Fulton officials have issued a “shelter in place” order and set strict guidelines on what they consider essential businesses amid growing concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

On Monday, the Fulton Board of Aldermen unanimously approved an order limiting business practices and activities within the city. The order requires that all “nonessential businesses,” primarily retail shops and restaurants, provide either curbside or drive-through service or delivery or close their doors to the general public entirely.

The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, March 24, and remains in place until April 5.

The order also defined “essential service businesses.” These include a broad range of business types, including nursing homes, health care clinics, grocery stores and gas stations, to manufacturers that produce lumber or building supplies or are part of a supply chain for the health care industry.

The order also mandates that residents “shelter in place,” or remain in their homes except to drive to and from essential businesses, curbside delivery businesses or work. The order also prohibits loitering.

Businesses owners will be required to follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for keeping their businesses clean and their employees and patrons safe. The order gives the board the right to revoke a business owner’s license to operate in the city should the guidelines not be followed.

The order also states that the board may implement even more restrictive measures in the coming days.

Fulton is the latest in a growing number of Northeast Mississippi cities to pass similar regulations on businesses and travel. Officials in both Tupelo and Pontotoc set strict business regulations over the weekend.

The board’s decision to restrict businesses and travel followed two days of lengthy discussions among members. On Saturday, Childers issued an executive order requiring local eateries to close their dining areas. On Sunday, he called a special meeting of the city’s board of aldermen to discuss whether to further restrict the operations of local businesses … “shutting down the town,” as he called it.

After more than three hours of discussion, the board failed to reach a decision. Talks resumed Monday morning, and the board agreed to set regulations for businesses to follow throughout the pandemic.

According to Childers, aldermen did not reach their decision easily.

“It’s a very tough decision for the board,” Childers said. “There’s no way, swimming in these foreign waters, to figure out what all is essential and what isn’t essential.”

The goal, the mayor said, is to limit person-to-person contact. The CDC and the Mississippi Department of Health have recommended social distancing — or keeping away from other people as much as possible — as the best way to stop the spread of the virus.

Childers said he sympathizes with business owners hurting because of the mandatory shutdown, but said he believes it’s the best way to keep the city healthy in the long run.

“The only way to stop this thing is to shut everything down,” he said. “Hopefully, with all of this, we can slow this thing down. We may not stop it, but we can slow it down if we all take the precautions the CDC recommends.

“We will get through this and come out stronger,” he said. “But for two weeks or three weeks, we’re going to have to do this social distancing and everything the CDC says.”

He added that local leaders are doing their best to navigate uncharted territory.

“None of us have been through anything like this,” he said. “We don’t know how long this is going to last. We’re just lost, and we’re doing the best we can to keep up with everything as it comes.”