EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Business owner and musician, Jim Ward, is speaking out in support of local businesses and communities.
The owner of Eloise, a much-beloved restaurant/bar/coffee shop in El Paso wrote an op-ed for El Paso Matters to call attention to the disparity that exists between the Governor’s orders to re-open Texas and the reality for the community as the Borderland continues to see increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
“How are you not allowed to see your family unless they live in your household, and yet you’re allowed to go to a restaurant at all?” asks Ward.
President Lincoln called for a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” when he delivered the Gettysburg Address.
Ward thinks the state of Texas should be reminded of this.
“I think that when we’re done with all of this that there’s going to be a pretty good tally sheet of people that did something and people that didn’t do something,” he tells KTSM.
Like thousands of business owners in the community, Ward is grappling with difficult decisions with few desirable outcomes.
How long can we afford to financially stay closed?
Will I be able to pay my employees?
If the dining room is open, what if someone gets sick at my restaurant?
The option to re-open by the Governor supersedes orders by Mayor Margo despite El Paso’s rapidly-increasing cases of COVID-19.
Last week, Mayor Margo re-instated the city’s mask mandate, adding to the confusion over whether to turn to the Governor or the Mayor, like a clumsy game of ping pong.
Handing-off the responsibility to business owners adds to an existing burden during a time where strong leadership is needed most.
“We ask them to make hard decisions because that’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to take somebody who wants that responsibility and put them in office,” said Ward.
“I don’t think that at any point should the responsibility or the pressure be put on us.”
The risks of re-opening loom like gas dripping towards a slow-burning flame, leaving business owners to choose between their lives and livelihoods.
An internal White House report projects 200,000 American deaths by next month — about double the original projection. The death rate in the U.S. is currently around 70,000, meaning we’re approaching the halfway mark in terms of lives who will not survive.
It’s morbid to do the math on, and yet.
Ward explains that many business owners, given the option, will reopen because what other choices do they have? Federal support for local businesses is extremely limited and unemployment continues to surge. In El Paso, 50,000 unemployment claims have been filed pursuant to the pandemic.
Some business owners do not have the luxury to not at least attempt re-opening at 25 percent capacity.
“My heart’s broken for the people who do that who don’t want to do that,” said Ward, who notes the fortunate position Eloise is in to be able to afford to keep the dining room closed and offer take-out and curbside service.
At least for now.
“We’re taking it on the chin and I don’t know how long that’s going to last.”
Ward underscores an ongoing frustrations over when communities should re-open and who makes that decision.
Protestors throughout the country — including El Paso — have expressed their position in peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations and you realize how badly people want their jobs, friends, and routines restored.
People want their lives back.
The public health risk, however, complicates the economic, safety, and ethical implications of such a decision in a very unfortunate catch-22. People turn to politicians to make informed decisions, and thus far the decision — at least at the gubernatorial level — has been to let each owner — not each community — make the decision.
“What I’d like to see is just one, clear, consistent message,” said Ward.
“And I would prefer if the governor would let the cities make up their own minds about what’s best for the community instead of saying a blanket statement about the entire state of Texas no matter how many people live there, whether or not you’re on a border with Mexico, whether or not you have a number of cases rising.”