Working things out

Stone County is slowly, but surely -- and carefully -- returning to some semblance of normal in the wake of the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. Most local businesses have reopened, although they must all follow stringent safety procedures.

"Everything's moving along," Wiggins Mayor Joel Miles said Monday. "It's smooth sailing right now. … As far as I know, things are just going to continue as they're going. The gyms and everything are open now, as much as they can be, in light of the governor's continued safety precautions."

It hasn't been an easy experience for anyone.

"We are so excited to be open and serving our community again," Marie Porter, owner of Subway of Wiggins, said last week. "Operating during this time is quite different and can be difficult. We have all encouraged our guests to use online ordering, call in orders and curbside service. Now that we can allow our guests to enter our restaurants, it takes more staff to prepare the food. We have the guests that are standing in front of us, the ones that order online and then the call in orders. In addition, there are extra measures that we all have to take to continue to sanitize constantly throughout the day and to make sure that our guests and staff are safe.

"Many of our businesses are short staffed, so we just ask our guests to be patient with us as we work hard to meet all of their expectations."

"We're trying to get rolling again," Tammy Stone, owner of Island Dreams Fitness Center & Salon in Wiggins, said last week. "It's been a little bit of a wild ride."

Island Dreams officially reopened on May 11, as most other "non-essential" businesses in Mississippi did after Gov. Tate Reeves eased the "shelter in place" restrictions.

Before last week's reopening, Stone said, "We worked our last day on April 3, and prior to that, we had reduced our hours to four hours a day and rotated our employees' work schedules, trying to take precautions and keep everybody safe."

The timing of the pandemic couldn't have been any worse for Island Dreams, Stone said.

"If this had happened to us in August, September or October, it would have been really detrimental," Stone said, "but happening in the spring, that was devastating. … If it had hit in the fall, we wouldn't have been affected nearly as basely as we were in the spring."

Aside from offering a full gym, tanning beds and a hair salon -- all of which were shut down due to the pandemic -- Island Dreams also offers tuxedo rentals.

"With school being shut down, there was no prom," Stone said, "so there goes most of your tux rentals for the year. … If prom does come back for some reason, I would encourage folks to shop local instead of going to the chain stores."

Stone said she was grateful for the business's loyal customers.

"We do have our faithful," she said. "They keep us going. … We've got a wonderful group here in the community and I feel like if we all pull together, we'll survive it."

As of Monday, Stone County was still in better shape than most of the surrounding counties, still with just 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, and no deaths.

"We just need to get everybody healthy and back to work," Miles said.