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State, local officials set guidelines to deal with coronavirus threat

Following Wednesday’s announcement of the first reported coronavirus — or COVID-19 — case in the state, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and Mississippi Emergency Management Association Executive Director Gregory S. Michel held a press conference Thursday announcing major updates and new community recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health is expanding access to COVID-19 testing,” Dobbs said. “Physicians may now submit specimens to the Mississippi Public Health Laboratory or commercial labs without prior consultation with MSDH, just like any other lab test. This will streamline necessary testing as much as possible.”

Additionally, Dobbs said the MSDH is expanding recommendations for long-term care visitors and mass social gatherings.

“We know that this virus is easily spread person to person, so we recommend limiting visitations and discontinuing any group social activities in long-term care facilities,” he said.

Regarding mass gatherings, the MSDH recommends that individuals, communities and organizations take specific steps when determining their safety or the need for cancellation.

“Stay informed of the cases in your county and surrounding counties, and maintain social distancing as practical,” said Dobbs. “Our older population and chronically ill individuals should protect themselves by avoiding gatherings of more than 250 people.”

In response to those recommendations Thursday, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said he would ask the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to adopt a policy that would restrict gatherings and events at city facilities to no more than 250 people.

“I am going to recommend to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that we restrict the size of events at any of our facilities to no more than 250 people and urge groups and organizations to change their events to conform or not do them, Flaggs said. “Now remember, the state is recommending this as a matter of caution, but we are going to side on the side of caution.”

That recommendation would primarily pertain to the City Auditorium, which the city fully controls. As for the Vicksburg Convention Center, it is a city facility but is managed by VenuWorks.

Vicksburg Convention Center Executive Director Annette Kirlkin Thursday afternoon released a statement, saying the convention center was looking to work with any group or convention looking to change dates, but was focused first on the safety of its guests and staff. 

“We are closely monitoring the guidance of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the spread of the virus,” Kirklin said in a statement to event planners and convention center contacts. “Our focus is to ensure we meet our guests’ needs while doing our part to keep you, our guests, and our communities safe.

Your health, welfare and safety are vitally important when you visit the VCC. Noting that the news is dominated by coronavirus, I wanted to personally reach out and let you know that the VCC Team has implemented an increased meeting room and common area cleaning protocol and process,” she continued. “Our first concern is always to offer a healthy and safe environment for our guests.”

Later Thursday afternoon, Kirklin said one event planned for next week had decided to postpone to a later date.

Organizations with the scheduled USA Gymnastics State Meet, which last year brought 5,000 participants and spectators to the convention center over a four-day period had decided to postpone the event due to coronavirus worries. 

That event alone, using figures from the convention center, has an economic impact on the Vicksburg economy of more than $1 million.

Also Thursday, organizers with the downtown event Second Saturday announced Saturday’s events were also canceled. 

The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce also Thursday announced the cancellation of their monthly luncheon, which was scheduled for the convention center next week.

“I agree with the governor, I agree with the lieutenant governor, I agree with the Speaker, we should not panic. We need to be prepared. We need to adhere to the advice and information from medical personnel as opposed to reading what is on Facebook,” Flaggs said.

To see Flagg’s full interview with The Post, visit The Post on Facebook at @thevicksburgpost.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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