• 75°

As new COVID-19 cases skyrocket, state officials hand down strict guidelines

JACKSON — Gov. Tate Reeves has amended the Safe Return executive orders, reducing the size of gatherings and limiting the operations of bars across the state. The move is in response to escalating COVID-19 figures throughout the state, which have routinely set new highs with each passing day.

“We are still in the middle of our most painful period of COVID-19 spread to date. We have to slow the spread to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed,” Gov. Tate Reeves said at Friday’s press briefing. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of spread in young people. By far, the group driving these high numbers is people in their 20s. I’ve been talking for about a week about wanting to do something to curb the spread among young, drunk, careless folks.”

The new orders include:

  • Social gatherings are limited to 10 or less indoors and 20 or less outdoors.
  • Bars can only sell alcohol to seated customers, and no alcohol can be sold at restaurants or bars after 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. Previous social distancing measures, such as limiting to 50 percent capacity, updating floor plans to ensure 6 feet distance between groups, and limiting to six people per table, remain in effect.

The amended Safe Return orders go into effect immediately and last at least through Aug. 3.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said he will amend the city’s emergency order Monday to coincide with Reeves’ orders and have a “Q and A” Monday at 2:30 p.m.

“I’m going to wait and see what the numbers are over the weekend,” Flaggs said. “I think his (Reeves) measures are a little more restrictive, but I’m going to look at it over the weekend.”

Cocktails 101 manager Jonathan Abogado said he and owner Mary Ann Willis agree with the governor’s order.

“We so far for the last three months have been operating only from 5 (p.m.) to 10 (p.m.), for 50 of our customers and our staff as well,” he said.    

Reeves’ updated orders come as Warren County set a new one-day high for COVID-19 cases reported with 49 new cases reported Friday. The previous record of 37 new cases was set Monday.

The new cases push Warren County perilously close to being declared a “hot spot” by state health officials. If it is declared as such, it would bring about more strict COVID-19 restrictions, including tighter social distancing measures and stronger mask mandates.

Reeves also added Calhoun, Holmes, Lamar, Montgomery, Winston and Yalobusha counties, increasing the number of counties under state orders to 29 — including Claiborne and Sharkey counties.

Flaggs said 12 of the city’s 416 employees have tested positive for the virus with five active cases. Seven employees, he said, have been cleared and are back working and doing fine. Three employees were tested because they were exposed to the virus and are awaiting results.

He said if Warren County becomes a hot spot, Vicksburg’s already strict emergency order would be overridden by the state.

“If you get on this list as a hot spot, I have no authority; the governor calls the shots,” he said at Friday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. “Saving lives is a priority for me. So I’m saying to the city, our employees, let’s continue to be safe, let’s continue to be vigilant.

“I’m told by the Centers for Disease Control, by MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency), that the best way to minimize this virus or limit the spread of the virus, is by social distancing by 6 feet and by wearing the mask.”