As the nation makes moves to combat the growing Coronavirus risk, Mississippi’s Governor, Tate Reeves, has given cities the authority to make many of those calls at this time. The state is not currently under a “shelter in place” order, but some cities have taken the opportunity to make the call on their own to restrict what citizens can do during this pandemic.
Capitol City of the Magnolia state, Jackson, has declared a Civil Emergency in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. City hall, as well as all non-essential city government offices, including Senior Community Centers and Early Childhood Development Centers will be closed until March 31, 2020.
The city is also prohibiting any gatherings of 10 people or more. Bars have been ordered to close, while restaurants are required to suspend dine-in service and only operate as take-out, drive through or delivery services.
“We know that this has severe economic implications and we know that those establishments are concerned, but we believe that the public health concern rises above that. And so, we will be working in combination with them and if need be, we will exercise more extreme measures going forward,” said Mayor Lumumba.
In Tupelo, Mayor Jason Shelton has given a Shelter in Place order. This Executive Order 8 allows for critical infrastructure sectors and essential workers that are needed to maintain services and functions critical to citizens to continue operating. However, any businesses outside of that are ordered to stop operations during the pandemic so that individuals can stay home and social distance.
The City of Madison is continuing to monitor the situation and have suspended all community arts classes at the Madison Square Center for the Arts, all athletic games and practices at any recreation fields or facilities, and closed the Madison Community Center. Most recently the city has ordered the closure of Strawberry Patch Park and Liberty Parks until March 31.
They have not required any closure of businesses at this time but have advised that this is a changing situation.
On the coast, the City of Gulfport released a statement on March 17 as to how the city would move forward during the pandemic. Mayor Billy Hewes said it is likely that the city will scale down the number of employees occupying city offices and encourage those people to work from home. All city meetings will be live-streamed.
While municipal buildings will remain open, they will be working on extra cleaning methods, as well as limiting the amount of people allowed in the facility. Courts have also minimized operations while still allowing the city to provide basic services. The city is recommending private companies do the same and limit access to their buildings to groups of less than 10.
Meals for students out of school will still be provided through buses that will continue their routes. Meals for seniors will be provided through the South Mississippi Planning and Development District and resumed on Monday, March 23.
“If anybody thinks these recommendations are merely an option, we will all likely find ourselves in a lock-down mode very soon. Fortunately, this disease does not have a high-mortality outcome yet, but because of the rapid rate of spread, our hospitals and medical facilities can be quickly overrun, if we don’t adapt our daily habits,” wrote Hewes.
Biloxi is encouraging restaurants to operate on a take-out or delivery system. All athletic events and summer camps will be cancelled and the Biloxi Natatorium and the Donal Snyder Sr. Community Center have been closed through April.
All city-funded travel for employees has been canceled and the city is monitoring social media to determine what events in the future will need to be cancelled. Currently, there are no city events scheduled for April. This could impact the fishing tournaments scheduled for May and June. The Conference USA Tournament has been cancelled.
All emergency facilities are closed to walk in traffic, and business is continued through phone or email.
While beaches remain open, limitations are in place and there is potential for a round-the-clock curfew. Limitations include no groups of 10 or more allowed to gather and social distancing will be enforced requiring people to stay 6 feet apart or more.
“These are extraordinary steps, but this must be done for the protection of the public and our employees,” Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “However, we can continue the work of government by phone, email or online. Many of the forms that are needed, and agendas and supporting documents are all online, so the public has access. We are here, and we are doing the job.”
In Meridian, the city is sending home all non-essential employees. Only essential travel will be approved for city employees and there will be limited staff to provide city services. They also indicated they will be taking extra steps to clean and sanitize facilities.
Mayor Percy Bland encouraged individuals to stay home and practice social distancing as the state tries to navigate this pandemic. He also urged people to abide by the guidelines of the CDC to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We are taking recommended precautions to minimize the risk of transmitting the coronavirus among our city employees,” said Mayor Bland. “But our employees in critical areas understand that their city needs them now more than ever. I’m tremendously proud and grateful to see how they are stepping up to serve their fellow citizens.”
In Natchez, all public playgrounds have been closed. The Duncan Park Tennis Pro Shop is closed, as well as the Golf Pro Shop. Mayor Darryl Grennell has told citizens to abide by President Trump’s “Coronavirus Guidelines for all Americans.”
Other than that, no extra measures have been taken.
Hattiesburg has alerted the public that meals through the Hattiesburg Public School District feeding program are free for all children under 18 and adults are $2.25 at breakfast and $3.75 at lunch.
Mayor Toby Barker issued an Executive Order on Tuesday, March 17, that all restaurants in the city without a drive-in or drive-through may only provide take out, pick up or delivery meals. He also ordered the closing of any bars, taverns, lounges and nightclubs unless picking up food.
The city has closed any common areas in malls and entertainment venues such as skating rinks and bowling allies. Movie theaters will remain closed until at least April 30. Gyms and fitness centers are to remain closed, and all gatherings of 10 or more people are not permitted.
“After looking at our own community data and conferring with our medical professionals – specifically Doctors Farrell and Rouhbakhsh from Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic – we decided to move forward with updating the restrictions that were included in the executive order from Tuesday. It also reflects the guidelines that the Department of Health issued on Friday night,” said Barker. “The potential for this to carry on for two to three more months is real. This alone should be a sobering thought for anyone. We are about to be stretched like never before. And when we make decisions like this; when we take into account those who will be adversely affected economically; when we think about those who are sick right now; when we think about our doctors and nurses out and the risks they are taking on… this should make it really easy for us to just stay home and make good decisions.”
Other college towns like Starkville are taking strict measures to protect their diverse communities.
Starkville made effective immediately no dine-in services, only take out and pick up like many other cities. For at least 30 days all businesses, clubs, organizations, places of worship and other gatherings must abide by CDC and Department of Health recommendations and not gather with more than 10 people.
The city has also considered a curfew or potential shelter-in-place order but has not moved forward to enact anything at this time.
The City of Oxford has made similar moves by encouraging residents to practice social distancing and remain home unless necessary to venture out for work or necessities. The city makes clear that this was not a shelter in place order; it is a recommendation on how best to prevent the spread of the virus.
The city also moved to close all non-essential businesses that include bars, entertainment venues, bowling alleys, theaters, beauty salons, gyms and community centers and parks (this does not include walking trails). The city limited places of worship to no gatherings larger than 10 people.
“The health and future of our community is at risk. It will be dependent upon every single citizen of Oxford to do their part. We are stronger together,” said the mayor in a release.
**These initiatives by cities occurred prior to Gov. Tate Reeves’ Executive Order on Tuesday, March 24, to require restaurants to suspend dine-in services and are expected to continually change.**