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Jonesborough mayor ‘cautiously optimistic’ about reopening economy, businesses wary of health risks

Jonathan Roberts • Apr 22, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Zac Jenkins, owner of Main Street Cafe and Catering, is eager for business to return to normal, but he’s concerned Tennessee may be moving too fast amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Are we opening up too early? I think we are,” Jenkins said. 

Last week, Jenkins told the Press that, from a business standpoint, reopening sooner would be “appealing,” but that he’d rather “have a longer pause first, than start up too quickly and have a round two.”

On Monday, however, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced he would not be extending the state’s stay-at-home order past April 30, and that some businesses will be able to open again as soon as next week as the state appears to have hit a plateau in COVID-19 cases. Lee also said it’s the state’s “firm intent” to have a majority of businesses reopen on May 1 according to “specific guidelines and guidance” the state will provide, with more information coming by the end of the week.

Still, Jenkins is concerned that opening the economy will lead to a spike in new COVID-19 cases, but that he empathizes with those wanting to return to some sense of normalcy.

“I still don’t think its a good idea, but I understand why people want to open back up,” Jenkins said, noting that he expects keep his restaurant’s dining room closed through, at least, the first two weeks of May. “Basically, that’s where I’m at. I see it both ways, I really do. 

“How can you function as a society without working? But at the same time, how can you go back to work when people are just going to keep getting sick?”

A few hundred feet down the street, Texas Burritos and More was enjoying its reopening after shutting down on April 2 in advance of “what we were told were going to be the worst two weeks” for COVID-19 in Tennessee.

Sales Manager Amber Waninger said that she knew the economy would reopen “eventually, but I didn’t think it would come this soon,” noting that once they’re able to, they'll try and go back to how things were before the governor ordered restaurants to close dining rooms on March 22.

“We’re just kind of going to revert back to what it was before they stopped dining in,” Waninger said. “You’re basically knocking your cleanliness up to 160% as opposed to 100%, and we’re probably going to start staggering tables again.

“It’s just something you’re trying to accommodate and … as we hear more information, we’ll start to adjust standards as it applies,” Waninger said.

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said now is “as good a time as any” to reopen the economy and that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the future, but that it will still be important to follow social distancing and health guidelines.

“Our town will gradually move back toward normal service, but we still are looking at smart ways to safely serve our residents,” Vest said. “Going forward, we must adapt and discover ways to safely hold our important events with limits.”

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