Reopening Mississippi: America's poorest state begins lifting lockdown
Today AS DONALD TRUMP ENCOURAGES AMERICANS to go back to work our senior producer mightily row his God in. Us reporter Oliver Lock Land. What it looks like from the State of Mississippi which is meeting faster than most to reopen The white sand beaches of Baloch Mississippi draw millions of visitors each year. This is bill oxy. On American riverdale regimen law mingle with the world of today's endless amazing peninsula city tourist comfort the pristine coastline but stay for the casinos. The bars and the restaurants sharpen grits special. Great its beauty. Green has Gouda Cheese and it also and then they fantail shrimp way saute almond butter garlic and hot sauce. Being Wilkerson price works as a line cook and a trendy restaurant on rain street. That's all I know. I mean I've worked for over thirty five years. So that's all I've known I've done all different types of cooking also catering I've done you know country club up down fast food so I came to block and had my sister here and plus I had a good idea of the restaurants and the food industry. That was here. Mark was going well until the krona virus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March at first Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves resisted closing down businesses asking residents to trust in the power of prayer. Instead Your heavenly father. Please be with President Trump vice-president pence leadership team in Washington as they try to deal with this once in a lifetime and but in early April Governor Reeves finally ordered all casinos gyms salons shopping centers and restaurants to close put people likely suddenly out of work scrambling to feed his. Three sons. Totally took me out of work. I mean radio week week but us from week away to nothing but now just weeks later. The governor is reopening some businesses including restaurants putting people likely back to work even as Mississippi's death toll climbs from the Guardian. I'm mightily row today. In focus in the American south states like Mississippi are starting to reopen their economies. But how many lives will it cost Oliver Laughlin Bureau chief for The Guardian us? He's normally based in New Orleans Louisiana but earlier this week. He headed east into Mississippi at South West on Duffy Street. Then turn right on our side avenue. The joy from newly-installed. Luxy is not particularly long. It's only ninety miles long and you're driving along pre sparsely populated often empty rural high roads. The set by lush forest. That has kind of blamed in recent months. Empty Retail Parks. Big Strip malls. This huge lake. That you try lake pontchartrain. So you can see this huge false and like shimmering brave water and I really being one of the I need 'cause on the right pretty extraordinary. Why are you interested in reporting from Mississippi? So Mississippi is the poor state in America is also the hungriest stay in America. So there are issues with access to food with obesity and underlying health conditions aware in the top five in terms hypertension in terms of obesity. We're in the top five of many states in other areas. We're number six across the nation in the number of smokers per capita in Mississippi who say one of the states that was one of the slowest. Close up the Republican governor that Tate Reeves he issued a very liberal directive. Or what one would class as an essential business and this is a time when the neighboring state of Louisiana was really going through a severe crisis with corona virus and became one of the major hotspots Cross Louisiana. The numbers are simply staggering. It's scared me I'm telling you like screaming dislike. You're kidding me. The State has seen the fastest growth rates in the world. So I'll ever you watching Louisiana register more and more cases of covert nineteen. Meanwhile next door in Mississippi. It was more or less business as usual. Why was governor you so reluctant to ask people to stay home? I think what you've seen with. People like Governor Reeves and other governors in conservative states is a desire to follow the rhetoric. That is coming out of the White House. America wants to be open and Americans want to be open and at times. Donald Trump's rhetoric on what the correct responses with the corona virus has been incredibly confusing and difficult to follow. And so you kind of see scattergun approach across the country when it to who shut I on what time. So ultimately reeves and a host of other conservative governors across the. Us South didn't issue stay at home mortars until the decision not to close down. Basically became politically untenable. We are now at the point and Mississippi Cycle Drastic measures may be required. Today is the day. We are announcing a shelter in place order. It will go into effect Friday at five. Pm You mentioned that. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country. But where you headed. Boxy does have a pretty healthy economy. What are some of the industries in that area? Yes us she said. Block see is in one of the more prosperous areas of Mississippi. It's by the coast and so it's a pretty picturesque town out. Twenty five percent of its economy is driven by tourism so relatively strong fishing industry there. I am the LEXI. Hundreds of thousands come to my shores to play to shop and when the sun goes down the sky lights up with excitement am the Luxembourg when you drive into blocks see basically the first thing that you see is a line of huge hotels and casinos. And that's really what's kind of dominated industry about town for decades now. Now Open the President Casino at Rod. Water Beach Resort Luxy Mississippi misled Sir degree of prosperity. That is in contrast and much of Mississippi You visiting at the time of year where the weather is warming up starting to get nice and you spoke to one restaurant worker whose normally doing very brisk business this time of year before the pandemic. I was working him anywhere from forty to forty five hours a week. Can you tell me about the Wilkerson price? So works in. Price moved to block see a few years ago and really moved that tryon sure up his life. I through hard times and I try not looking future too much during hard times. I just lived for the day. He is about homelessness drug addiction and wanted to come to block sip because he saw a financial future for him and his three sons Twenty one year old eighteen year old and fourteen year old Two older ones work with me. The eighteen year old graduating this year. So He's been working a seafront restaurant there for the past couple of years and basically when I asked him how his life was doing before corona virus he basically said he turned a corner and that things are getting much better for him. We're don't really I mean Tucson's I work with full time. Also at the restaurant. Work at their dishwashers there. To my two older sons we all pitch in and well worth the other as a family to get everything paid so we actually have a very easy even though we do let weak. The weak but You that all three of US got laid off at the same time. How do they feel when he heard that his restaurant would be closing because of this pandemic he was absolutely devastated and even reflecting on a month after he heard the news hit up when he spoke to me about it? I I'd sales about four days leading up to it. We own something happening. I everybody's breaking off to lie song. The hand sanitizer a lot more watching their phones and listening to the news. I had a feeling something was getting ready to happen. We didn't quite know what it was and that last day. I can't I really can't explain excels totally lost. I just like everything worked out from underneath. It was rough basically his entire EB world and and the security that he built up for himself was taken away a with a single directive from his boss. Where actually I work. We're told pretty much. Go home until further notice. That's devastating. What did he do when he got the news? It's the moment Lee lost his job. He instantly tried to think about ways to improvise the day. I lost my job about laid off The next day where opportunity. Gomo along the way we need a lawn mower we had an opportunity to go mow lawn mower so I went out with the last few bucks I had in my pocket Martha Law that he went out and learn more and his sons come out with him to my loans for twenty bucks ago asking the ads do that and the increase realize. That really wasn't going to be enough to keep him going through. We've cut out snacks special all traits. We don't have them. You know We've just concentrate on breakfast lunch and dinner and just getting through the day. He turned up food banks to try and get food. He relied on handouts from liquid assets groups. Next thing I know someone reach out to me on facebook and I had a Bagel box of super big box. Pancake mix overseen big jar of Syrup And it was a great blessing. And there's even a few bucks for gas. Which was very touching is that time. I'd have no gas anywhere and he will say relied on the kindness of his neighbors. He told me invited into their homes to feed him and family. I I am neighbors. Come over one night wrapped in and the mother. Dennis speak English showing spoke broken Spanish. She had her daughter with me and I wrote said that they had a Turkey. I went over to their house and it was the biggest most beautiful spiral ham I'd ever seen. I told him I said this. Turkey is a ham. Do you want me. Just put it in my freezer for you know. Eat It you know. I got a little girl speaking for him. And that was a blessing and All through this and ask my son. Danny I always say. Don't bless me. He's spoils me so Lee out of work but obviously for no fault of his own. This is much bigger than him. Was there any kind of public assistance that he could access the oversee qualifies obtain food stamps? Now which is federal government program to low income Americans access to stamps to exchange for food. He's also eligible to claim unemployment as well but he's had a huge amount of difficulty accessing both those programs the department overseeing unemployment claims that Mississippi has been completely overwhelmed by this crisis on employment. I can't our that. I've been on the phone. What what not ring and ring for weeks on end now. I mean every Monday I subscribe for four five dollars ring and nothing happens. Nobody site before the public hit. Mississippi was receiving around a thousand new unemployment claims each week but since nineteen is happened now receiving about forty six thousand claims a week. Make no mistake. This is not only public health disaster. This is also an economic disaster in Mississippi and in this nation we understand that with the workload at the Department of Employment Security Being thirty x compared to what it was two weeks ago. I just ask you to be patient. Put yourself in those employees shoes. What about from the federal government on the trump administration was sending out stimulus checks to Americans around the country to did that make difference relief so Lee received his check from Donald Trump. Twelve hundred dollar. Check that every American is entitled to is part of the stimulus package that was passed by Congress. When you talk about a six point two trillion dollar bill and this will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation's families workers and businesses and That's what this is all about. Don't trump it's been pains to make sure that his name is on. Every one of those checks they sent out but basically lead hoped me now was essentially not enough for him. It's me day today. The past two weeks. I put food in the fridge. We've basically take taking care of day-to-day needs with that. I don't think it was narrow enough for now. I think we could have been something a little better. You know the beyond frustration. 'cause I'm not one looking for a handout. You know so. We made it clear. He's very ready to go back to work. But our customers ready to come back to his restaurant. So national polling is very very clear most people very much opposed the idea of reopening quickly and putting public health at risk overall. Most Americans do not support opening certain public spaces. This far as restaurants go very revealing a huge. Seventy eight percent of people polled. Do not feel comfortable eating out at a sit down restaurant right now on a casual visit down to the beach in exceed the took on Sunday. It's pretty clear that there are a number of people in South Mississippi who Very ready and willing to get the economy going again when you made your way to the beach. What was the mood like there? I'm what was the scene? So it was quite surreal to me to go from basically a deserted empty ghost town which is what looks. Ca's when you go down the main drag the beach where there were hundreds of people. Many of whom were observing social distancing and clearly just trying to get breath of fresh air basically an an escape from the oppression of the shutdown is doing to people on the other hand. There were quite a few people who were not observing social distancing. I Walk Past. That was offering jet ski rental. And there were about dozen people queuing up none of them wearing masks or very closely packed into each other. Just waiting to get on a Jetski. Basically and some people. I met who were very very skeptical about you. Know official statistics on the number of nineteen deaths. Skeptical about how lethal and dangerous. The virus actually is from from what I've read and heard a lot of of stories about Inflated numbers of infections and a lot of it has to do with no way that those are counted down a little bit You know skeptical. Skeptical of some government Studies and skeptical about what I work in. Essential Industry and and In transportation and is I don't know what any one person met has contracted you know corona virus. But you don't speak. Sixty thousand people have died from it in the US again. I'm skeptical that number saying that. It solely contributed to cover nineteenth so that was a pretty confronting thing to hear from people who were just so he turned up for a beach day. What do you think about it? I don't know like you know some days. They said over mass. Say not to wear masks as you know just like you said certain places are open and everybody's creativity in other places or not you're not allowed to do perp service so I just got. This is not making sense. Hate to say it. It's just you know people are GonNa die. It's GonNa Happen. It's not the best but is that from code. We do we really know that for back some of its elderly some of its respiratory two different things. I get back. Work seems shocking. So those are the beachgoers but you spoke to some healthcare workers to I take it very seriously I'm very concerned every day that I go into the hospital. I imagine they had a different perspective. Yeah so I spoke to Leah Campbell. Who is a physical therapist who works directly with nineteen patients in the area? So for the past month I've been working strictly on a covert unit. This is not in the ICU. This is at a patients are sick enough to be hospitalized but not sick enough to be on a ventilator. My responsibility is to help them move. Help them prevent secondary complications from staying in bed? Just help prepare them to to go back home. Hopefully that's the goal when I spoke to her about. I'd seen down at the beach. Tom Had I think she was shocked. I think she was angry. There's no excuse for it. I think it's incredibly selfish behavior. There's no there's there's no shortage of credible inaccurate information about this disease for people to educate themselves So in my mind people are making a willful decision to put other people at risk and I have seen the consequences of doing that. It makes me. It really honestly makes me angry when we come back. What a spike. In Mississippi's corona virus case numbers means for the decision to reopen the state. Well let's talk about those numbers Oliver. What has the case load? Been LIKE MISSISSIPPI. And what does the death toll there? So far. They've safer and seven thousand eight hundred cases in the state and around three hundred ten death time. We're talking what has become incredibly apparent in. Mississippi is the racial disparity when it comes to those who are dying from Cairo. Nineteen so hundred. Seventy six people have died from covered. Nineteen Mississippi or black. That's fifty seven percent of the death toll but they only make up. Thirty seven percent of the population and by the Mississippi was one of the first ten states in the nation to actually report deaths and cases based upon demographic data based upon race in other areas. And I'm proud of the Mississippi State Department of Health of being proactive and being that's really a trend that you're seeing across the United States is incredibly pronounced in places like Mississippi and Louisiana in the deep South not unfortunately seems to echo what we've seen here in the UK where Black Asian and ethnic minority populations have been particularly hard hit in this pandemic. But if you just look at the numbers and the death toll in Mississippi so far has been in the hundreds but the unemployment figures are on the many tens of thousands each week. Is there a case to be made that the governor is doing the right thing? I think it depends who you ask really the Acquis Bookstore of immediate aid casino. Shut down twelve thousand jobs just. I spiked the mayor of Baloch. See who basically said absolutely. Yes that is the right thing to do. He recited one of trump's catchphrases throughout this. Which is that. The Cure shouldn't be worse than the disease is going to be worse than than than the problem. Because I you know. The problem is addressed properly again with the plane reopened with the suggested. That feels comfortable in the amount of relaxing of guidelines that the governor has issued. We're actually going through. You know what we need in order to figure out how we can get back to a reasonable normal safe. Of course now come. We'll be normal. Guidance from the White House has been that state should be seeing a continued. Fourteen Day dropoff in the number of covered nineteen cases before they start reopening. And so what you're seeing in some states around the country the Rei opening places like California and a few other democratic locations are doing out there really observing that data before they make those moves. That's absolutely not the case in Mississippi. So last Friday Mississippi saw its highest number of diagnosed covered nineteen cases today the state of Mississippi. So it's largest single day increase in covert nineteen cases. We also solve our largest increase in death. Numbers and Monday refuted its second. Highest number of nineteen cases. Despite that governor has pushed ahead with trying to what does justification for doing that for for disregarding the numbers so governor reeves basically says that Mississippi is not comparable with other hotspots governor. Why are you reopening Mississippi at all when you haven't met the the White House guidelines a steady downward trajectory to strike wakes you? That's a great question Chris and and it's a fair question. What I would tell you is that you have to understand that. Mississippi is different than New York in Mississippi Is Different Than New Jersey. In those two instances and by the way my neighbor to the West was the same in Louisiana. They had a huge spike in cases over a very short period of time and then but Mississippi's not like that. What have seen this for the last thirty low in number of cases. That hasn't really peaked. Above three hundred. Three hundred fifty. He is suggesting that the guidance he has received directly from the White House. Is that those guidelines. The doctor burks others out there. Don't apply to Mississippi if you speak to people like lear who working on the front lines at this pandemic. I think they see it very very differently again. I think it's a reflection of the ideology of pudding the economy before public health. And I think that's irresponsible and I think it's unproductive to be honest if your if your goal is to get the economy up and running and healthy Then you need healthy people to make that economy run and this is not the way to go about it so she seems very upset at the government for not handling this better. What did he blame governor reeves or or president trump so? I asked a few times. The he blamed anybody what he was going through. And he was very reticent to blame anybody like saved on the best he could do. We've never really had to go through this before. So who do we have him a judge against for what how he's handled it? You know I am. He's deeply religious and said that he relied on his faith to get him free. This time he also said the He's incredibly thankful for the charity that he's received throughout the pandemic but he was very reluctant to talk about what the government owed him and what he should be entitled to as a citizen when you spoke to League governor reason started to ease some restrictions on what kinds of businesses could we was beginning to pick up shifts at his restaurant again. They could serve customers. Takeout and as of today restaurants in Mississippi conserved dine in customers to what are the new measures taking effect in the state? They try to get the economy running again. The Mississippi is moving very quickly to try and reopen. Say They are now gathering twenty people out in the open. Air The opening up restaurants that have to be deep cleaned before that opened and work at fifty percent capacity. They're putting up public parks and retail services as well so it's one of those states that's moving very quickly towards ripening when you can trust what you're seeing even states like California which also moving towards reopening but doing it on a much more measured pace. Are these measures enough? I was worried about his safety. I think Lee he understands the risks. Lee reads the news. He understands absolutely what's going on but at the same time. He says the benefits to going back to work outweigh the risks because he needs the money to support his family. Longest obeys by the rules. You know the social distancing. I believe we'll be right. I mean some of us have to get back to work. We haven't mailed dead. Get through to unemployment or food stamps and I believe some of US need to get back to work me personally. I don't I don't want I don't want on appointment. I don't want to stamps. I don't like Oh hand its own my own worried. When you're going in is still the pandemic still no immunity to this virus? Vaccine experts questioning. The you know going back to soon could lead to another spike in in infections. You're worrying about new guy back. I don't have time to worry about that. I take my family. I mean really. That's how I look at it. I just have to lay my faith in God and I'm not worried about it. I'm not a hundred percent. Sure whether it's not still playing on his mind a little bit but what other people say to you is. This is not a choice that people should be forced to make and that is unfair. The poor workers likely you have already been living paycheck to paycheck who are relying on their employees to basically keep that livelihoods going should be forced into choosing between putting their personal and the family's health at risk and going back and taking money for job that was earlier this week that even trump is pushing nationwide to get states to reopen their economies. His administration is basically privately projecting that this is going to increase the death toll across the country so the death toll could reach around three thousand per day by the beginning of June which is higher than the number of that we have at the moment which is one thousand seven hundred and fifty so I think there is definitely an ben at some levels of government that this push to reopen is essentially going to cause more deaths Oliver. Thank you so much holidays. Piece on reopening Mississippi will be out in the Observer. This Sunday you can follow all of his reporting at the Guardian Dot. That's it for today. This episode was produced by me. Mightily row sound design was by Axel Cudi. The executive producers are filming our and Nicole Jackson. We'll be back tomorrow.