Even the most ardent critics of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves must admit that he’s had a rough patch through little fault of his own during his first three months in office.
First, a statewide prison crisis, which had been building for years, broke early in 2020, leading to scores of deaths and gang riots.
Then heavy flooding on the Pearl River threatened cities from Jackson down to Columbia and beyond.
Finally, when Reeves got a chance to take a spring break vacation to Spain, the coronavirus broke out, causing him and his family to be self-quarantined during the early moments of the state’s response.
COVID-19 is one of those challenges that could define a politician's career, such as Hurricane Katrina with Haley Barbour or 9/11 with George W. Bush.
Although it won’t be clear for years what exactly the right response was to a pandemic that no one had planned for, so far it seems Reeves has tried to balance as best as possible two competing interests: public safety and the economy.
Governors of some other states have taken more drastic measures by implementing bans on all outside activity. That is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but it’s at the cost of completely tanking their states’ economies. If no one can get out, vast portions of commerce cease. It amounts to a government-ordered recession.
Reeves has taken a more moderate approach. He issued an executive order this week that instructed residents to avoid “social and non-essential gatherings” of more than 10 people. But that doesn’t apply to medical facilities, retail shops and a whole host of industries deemed “essential.”
He also suspended dine-in service, but not delivery and carryout, at restaurants and banned visits at hospitals and nursing homes. However, those things had mostly already been done at the behest of public health officials.
By not ordering businesses to close, Reeves keeps some money flowing through Mississippi, while at the same time allowing companies to use their own judgment about how to keep employees and customers safe.
Many stores have restricted access to their lobbies and are doing more business by phone and the web.
Generally, it’s better to allow firms to make such decisions themselves than have the government bluntly force one answer upon all of them at once.
The coronavirus is a serious health threat that all Mississippians should take seriously.
But at the same time, the state cannot continue to function for long without any commerce.
Reeves has made the right calls so far while weighing those competing interests.