TUPELO • As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Northeast Mississippi, the Lee County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a resolution requesting that all county residents comply with safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falling short of mandatory orders imposed by Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton Sunday.
The county’s resolution issues no mandates of the sort imposed by Shelton, but urges county residents to not gather in groups of 10 people, to wash hands regularly, to maintain social distancing and to only travel for essential reasons.
“I think every area ought to do their own requests and everything. It’s hard to demand people do something,” District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy said. “They’ll do it better by request and everything, and what the board did is we requested people follow the CDC guidelines.”
Ivy also asked for residents to pray for the county and its response to the virus.
The resolution also asks for businesses and industries to take appropriate measures to preserve the health of employees and customers, and food service industries are encouraged to use curbside pickup or drive-thru means.
But in Lee’s county seat of Tupelo, Monday, the doors of many businesses were shuttered on the first day of the workweek. Beginning Sunday, Shelton has ordered all non-essential businesses to close for a week and has mandated that citizens shelter at home except for essential travel and commerce, including grocery shopping and seeking medical care.
Citizens are also required to comply with the CDC guidelines that Lee County supervisors have asked residents to voluntarily comply with.
“Most of the people around here understand and support it,” said Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer. “I have not heard any pushback, which is remarkable.”
Palmer represents East Tupelo and had expressed concerns about the impact on grocery stores of Shelton’s executive orders. Palmer ran a grocery store for many years, and his sons now operate the business.
Speaking Monday, Palmer said he feels the city is treating grocery stores fairly. He emphasized that the stores with which he is familiar are taking many precautions for the safety of workers and customers.
There have been questions aplenty, however, about the enforcement and applicability of the orders issued by Shelton.
“I’ve been on the phone all day,” said Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan. “Lots of questions, lots of little questions.”
Shelton’s order allowed essential businesses to keep their doors open, including grocery stores and restaurants, the healthcare sector, banks, gas stations, daycares and others included within guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But despite some questions, Bryan said he believes compliance with the orders has been widespread.
“I believe it’s going pretty good,” Bryan said. “Businesses look like they’re shutting down and people are sheltering in place.”
The largest cities in Northeast Mississippi have all now issued some restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tupelo’s orders are the most strict, with its shelter-in-place. Oxford on Sunday also closed non-essential businesses, while making some provisions for retail stores to use curbside pickup. Starkville has imposed a ban on any social gatherings of more than 10 people, excluding essential businesses.
Gary Carnathan, the attorney to the board of supervisors, told the Daily Journal that the county has the ability to issue an order requiring people to stay at home unless traveling for essential reasons, but that the county has no plans to issue such an order at this time.
Bill Benson, the county administrator, told the Daily Journal that the resolution partly came out of a telephone conference with city leaders from different municipalities in Lee County. The conference was something that Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton wanted to conduct.
“Basically, it was the mayor telling us ‘Here’s what we’ve done’ and encouraging action from us,” Benson said of the phone conference. “And this is the action.”
Shelton told the Daily Journal that he is proud of the county for taking proactive action and was glad to work with other local leaders on safety measures in response to the virus.
Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday addressed calls for a statewide shelter-in-place order and said he has no intent at the current time to impose such an order. He suggested this would “do more harm than good.”
But he did implore non-essential businesses to curtail activities and citizens to limit their travel.
“We need you to stay at home if you can,” Reeves said. “Mississippians step up and do the right thing in challenging times.”