s in Ridgeland, said the steak house is taking advantage of dining in because of the preexisting arrangement of many tables separated into booths.
The restaurant shut down on March 13 and started relying on curbside service for a week, Shapley said.
4Top Hospitality is reopening its Ridgeland eateries – Sombra, Anjou and Amerigo – and its Amerigo in Flowood, but not Saltine, which is in the Fondren District of Jackson, which will not reopen till May 15.
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