TUPELO • Regulations on movement and commerce throughout the region’s key cities are increasingly converging toward the statewide orders imposed by Gov. Tate Reeves.
The latest orders issued by the state’s Republican governor allowed salons, gyms and some other close-contact business to open beginning Monday, though with restrictions still imposed on business operations. This follows a move by the state last week to allow restaurant dining rooms to open at reduced capacity.
As of Monday, none of the three largest cities in Northeast Mississippi have moved to further halt the opening of salons, barbershops or restaurant dining rooms.
“I feel comfortable following the governor’s orders and guidelines,” Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said.
Municipalities can impose stricter rules than those issued by the governor, and Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville have all variously done so at different times. All closed restaurant dining rooms before the state did, for example.
Last week, Oxford did keep restaurant dining rooms closed for several days longer than did the governor at a statewide level, but as of Monday, Tupelo, Oxford and Starkville are all broadly aligned with the orders issued by Reeves.
Oxford does require wide masking requirements, including provisions that employees and patrons of businesses there wear a face covering.
Starkville has now moved its masking mandate to a recommendation, and Tupelo has never had a masking order.
Starkville has also maintained a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
In evaluating what’s best for the city he leads, Shelton pointed to the relatively steady growth of COVID-19 cases in Tupelo.
“Cases in the Lee County area have remained fairly steady for the past two weeks,” Shelton said. “We are at 80 cases in a population of about 85,000.”
Lafayette currently has 101 known cases of COVID-19 as identified through testing, and Oktibbeha County has 89.
Shelton believes the early action takes by the municipalities in the region played a role in managing the spread of COVID-19.
“I’m proud of our community’s response. Other cities in our area were very aggressive on the front end, and I think that’s paid off for our area,” Shelton said.
In a Board of Aldermen meeting on Saturday, Oxford’s Emergency Management Director Jimmy Allgood cited the steady regional infection numbers during a discussion about the city’s emergency resolution.
“They are increasing the same rate as us, one or two cases a day,” Allgood said.
In Tupelo, other signs of a slowly resuming normalcy are becoming apparent at the level of local government. Shelton said that city employees are no longer working from home, except for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Main Street Association.
A by-appointment-only policy for doing business at City Hall has also largely fallen by the wayside and Shelton said the building “for all practical purposes is open.”
Parks are open in Tupelo, but playground equipment does remain closed.
In the event of a spike in case counts, Shelton said his response would probably involve some sort of return to prior orders.
“Hopefully we can maintain slow and steady numbers,” Shelton said.