Mississippi is now under a shelter-in-place ordered by Gov. Tate Reeves, which will be in effect today at 5 p.m. and last until 8 a.m. April 20, which leaves some citizens wondering what the order does.
“What the executive order is mandating is that we stay at home for safety,” said state Rep. Angela Cockerham, I-Magnolia. “It is essentially saying stay where you can shelter in place.”
Shelter-in-place, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health, means all citizens must “make a shelter out of the place they are in,” but the term has been appropriated to mean “stay home unless necessary.”
Cockerham praised Reeves for the order, saying it will save lives.
“It requires daily, hourly monitoring. That is exactly what the governor and Legislature have been doing,” Cockerham said.
“As you look at those three pages in totality and you also read it in conjunction with (executive order) 1463, it is looking out for the needs of Mississippians, businesses and local government.
“The governor is giving us the tools to fight this and still maintain our daily lives, and now it is up to us. It is on us to do what we need to do.”
Cockerham noted that Reeves had gotten some pushback for not setting out the order earlier, but she said she is proud of him for listening to experts and working hard to keep the state moving safely.
“I know the governor took some criticism for not doing this quicker,” Cockerham said. “I applaud the governor, because he has been listening to our experts.”
Any individual currently living in Mississippi is ordered to stay home unless they are going to work at an essential business; going to the doctor for themselves or a family member, traveling to care for an elder, minor, dependents, persons with disabilities or other vulnerable persons; traveling to educational institutions for the purpose of receiving materials for distance learning; receiving meals and other education-related purposes; traveling to and from their place of residence, and travel required by law enforcement or court order.
Reeves’ new executive order follows a previous executive order that outlined what are and are not essential businesses for the operation of the state. An important clarification is that restaurants and bars will remain open, but they are limited to drive-through, curbside and delivery service only. Businesses like barbershops, salons, spas, gyms, clubs, tattoo parlors, dance studios are completely closed.
“It is an exhaustive list, but my takeaway is that he is really trying to make sure that Mississippians have what they need,” Cockerham said. “If you look at the list, those really are basic operations that Mississippians need.”
Non-essential businesses are asked to remain closed except for all activities necessary for the business or operation to maintain the condition of facilities, premises and equipment; the value of business inventory, payroll, employee benefits; security; and to facilitate employees of the business or operation to continue to work remotely from their residences.
Cockerham said business owners should try to get creative in their operations using advancements in technology and access to the internet.
“I think we are going to have to learn, ‘Is there another way I can still be effective with technology?’ ” Cockerham said.
The order also suspends all eviction notices while in effect, but it does not mean residents will not have to pay rent.
“No provision contained within this executive order shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under tenancy or mortgage,” the order states.
Cockerham said it will take a statewide effort to make the order work, and that people should stay home unless completely necessary. She said the order is not a curfew but an order to stay home and added that people should not get hung up on terminology.
“Now we have the order, so let’s stay home,” she said. “This is so serious, and I don’t think we need to get caught up on if it is a 24-hour curfew or not. The goal is keeping the essential operations our state needs.”
In the order, Reeves closed all places of amusement and recreation including amusement parks and rides, museums, playgrounds, children’s party and play facilities; all parks including all beaches, lakes and reservoirs; movie theaters, bowling alleys and social clubs. One exception is that walking trails are still available to the public.
Cockerham said she understood the urge to go out and do activities, but some things are not feasible with the virus spreading so rapidly. She said lakes have been closed is because people congregate there to do more than just fish, and it would be hard to police the waters.
“Hopefully and prayerfully, we can get back to these activities, but now we need to be staying inside,” Cockerham said.
Failure to follow the order can land violators with up to a $500 fine or up to six months in jail, or both. Pike County Sheriff James Brumfield said officers will enforce the order to the best of their abilities, but will not be “looking to arrest people.” He also said people have been compliant with recent orders, and he hopes they will remain so once this order goes into effect.
“We will take it on a case-by-case basis,” Brumfield said. “Everyone has been compliant, and we haven’t gotten that many calls, frankly.”
Brumfield said officers are keeping a record of each call that comes in related to not following mandates and will act accordingly to those who have been asked multiple times. As of now they plan to work as usual and rely on the community to help halt large groups and people otherwise not following the order.
“We are all facing unprecedented times, and we just need to practice what CDC guidelines told us,” Brumfield said. “We have not implemented extra patrols, but we do have extra resources if it would come to that.”
McComb Police Chief Damien Gatlin said the police department is taking a similar approach to the sheriff’s office, saying citizens need to comply with the order to help save lives.
“It’s going to be a little uncomfortable, but we are looking for people to voluntarily comply,” Gatlin said. “We are looking at any and every avenue to manage this.”
Gatlin said crime is not going to stop, so police need as much help as possible. He also said the police station is not looking to arrest people over noncompliance.
“We’re still going to have crime, and it is going to put a strain on us, and we need the community to help nip this in the bud,” Gatlin said.
“We need to comply. I am calling on church leaders as well as business leaders to comply with the medical professionals. Hopefully, the citizens of McComb, Pike County, the state will just stay home.”