Face mask mandate

From left, Greenwood Councilmen Andrew Powell, Carl Palmer and David Jordan wear masks and spread out during a May 29 special called meeting. 

Mask up or pay up.

That’s the message from the Greenwood City Council, which voted 5-0 Tuesday to require residents to wear face masks at most businesses and in other indoor public spaces or face a financial penalty.

The mandate, which goes into effect at 8 a.m. Thursday, is designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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Greenwood joins several other Mississippi cities, including Jackson, Oxford and Tupelo, to require masks. Gov. Tate Reeves is being encouraged to do the same statewide, but he has not mandated it so far.

All five of the council members in attendance as well as Mayor Carolyn McAdams wore masks during the entirety of the meeting except occasionally when speaking. Council members Johnny Jennings and Lisa Cookston did not attend.

According to the resolution, people within Greenwood’s city limits “shall wear a clean face covering any time they are, or will be, in contact with other people in indoor public or business spaces where it is not possible to maintain social distance.”

Those found in violation of the city’s newest COVID-19 ordinance can be subject to a misdemeanor fine of up to $1,000.

Businesses are also required to post signs by entrances requiring the use of masks, and patrons who don’t wear masks should be asked to leave, according to the resolution.

The mask does not need to be a medical or N95 mask but any type of material — such as a T-shirt or scarf — that covers both a person’s mouth and nose.

Face masks will not be required for the following scenarios:

• People who can’t wear a mask due to a medical or behavioral condition.

• Restaurant patrons while dining.

• Private, individual offices or offices with fewer than 10 employees.

• At areas where physical barrier partitions have been set up to prohibit contact between customers and employees.

• Small offices where the public does not interact with the employer.

• Other settings where it’s not feasible to wear a mask, such as when swimming or receiving dental services.

• Children under the age of 5.

Scores of residents have already been subject to fines after violating the city’s COVID-19 curfew that was in place from April 3 to May 25, as well as violating other COVID-19 regulations, such as operating nonessential businesses or having gatherings larger than 10 people.

Altogether, more than $31,000 in fines and court costs is owed to the city from prior COVID-19 violations.

McAdams, who has repeatedly urged residents to adhere to health guidelines to limit the spread of the coronavirus, brought in staff from Greenwood Leflore Hospital to have them share their perspectives battling COVID-19 from the front lines.

“We have a serious problem nationally, statewide and an increasingly serious problem in Greenwood,” said Dr. Mary Carol Miller.

The physician told the City Council, prior to its vote, that the most important thing it could do was mandate the wearing of masks in public.

In Leflore County, there have been 500 cases of COVID-19 and 53 deaths attributed to the respiratory disease since the outbreak began in March, according to Tuesday’s update from the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Miller said it’s almost certain that the case count is higher, particularly since asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are unknowingly spreading the virus.

“We’re going up in Leflore County exponentially,” Miller said.

Following the lifting of various lockdown measures throughout the country, “the people of this county and this state and this nation lost their collective minds,” going out and about without adhering to health guidelines, Miller said.

Although Leflore County has the third-highest number of deaths in the state, the Harvard Global Health Institute, which has been tracking the recent trends in cases, said Leflore County’s uptick has been less than average in Mississippi.

As of  Monday, Leflore County was seeing an average of 18.2 new cases daily per 100,000 residents over the latest seven-day period, compared to a state average of 22.5. The county ranks 46th in the state on the rate of increase on a per capita basis. It has an “orange” risk factor, one below the highest.

Miller said it is also concerning that younger people are increasingly testing positive for the virus. Though they may not get severely ill, they can pass the virus along to the elderly and other people with underlying health problems, who can face severe illness, such as pneumonia and death, from COVID-19.

“We’re in a rising state, and we have got to do something to shut it down,” she said. If not, schools may not reopen for in-person instruction in the fall, she warned.

Miller also said that she has recommended to the organizers of Greenwood’s major annual bike ride that the event, scheduled for Aug. 1, be canceled.

Bikes, Blues & Bayous usually brings in more than 1,000 bicyclists but was amended this year to only allow 500 riders in order to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

Miller has served as a medical adviser to Richard Beattie, who works with the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce to organize the bike ride each year.

Miller said Beattie had a comprehensive plan to maintain social distancing and other health measures for the bike ride.

Miller told the council, however, that she had emailed Beattie last week saying she no longer recommends the event go forward.

Neither Beattie nor Beth Stevens, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, could be reached immediately for their response.

• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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