Chris Herrington

Chris Herrington covers the Memphis Grizzlies and writes about Memphis culture, food, and civic life. He lives in the Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood of Midtown with his wife, two kids, and two dogs.

Herrington: When will Memphis reopen? Memphis never closed

By Updated: April 29, 2020 10:48 AM CT | Published: April 28, 2020 3:16 PM CT OPINION

When will Memphis reopen?

I’m asking this question while sitting on a once-rotting deck we hired a carpenter to rebuild last week. If the weather cooperates, we’ll stain it ourselves this weekend, using materials I bought at a Midtown hardware store, where I donned a mask and waited, alone, in a line of 6-foot intervals to go in and do my shopping. 


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My laptop is plugged into an outdoor socket that was knocked out, along with others, during a recent lightning storm. An electrician came out to fix it.

The Internet is working well. It was pretty slow when we found ourselves with four people at home all day using it, with multiple people trying to Zoom at once. So we upgraded to better Internet, and a technician came out to install it.

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I’m drinking coffee I bought at a nearby grocery store, again wearing a mask and keeping my distance, again alone. Tonight we’re getting takeout. And, oh yeah, I’m not writing for my own amusement, but for a publication whose productivity has been up amid our present general condition. (I’m fortunate to have a job, but all that talk about the things we’d do with all that extra free time? I can’t say I don’t wish I had some.)

A couple of hours ago, I yakked on a Memphis radio station that never stopped broadcasting and took a break in the middle of that last paragraph to retrieve a package from my stoop. It didn’t show up on its own. Someone delivered it.

When will Memphis reopen? You can’t reopen that which was never closed.

I’ve been more active than many Memphians over the past few weeks, especially those among the more medically vulnerable populations, and less active than many others, especially those with “essential” jobs that can’t be done from wherever they plug in their laptop.

But the past month has meant navigating a matrix of official restrictions and individual decisions and so will the many months — maybe years — to come. 


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I feel like I’m becoming a broken record railing against the binary language of this pandemic, but binary language reflects and reinforces binary thought.

“Two sides” thinking comforts us even as we like to bemoan it. And so there’s this notion that a debate exists between people who want to eliminate all coronavirus restrictions and people who want to shelter in place until a vaccine washes it all away. These categories are mirror images and mostly fictions. There are few in the first group and even fewer in the second. And both approaches are essentially inoperable. 

But both notions reflect an urge to return to or get to a pre- or post-COVID norm. That’s gone, and it’s not coming back anytime soon. 

On Monday, mayors and public health officials from Shelby County laid out a framework for loosening restrictions on social distancing, one that leaves open the possibility of tightening them again. 


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I agree with their broad thinking: Gradual, careful but moving forward whenever it will do more good than harm. Like most, I suspect, I’m less sure of the particulars.

I think we should be looking for targeted ways to loosen some restrictions now. I think we should be aggressive in trying to find ways to separate increased economic activity from increased spread of the virus. I think part of that might mean targeting more testing toward the goal of easing specific restrictions on specific industries.

But those aren’t choices governments alone can make. Lifting restrictions won’t restore economic activity in the absence of consumer confidence. Restaurants need customers. So do factories. Governments did less to tighten our economy than the virus itself did. And letting the virus spread unchecked, without efforts to mitigate it, won’t “open” the economy — that’s fantasy — but do even more damage. 


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Yesterday, a friend and colleague from a different Memphis media outlet asked whether we’ve gotten to the point where we should consider the virus a thing with which we simply have to live. That’s exactly what it’s been since the moment it appeared, and we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. 

That shifting matrix of official restrictions and individual decisions? A fitful, frustrating process suffused with some unpleasant cost/benefit considerations? This is what living with the coronavirus looks like. We have many very specific questions to address about how we navigate our way through all of this. But the big binary question: To open or stay closed? That doesn’t really exist. 

COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County: April

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coronavirus

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