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Mayor set to require masks in Vicksburg; considering closing bars early

Monday, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said he was considering a change to the city’s COVID-19 civil emergency order to require masks to be worn in businesses and public buildings. Tuesday, Flaggs went from considering to confirming that it will happen.

Flaggs, Tuesday, said a mask mandate will begin Saturday and puts the responsibility on local businesses and those managing public buildings to make sure employees and customers adhere to the new guidelines which will continue through Aug. 3. 

The mandate, which will be announced in full Wednesday afternoon, will require customers to wear masks before entering businesses and requires employees interacting with customers to also wear a mask. Also, employees in businesses that cannot social distance from one another are also required to wear a mask.

During a meeting Monday, Flaggs said the changes would also likely include ordering bars and nightclubs within the city to close at midnight.

The steps came at the recommendation of Vicksburg physicians Dr. Dan Edney and Dr. Carlos Latorre during a Monday teleconference that included Warren County Board of Supervisors President Dr. Jeff Holland and Merit Health River Region CEO Ben Richaud.

Flaggs has opposed mandating facemasks but said Monday when considering the move that he wanted to do everything he could to keep Warren County from becoming a state-designated COVID-19 “hot spot” like neighboring Claiborne County and 12 other counties in the state.

“Statewide, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Edney said. “Our numbers at the hospital are not real tight, but it’s going to get real tight. We are now at capacity statewide.

“We’re OK today but we don’t know where we’re we’ll be this time next month, so we’re all very, very worried,” he said.

Edney said the majority of the doctors in the state advocate mask orders. Tuesday, the Mississippi State Medical Association called on Gov. Tate Reeves to implement a statewide mask order, a call he again declined later Tuesday during a press conference.

“It just makes no sense to us in the medical community that we’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s getting away from us  — getting worse, not better — and we’re sitting here debating about things that should be common sense,” Edney said.

Edney told Flaggs and Holland “you can either get ahead of it and be seen as being proactive as you did with the initial shutdown or you wait and take the cover from the governor when he imposes it (mandatory face masks). The sooner you act the better because it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.”

Flaggs said he wants to shut the bars down at midnight instead of 2 a.m. out of concern that the bars “overextended themselves and they’re not being closely watched.

“There’s a younger group coming out about 12 o’clock, and I’m telling you they’re not adhering to this social distancing at all and I’m really afraid it’s going to have an impact if we don’t take control of it,” he said.

Holland said he supports what the mayor is proposing.

“I think most of the congregate (concentration of people) that we have is inside the city limits and what you’re proposing I think will cover the vast majority of the things we hope to control,” Holland said.

In addition to the citywide mask mandate, Flaggs is expected to announce the creation of a special crime task force and introduce the city’s new compliance officer during a press conference Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. The Vicksburg Post will broadcast the press conference live on its Facebook page at facebook.com/thevicksburgpost.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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