Charleston declares civil emergency, orders COVID-19 measures for businesses and individuals

By CLAY MCFERRIN,

The city of Charleston on Monday declared a civil emergency and adopted sweeping measures, including a general curfew, aimed at helping to slow the local spread of the coronavirus disease.

The edict embraced by the Charleston mayor and Board of Commissioners was effective immediately upon adoption Monday morning.

A general curfew was ordered for the city from 8 o'clock each night until 6 o'clock the next morning. Exempted from the curfew is "essential travel by those over the age of 18 years."  The decree defines essential travel as "travel required for work purposes and returning home from work." 

Loitering on parking lots, at car washes or on the streets of Charleston is prohibited.

The following are allowed to remain open with some restrictions, including closing at 8 p.m. daily until further notice:

» For restaurants, no inside dining or outside dining on the premises is allowed.  Pickup, drive-thru and delivery are permitted.

» Church services and other assemblages and gatherings are allowed to continue when they involve 10 or fewer people, and those people must remain at least 6 feet apart.

» All businesses employing 10 or more people in one business location must follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) guidance and implement safeguards to prevent spread.

» Essential-service businesses and agencies including hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, drug stores/pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and emergency response operations must follow CDC and MSDH guidance and implement safeguards to prevent spread to the extent that is practical.

Early closings and even the shutdown of some enterprises and venues were ordered, as follows:

» Social gatherings and activities of civic organizations are ordered to end by 5 p.m. each day.  Also directed to close at 5 are recreational facilities, gyms, barbershops, hair/beauty, nail and tanning salons, spas, schools and community centers.

» Charleston bars, nightclubs, parks and outside recreational areas are ordered to cease all operations and close as of March 23, remaining closed until further notice. 

Violators will be criminally prosecuted, with penalties including a maximum fine of up to $1,000 per day and 90 days in the county jail.  Each day in violation constitutes a separate offense, the order stipulated.

Charleston Mayor Sedrick Smith said he and city commissioners began working on COVID-19 administrative measures on Saturday and made revisions on Sunday and again Monday before adopting final regulations.

"We're kind of piggybacking off of what other towns are doing," noted Smith, who pointed out that measures like those adopted in Charleston, and some even stricter, have been imposed by many other municipalties around the state.

Monday's action by the city board also gave Smith executive powers over day-to-day operations, including the authority to unilaterally order the immediate dispersal of any gathering or the closure of any entity without further approval from city commissioners.

Smith said the board was forced to adopt the measures because too many people were not taking seriously a series of federal, state and health agency guidelines governing social distancing, including limiting any gathering to no more than 10 people.

The mayor noted several examples, including bars and clubs in the city that, as recently as Saturday night, were allowing "25 or 30 people" to congregate in close quarters.

"You get them out the front door, and then they bring them back in through the back door," he said.  "And one just refused to shut down, so we had to executively put something in place."

As for the curfew, Smith said too many youngsters have been "lollygagging" on the streets of Charleston at night, and even weeknights now that schools are not in session.   "Some of them are on four-wheelers all night long," he added.

The mayor said officials understand that the forced closings, operational restrictions and curfew may be an inconvenience and may even have some financial repercussions, but he noted they were put in place for the greater good during this time of national emergency.

"Unfortunately, we're in that position now where we have to make those calls," he added.

Earlier Monday, the MSDH daily report on COVID-19 cases around the state revealed the first positive test of a person from Tallahatchie County. The agency does not disclose gender, age or other patient information.

As of 6 p.m. Sunday, MSDH noted that the the MSDH Public Health Laboratory had tested 1,392 persons for the coronavirus, resulting in 249 positive cases and one death among 55 counties in the Magnolia State.  At that time, 27 counties still did not have any positive cases, including Quitman and Yalobusha in this area.

Among other local counties, Coahoma had 8 cases, Grenada 2, Lafayette 5, Leflore 9 and Panola and Sunflower each had 2 as of late Sunday.

The World Health Organization on Monday reported 332,935 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14,510 confirmed deaths, noting that 190 countries, areas or territories had cases.

The CDC reported 33,404 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 400 deaths in the United States as of Monday.  All 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reported positive cases.

Obituaries

CHARLESTON —  Albert Curtis Jr., age 76, passed away Sunday, March 29.

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