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Expanded mask mandate for Thanksgiving coming, curfew shelved for now

Vicksburg residents will not have to hustle home from their Thanksgiving gatherings, but will need to mask up.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Tuesday that he will not implement a planned overnight curfew during the holiday, but will stick with an expanded mask mandate after the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Warren County dropped early this week. City employees will also be required to undergo a COVID-19 screening when they return to work on Monday.

Over the weekend, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported new case numbers in  double-digits for Warren County for four consecutive days — the biggest spike in the county since late August.

Flaggs, who had already announced plans for an enhanced mask mandate for the Thanksgiving holiday, said he was considering more drastic measures if the number of new cases did not fall.

One of those measures was a curfew that would coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and go from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday night through Sunday. The goal of the curfew, Flaggs said, would be to restrict interaction and gatherings.

But, after reports Monday and Tuesday showed numbers returning to single digits — and low single digits at that — Flaggs backed away from the new restrictions. Four new cases were reported Monday and just one on Tuesday.

“I am going to leave the curfew out at this point,” Flaggs said Tuesday. “I am going to stay with the expanded mask mandate — requiring they be worn indoors and outdoors for the holiday. Two, I am also going to encourage families to minimize their gatherings inside if they can. And, if they are able, to organize gatherings outdoors where they can social distance.

“Third, all city employees will have to submit to a temperature check and a health questionnaire before starting work Monday morning.”

Flaggs said the police and fire departments will handle the screening of their employees Monday, while public works will handle the screening for its employees. The city’s human resources department will screen those employees who work in city hall.

“It is absolutely imperative we do this because of the number of cases in the police department, and what is going on in our workforce, that we try to mitigate it too,” Flaggs said.

The city continues to deal with 10 positive cases within its workforce, with six of those within the police department. One of the six individuals from the police department remains hospitalized.

Dr. Dan Edney, one of the local doctors who has advised both Flaggs and state leadership during the pandemic, said it is not just the Thanksgiving holiday that concerns local health officials.

“We are at the Halloween bump, then we are going to have the Thanksgiving bump, then there’s the Christmas bump; it’ll be like a staircase effect,” Edney said in complimenting Flaggs’ continued support of a mask mandate and steps to strengthen the mandate over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Flaggs said the coming weeks will be crucial in the ongoing fight to slow the virus.

“My concern is the interaction of city residents with relatives and friends, not just for the upcoming days, but the upcoming weeks,” he said. “Some may be carrying it and don’t know they have it because they do not have symptoms. We need to do what we can now to mitigate this and minimize the number of deaths and not overwhelm our healthcare system.”

Flaggs has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, where he has already announced plans to expand the city’s ongoing mask mandate. The current mandate requires anyone in a business or public building to wear a mask or other face covering.

The expanded mandate — which would begin Thursday and end midnight Sunday — would also require masks be worn during any outdoor event where social distancing is not possible.

As of Tuesday, Warren County has reported 1,721 total cases and 57 virus-related deaths. Last week was the most active week of the pandemic for Warren County since late August. For the week ending Sunday, Warren County had seen an average of 8.6 cases per day.

Flaggs’ press conference is set for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. and will be shared live on The Vicksburg Post’s Facebook page at facebook.com/thevicksburgpost.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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