Essential vs. nonessential: How governments determine what will stay open during civil emergency


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many local municipalities are advising or mandating residents shelter in place. In Memphis, it’s a requirement. If city government says you work for a nonessential business, you can’t be open. But how do they determine what that is?

According to Memphis officials, many businesses including grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and even commercial and residential construction sites are an essential business allowed to continue working during the safer-at-home executive order.

But if you run a barber shop, a beauty shop or a wellness or fitness studio, you have to close.

“It’s tough not being able to see our students physically on a daily basis,” said Caroline Collins, a teacher at Your Inner Yogi fitness studio.

Collins said Your Inner Yogi fully complied with the order and actually shut down prior to it going in to place. At the same time, she said dealing with stress is more important now than ever.

“Being called nonessential, it kind of hurts,” she said. “I don’t mean from a personal regard, but it hurts the way people receive physical health and mental health and wellness.”

WREG asked Mayor Jim Strickland’s office how they came up with the essential versus nonessential list. They the follow response about the issue.

“Essential businesses and activities under the Order are based upon recommendations by the federal government, including the CDC and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response issued on March 19, 2020.  In consultation with medical experts, we also considered what is necessary for maintaining public safety, health, infrastructure, and well-being in our community.  In addition, we examined ways to minimize disruption in business operations but weighed against risks to public health.  Finally, we looked at what other cities and states have done, because we think it is important to be consistent with the measures being taken across the nation.  The City’s Order is consistent with stay at home orders across the country.” 

Like many studios, Your Inner Yogi is getting creative and now offering remote classes to take at home to keep students engaged with mental and physical health.

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