Growing number of cities in Mississippi calling for face mask crackdown
Cities across Mississippi are requiring the use of face masks, or face coverings, in public as coronavirus cases continue to uptick.
In the absence of a statewide mandate to stiffen regulations, several cities in recent days have made their own decisions to encourage the use of face masks by making them mandatory.
Some other cities are now considering similar measures, while others — such as Hattiesburg — are extending existing orders that make facial coverings a requirement in city businesses.
While some of the orders are similar to requirements already in place by Gov. Tate Reeves, city leaders are putting additional public spotlight on the safety measures and in some cases promising enforcement.
In May, the governor did make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in seven counties that were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Reeves at the time ordered heightened restrictions for residents of Attala, Leake, Scott, Jasper, Neshoba, Newton and Lauderdale counties.
The order required businesses to screen employees for sickness and wear face coverings in businesses and at all outdoor public events.
Reeves — to date — has not ordered a statewide face covering mandate. Here's a look at what cities around the state are doing.
The city of Tupelo in northeast Mississippi first made the wearing of face masks mandatory on June 29. Mayor Jason Shelton said the order was to "encourage voluntary compliance" with existing "minimum requirements," according to the Daily Journal.
The order does not mandate that people wear a mask or face covering while outdoors. It does, however, require public businesses to require patrons and staff to wear a mask and gives owners the ability to ask non-mask wearing patrons to leave.
The Tupelo City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to approve the mayor's order, meaning it is now official city policy. The police department has the authority to issue citations, but will first give warnings to those who violate the order.
The state's largest city, Jackson, mandated the use of face coverings a day after Tupelo's order went into effect and also outlined potential punishments.
The order extends to all public spaces — whether indoor or outdoor — and with few exceptions.
Businesses who do not require their staff and patrons to wear masks face a 24-hour shutdown. Residents could see a $300 fine and up to six months in jail if they violate the face covering requirement.
"When faced with the concerns of a global pandemic and the death of our residents, we have to change the measures that are necessary to protect them," Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.
Mask mandate begins Thursday in Jackson:What you need to know
On Monday, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to issue an order mandating that all residents in the unincorporated areas of the county wear a mask or face covering.
The board said the order is effective immediately and is an expansion of the city of Jackson's existing order in those areas of the county outside city limits.
County Spokeswoman Sharon Sims said Tuesday the board was still contemplating how to enforce the mandate.
Hinds, the most populated county in the state, has experienced the highest number of total cases of coronavirus, with 2,591 cases as of Tuesday, according to the state Health Department.
So far, the city of Canton is the only municipality in Madison County to issue a face covering order. Mayor William Trully made a public announcement on Tuesday which laid out the details.
The order extends to all indoor and outdoor public spaces and includes the same exceptions as the city of Jackson's order.
Those who violate the order will not be fined the first time. They will be given a citation. If it happens again, businesses could face a shutdown by the city and a fine of $1,000. Individuals could face a $500 fine.
Madison County now has the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the state with 1,326 positive cases as of Tuesday.
The city of Oxford, home to the University of Mississippi, was the first city to implement a mandatory mask wearing policy. Since, several other cities have replicated the order for their own use.
The mandate applies to all businesses and indoor public spaces in the city, as well as commercial outdoor spaces such as farmer markets.
The policy has been enforced on at least 12 businesses that have violated the order and comes with an up to $1,000 fine, said Emergency Management Director Jimmy Algood.
Algood said his office monitors surrounding counties to determine if the mask mandate has been effective. Oxford is a commercial and medical hub which makes potential transmission of the virus a high possibility.
Algood said Lafayette County has been able to slow the virus by half what surrounding counties are seeing. He says it is the direct result of the face mask requirement.
The Golden Triangle
Cities in the east central region of the state all moved to heighten, or renew, face covering requirements.
The city boards for Starkville, Columbus and West Point on Tuesday put in place face covering requirements for businesses and other indoor public spaces as the region continues to see an increase in coronavirus cases.
West Point Mayor Ken Poole said the city based its requirement on Tupelo's order and then added additional restrictions, such as a requirement for children aged 6 and over to wear masks.
Poole said there are currently no penalties for violations of the mandate. That will remain the case as long as businesses abide by the new rules. If they do not, he said the city's board of selectmen will revisit the order to add penalties.
The cities of Starkville and Columbus also approved orders Tuesday night. Face masks or coverings are now required in businesses in the two cities and wherever social distancing is impossible.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said the new rules would mainly apply to businesses, such as retail shops, and could be met with citations between $300 to $1,000 for those who violate it.
Supervisors in Oktibbeha County, home to Mississippi State University, have already put in place a county-wide mandate, as many students return from out of town.
The city of Greenwood voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a requirement for the use of face masks, or coverings, in businesses and other indoor public spaces.
Those in violation of the new ordinance face a $1,000 fine, according to the Greenwood Commonwealth.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
Meanwhile, there are no new mask wearing requirements so far in the Mississippi Coast cities of Biloxi and Gulfport.