By MARINA WATERS
Next week, doors to businesses throughout Washington County and Jonesborough could reopen after the state’s Safer At Home executive order ends.
On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he would not be extending the Safer At Home order, which is set to end on Thursday, April 30. For the Town of Jonesborough and Washington County, that means it’s time to enact a plan to reopen local businesses.
“I think it’s a good step moving forward,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said. “There’s going to be some emphasis for our board to make sure that some of our important businesses are able to hit the ground running and be successful. Those are some things we’ll be discussing, how we can help some of these small businesses succeed going forward.”
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said last week the county began considering a plan for when businesses in the county could reopen.
“We sort of eased our way into the shutdown and I think that’s probably the way we’ll come back out of it,” Grandy said. “It’s my desire to get business open as fast as we can and as safely as we can because these businesses are really desperate to get going and to try to salvage as much of their business as we can. We really want to help them in every single way to try to do that.”
Though some doors will be reopened, it’s with caution.
Vest and Grandy said social distancing and health-related precautions will also play a large role in the reopening throughout the town and the county.
“I think it’s going to be encumbered in this reopening process to double down on the message in the community about all the things we’ve talked about from the beginning — social distancing, washing hands, wearing a mask — all of those things,” Grandy said. “We want to do this the responsible way so that we don’t have to go back to the beginning of this process and shutting everything down again.”
For the town, “adapting” its upcoming events is also an aspect to consider for the future.
“We’re an event-driven town,” Vest said. “So in the future, how is that going to impact our town of Jonesborough and tourism and our quality of life? A lot of thought needs to be put into how we continue to have that personality in Jonesborough yet still call for a safe environment.
“We do a great job (with events) and it’s really what makes our town special, so we can’t give it up. It’s just we need to adapt. Adapt would be the key word going forward.”
In looking ahead at the reopening, Grandy said he has started a business economic recovery task force made up of business leaders, health professionals and other local leaders to “not only help businesses get open, but also encourage people to get out and support these businesses that are open.”
Above all, Grandy said he is focusing on aiding small businesses and approaching the new normal that is ahead for Tennessee’s oldest county.
“We’re not going to go back exactly like we were. Everybody talks about a ‘new normal.’ It’s just absolutely critical that we get our business component back and functioning again,” Grandy said. “I’m really looking forward to working with some of these businesses on what their ideas are about what that might look like.”
The county is currently conducting weekly electronic meetings with updates related to the COVID-19 health crisis. To view those meetings, go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4MZUAgq8j-SvzZb_2xucpA. To view the town’s meeting schedule, go to https://www.jonesboroughtn.org/index.php/component/k2/200-jonesborough-board-mayor-aldermen.