Mississippi’s restaurants reopened in May under a series of guidelines designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but when restaurants do not follow those rules, the Mississippi Department of Health’s bark is apparently worse than its bite.

A reader recently complained about a Pike County restaurant where none of the employees were wearing face masks, despite state requirements to do so if they have direct contact with customers.

Health officials said inspectors visited the restaurant but issued no penalty.

“An inspection is not done unless the no-mask complaint is tied to a complaint about a food code violation or a permit inspection,” Director of Emergency Preparedness Communications Elizabeth Grey said in an email last week.

This means that as long as the restaurant is not breaking existing health-code violations, the other executive order guidelines are recommendations rather than enforceable mandates.

The reader said she noticed employees without masks or gloves and confronted them about it, only to receive a dismissive response. She asked to speak with a supervisor, but the employees told her no one was there for her to talk to.

“If anyone had the virus, it was a done deal,” she said.

The woman said she called local officials, who directed her to the police, who directed her to the state health department. She called the health department, where officials told her they would send someone to speak with the manager.

Grey said State Health Department Director of Food Protection Serena Johnson spoke with the manager of the restaurant and advised him of the executive orders, which holds the guidelines.

The current restrictions on restaurants include screening employees and customers, reducing seating capacity to less than 50% and mandating employees who come into contact with customers to wear a mask, along with daily deep cleanings.

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