Tallahatchie and Panola counties are among the latest to be identified as "hot spots" for their heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday issued Executive Order No. 1509, which imposes stricter social distancing measures designed to help mitigate the increased risk of spreading the virus. The measures began at 8 a.m. today and are to remain in effect until 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 3, and are subject to extension.
"COVID-19 is spreading and killing in our state. It's not a hypothetical — it is happening," said Reeves.
In addition to Tallahatchie and Panola, the latest county-specific order also identifies Bolivar, Covington, Forrest, Humphreys, Sharkey, Simpson, Tate and Walthall counties.
They join 13 other counties — Claiborne, DeSoto, Grenada, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Quitman, Rankin, Sunflower, Washington and Wayne — named in a July 10 executive order as the initial group of counties targeted for enhanced, localized social distancing procedures. Reeves extended his initial order for those counties to also expire on Aug. 3.
Part of the language of Executive Order No. 1509 notes that the state health officer has reported that statistical data "from certain jurisdictions and regions of the state (a) indicate periods of higher numbers of new cases over shorter periods of time accounting for larger percentage of the state's overall case count, (b) have higher percent incidence of positive cases per number of tests performed, (c) show evidence of shared workforce between jurisdictions with common risk factors, and (d) have other public health indicators reflecting ongoing community transmission."
Among the notable measures imposed by the governor's order:
» Social gatherings/activities are limited to a maximum of 10 participants indoors and a maximum of 20 participants outdoors. However, the restriction specifically exempts "religious entities, students in classrooms or gatherings in facilities governed by other capacity limitations."
» Face coverings must be worn indoors and outdoors (when unable to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of separation from other individuals not in the same household) when attending public events (including, but not limited to, events in outdoor sports complexes, multi-field complexes and arenas).
» All businesses must screen each employee at the beginning of their shift, including asking certain questions about exposure to others with confirmed COVID-19; whether they are experiencing a cough, shortness of breath or sore throat; whether they have had a fever in the last 48 hours; whether they have had new loss of taste or smell; and whether they have had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours.
» Business employees who have contact with the public shall be provided a face covering, covering nose and mouth, and shall be required to wear the face covering while on duty.
» Customers shall wear a face covering, covering nose and mouth, while inside businesses and business operations, except for certain exceptions — such as while eating or drinking, attending church (although face coverings are strongly encouraged), children under the age of 6 and those engaged in exercise in a gym or other sports activity, among others.
» Businesses shall maintain 6 feet of separation between customers while in cashier lines, waiting rooms and other public spaces, and prominently display signage at every entrance informing customers of the face covering and social distancing requirements.
» Carts and baskets and all other surfaces contacted by customers during providing services shall be sanitized after each use. Other high-touch areas, including all door handles, shall be sanitized once every two hours at a minimum.
The order may be enforced by all state, county and local law enforcement, the governor's order notes.
Last week, the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors and the Charleston Board of Commissioners passed amendments to previous local orders mandating the wearing of face masks in public, setting a penalty of up to $300 and/or a sentence of up to 30 days in jail for each violation.