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Social distancing ignored in some Mississippi clubs, beaches

George Flaggs

Some Mississippi cities are taking steps to break up parties in nightclubs and on beaches as people ignore Gov. Tate Reeves’s order to avoid gatherings to control the spread of the new coronavirus.

One mayor, George Flaggs Jr. of Vicksburg, ordered child care centers in his city to close Monday for at least a week, setting a stricter standard than the one set statewide by the governor. Flaggs also ordered that liquor stores and convenience stores allow no more than 10 people inside at a time, including employees, and that gas stations allow no more than 10 people at a time in their outdoor areas. His new orders took effect at noon Monday and are an expansion of some limits that Vicksburg set earlier in March.

Reeves has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order, and he has said he was allowing day care centers to remain open because some people who work in health care or in other essential jobs need supervision for their children.

The Republican governor issued an executive order last week telling people to avoid gatherings of 10 or more and broadly defining which businesses are so “essential” that they can remain open. That order said restaurants can offer carry-out or delivery meals but must close their dining rooms unless they’re able to keep 10 or fewer people, including staff, at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Reeves said it is OK for cities and counties to set tighter restrictions.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Monday that he has heard about nightclubs remaining open. He said owners of such businesses face serious consequences.

“Not only will we shut you down in the strictest of ways, we have the legal authority to cut your power off,” Lumumba said. “We’re going to cut your power off, and we will do everything that we can to make certain you know that we’re not playing.”

Lumumba said the city will make it difficult for such businesses to reopen once the pandemic is over.

Ocean Springs officials are limiting parking along the city’s gulfside beaches after groups of people were seen socializing in the sand during the weekend, some of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder. News outlets reported that police shut down parties.

The state Health Department on Monday updated Mississippi’s confirmed coronavirus caseload to at least 847 people and 16 deaths. Neighboring Louisiana has one of the fastest-growing caseloads in the U.S., and people commute between the two states.

Because testing remains limited as the outbreak grows, many people moving around their communities may not know they’ve contracted the virus until well after they’ve infected others. Places where people who aren’t isolating share the air with others pose a particular risk, since the highly contagious virus has been shown to live in the air for several hours.

Most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, but a fraction of people suffering more severe illnesses can require respirators to survive, and as as the caseload rapidly grows, hospitals are bracing for a coming wave of patients.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services announced Monday that people may receive higher payments in March and April through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Because the agency’s offices are closed, people who need to submit new applications for SNAP are being told to apply online — something that could be difficult for people with limited internet access.

Yokohama Tire Corporation on Saturday started a two-week shutdown of its tire manufacturing operation in West Point, Mississippi, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, news outlets reported. About 700 people work at the factory, and most will be off the job. The company said the factory’s shipping and order fulfillment operations would continue, as would maintenance activities.

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