COVID-19

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19, which is caused by the novel strain of coronavirus, is mainly spread from person-to-person contact. The virus can spread through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. So, a person can come into contact with the droplets by being in close contact with another person or by touching a surface, like a doorknob or a table.

What safety measures can I take to decrease my chances of contracting the virus?

According to the Mississippi State Health Department, the best way you can protect yourself and others is to stay at home if you’re sick or elderly, practice good hygiene and don’t gather in groups of 10 or more people.

What is social distancing?

According to John Hopkins University, social distancing is a public health measure used to limit the interactions of people who have contracted the virus with people who do not have the virus. State and federal health officials have encouraged people to practice social distancing to decrease the chances of the virus spreading. The best way to practice social distancing is to avoid mass gatherings and limit close contact you have with others. You may have also heard of “flattening the curve,” which is a term used to reflect the strategy of limiting the number of people who contract the virus to not overwhelm the healthcare system at a given time.

State and Local Safety Measures

How are state and local elected officials responding to the pandemic?

Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday, April 1, ordered all Mississippi residents to shelter in place from 5 p.m. on Friday, April 4, to 8 a.m. on Monday, April 20. The governor has banned social gatherings of 10 or more people, closed non-essential businesses, closed dining facilities in restaurants, suspended evictions and prohibited people from visiting nursing homes and other long-term care facilities under most circumstances. Previously, some local officials had already passed their own safety measures.

What is an executive order?

An executive order is a measure issued by a person or a group who carries out the executive functions in a governing body. For the state, the governor is the leader of the executive branch of government. For Tupelo, the mayor exercises executive authority because of the city’s form of government. An executive order is typically a directive given to other agencies within the executive department, but in a state of emergency, the head of the executive branch can issue broad orders and regulations to manage emergency management situations, according to Miss. Code Ann. § 33-15-31.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has issued several executive orders. What does this mean?

According to state law, the governor has broad power to “make, amend, and rescind such orders, rules, and regulations as may be necessary for emergency management purposes.” During a time of emergency, these executive orders carry the force of a state law, which means state and local law enforcement can enforce the order. So far, the governor has issued orders mandating residents shelter-in-place, non-essential businesses close, people cannot gather in groups of 10, suspended evictions and other orders. To view all of the executive orders, visit the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website.

What is a shelter in place order?

A shelter in place order forbids citizens from traveling outside of their residence unless conducting essential tasks or traveling to a job that has been deemed essential. The full list of essential tasks are: engaging in physical activity outside, seeking medical attention for yourself or your family, obtaining necessary food and supplies. You will be allowed to travel on the road if you are: conducting essential tasks, going to a job that has been deemed essential, traveling to your home or complying with a law enforcement or government order.

What is considered an essential business?

The governor’s definition of essential businesses is fairly long, but the full list of essential businesses can be found in the order that he issued on March 24.

What is considered a non-essential business?

In the governor’s order that he issued on April 1, some examples of non-essential businesses are fitness and exercise gems, dance studios, clubs, tattoo parlors, spas, salons, barber shops and other grooming facilities. Reeves clarified that if anyone has to ask if they are an essential business, then they probably aren’t an essential business.

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton previously issued similar orders like a local shelter-in-place order? What does this mean?

Essentially, not much will change much for Tupelo residents who have been following the local orders. Local leaders were previously allowing for some non-essential businesses to operate if they could provide a detailed plan for how the business would comply with CDC guidelines. This is no longer the case. Under the governor’s executive order, all non-essential businesses are closed. Tupelo Mayor Shelton said police officers will likely start going to businesses more frequently and start strictly enforcing the governor’s latest order.

Do the mayor and the governor have the authority to issue an executive order?

Yes, people or groups who embody the executive branch of state or local government have the authority to either issue an executive order or a resolution mandating emergency procedures for people to follow during a time of emergency.

Do I have to obey the state executive order and the local executive order?

Yes, the governor's executive order carries the force of the state law and any additional local orders carry the force or a local ordinance. According to state law, if you are found guilty of violating any provision of the state’s executive order, you could face a fine of no more than $500 fine or be imprisoned for no more than six months.

Does a statewide order supersede, or override, a local order/resolution?

This is a difficult question to answer, and it depends on different legal interpretations. Most elected officials and legal scholars agree that a statewide order can supersede a local resolution or order if the local order either directly conflicts with the state order or if the state order directly says that a certain item supersedes a local order. In the governor’s latest executive order, it specifically reads if any local government wishes to enact more strict safety measures, it can as long as it does not prevent essential businesses from operating.

What can I do during this time?

Can I still go to City Hall or any other city or county building to pay for something?

Currently, city and county buildings have limited access to the public. In City Hall, citizens are highly encouraged to conduct in-person city business by scheduling an appointment or doing business over the phone or online. For the county, the Lee County courthouse has been temporarily closed to the public, but citizens can either call the county or go online for any services needed. 

Can I be evicted, or can my utilities be disconnected?

Under the governor’s statewide order, he has suspended all evictions in the state temporarily. In the Tupelo mayor’s local order, he has temporarily suspended all foreclosures. The Mississippi Public Service Commission has also temporarily suspended utility disconnection from occurring under their jurisdiction. None of the measures, however, relieve anyone from paying the rent, utilities or other service accrued during this time.

Am I allowed to travel on the road?

Yes, you are allowed to travel on the road as long as you are conducting an essential task or going to and from an essential job.

Can I go to work?

The answer to this is a bit complicated and depends on who your employer is. If your job is considered an essential business, then, yes, you can go to work. However, state and federal officials have encouraged employers to allow as many people to work from home as possible.

Can I go to the grocery store or a restaurant?

Yes, you are allowed to purchase food under the shelter in place order. However, restaurants are required to only service food through drive-thru, delivery or curbside pickup means.

Should I stock up on groceries for a longer period of time?

While it may be wise to purchase enough groceries for multiple family members being at home for an extended period, people should not try to hoard food right now or panic.

Should I leave my home?

State and federal health officials have said you should not leave your home unless you have to, especially if you have an existing medical condition or are over the age of 65. However, if you do leave your residence to conduct an essential task, health officials encourage you to maintain social distancing.

Can I go to the park?

Under the governor’s newest executive order, all park facilities are closed, with the exception of walking trails. Mississippians can go outside for physical activity, but they must maintain CDC guidelines, such as social distancing and not congregate in a large group.

Will I be stopped by a law enforcement officer asking me where I’m going?

This is a hard question to answer. Legally, law enforcement officers have the authority to enforce all of the items under the governor’s newest order, and Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said the governor’s order will be enforced in the city.

Will law enforcement officers set up roadblocks for the local shelter in place order?

City officials have said they currently have no plans to set up roadblocks in the city and enforce the measures in a “draconian” manner. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said the city will not turn into a “police state,” but residents should voluntarily comply with all executive orders for the best interest of public health.

taylor.vance@journalinc.com

Twitter: @taylor_vance28

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