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Flaggs says he is running out of options if COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday he is just about out of options and if measures adopted Monday don’t slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus locally, he may have no other choice than begin to shut down parts of the city’s economy.

During a press conference Monday, Flaggs not only extended the city’s civil emergency order and COVID-19 guidelines to at least Sept. 8, he also adopted recent state measures that further restrict local businesses including restaurants and bars.

“It is not my intention today to shut down the city of Vicksburg as we have shut down the city of Vicksburg in the past, but I am ready, more than ready to shut it down if we cannot get control of these cases or deaths,” Flaggs said. “I am not here in Vicksburg as mayor to see the death rate continue to rise or the cases continue to rise and we continue to do nothing.”

Flaggs’ comments came at a time when Warren County was growing closer to being declared a hot spot by state health officials, as the county had seen new cases spike over the two weeks.

State officials routinely said any county that reported more than 200 new cases or 500 cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day period would likely be declared a hot spot and receive stronger, stricter social distancing guidelines. Warren County reached both thresholds Friday and has seen the numbers worsen since then.

As of Tuesday, Warren County had reported 274 new cases over the past 14 days, which is a ratio of 562 cases per 100,000 residents.

Currently, 29 counties are under those strict state guidelines, including two counties neighboring Warren County, Claiborne and Sharkey.

“It is not about economics with me. It is about saving lives and mitigating the spread of this disease,” Flaggs said. “After this, I will have no other choice if we continue to have these cases increase as of Sept. 8 to shut down this city as we did as when we first started.

“I would hate to do that. But that is the only thing that is left.”

Flaggs said he would hold off on tougher restrictions and shutdowns if the county could see a slowdown in recent numbers and stay within the 200 new cases and the 500 cases per 100,000 residents threshold set forth by the state.

“If we can do that, then I see a chance where we can continue to extend these current orders,” Flaggs said. “But I worry. I worry about these numbers now and the fact that schools are set to open soon.”

The city’s new orders adopt the restrictions issued last week by Gov. Tate Reeves in regards to reducing the size of indoor and social gatherings and the operational hours for bars and establishments that serve alcohol. The city’s new order also extends the city’s mask mandate which requires masks to be worn in businesses and all public buildings and extends the operations of a special crime task force through Sept. 8.

In the city’s orders, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people. “This limitation shall not apply to religious entities, students in classrooms or gatherings in facilities governed by other capacity limitations,” the order reads. 

Businesses that sell alcohol, or allow alcohol for on-premise consumption, shall not sell alcohol or allow consumption on the premises between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. This pertains to restaurants, BYOB, “or other entertainment venues that sell or allow consumption of alcohol on the premises.” This order excludes those establishments under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, such as casinos.

The city’s order, which mirrors the state’s order, limits the number of customers in bars to 50 percent of maximum capacity. It also calls on those establishments to adjust their floor plans to “ensure at least 6 feet of separation between each party/group.” The order also limits the number of people in a party to a maximum of six customers per table.

The order also provides additional restrictions and guidelines that are specific to Vicksburg.

The city pavilion will remain closed and not available during the time outlined in the order.

Also, funerals are encouraged to be graveside services.

Funeral services can be held at a church or a funeral home, “as long as there is room for social distancing, or held at the City Auditorium.” Funerals will also be limited to be held between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and all persons must wear a face covering indoors.

If the death is due to COVID-19, and the proof is provided, the cost for using the City Auditorium will be half of the regular auditorium fee.

The city’s special law enforcement task force, which has been operating for two weeks, will continue operating through the end of this order.

The task force calls for a minimum of 11 patrol officers on duty, with a watch commander and deputy chief patrolling, each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The task force was put in place effective July 15 and was originally set to disband Aug. 3.

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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