Pike County supervisors said Tuesday they plan to impose a nighttime curfew in an attempt to cut down on gatherings that might spread coronavirus.
But first they want to run the idea past municipal officials within the county in hopes of making the policy countywide.
The proposal calls for a general curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. For youths 18 and under, that would be 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The curfew would last two weeks, and supervisors may extend it if needed.
Supervisors are also strongly recommending people limit their gatherings to no more than 10 people, as spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control.
Supervisors will send the proposal to municipal officials and invite them to an 8 a.m. meeting Thursday in the court annex. Supervisors are meeting in the chancery courtroom so people have room to spread out and minimize the possibility of spreading disease.
At Tuesday’s special called meeting, a nurse took people’s temperatures before they entered the court annex. (Courthouse officials are asking people not to go inside but to call the department they need from outside; numbers are posted on the doors.)
Speaking by telephone, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Greg Michel said Gov. Tate Reeves is deferring restrictions to local governments.
“The governor has not made any indication about doing a statewide lockdown,” Michel said.
Dr. Andy Watson of StatCare and Ellen Brannan and Tammy Bacot of Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center urged supervisors to pass some kind of restrictions to minimize the virus’ spread.
“This virus is potentially the perfect Trojan horse,” Watson said.
He noted the virus is considered “novel” because it made the transition from animals to humans, who don’t have immunity to it.
“It also hit on a bad flu season,” Watson said, citing more than 50,000 deaths from flu so far this season. “We have probably been looking at it for several months and not recognized it.”
He said the virus has traveled along corridors like Interstates 10 and 55.
If left to itself, it would follow a three-year process, with numbers going up in a bell curve, coming back down, and repeating the process the following two years.
“What we’ve got to do right now is buy time,” Watson said.
That includes social distancing for 15 to 21 days.
Elderly people are especially at risk since they typically have kidney, heart or lung conditions. “Keep away from Grandma and Grandpa. Stay out of the nursing homes,” Watson said.
Due to a shortage of tests, medical personnel are only testing people with special needs or high risk. Criteria for testing include known exposure to the virus, documented fever, and severe symptoms such as shortness of breath and muscle pains. There’s typically a five-day lag time in getting test results.
“We probably have hundreds of cases in the county,” Watson said. “Unfortunately we do not have the number of test kits to go out and start testing all these people. If you’re exposed, you need to self-quarantine 14 days.
“We’re trying to get out of the way of a moving train right now.”
With new information coming out all the time, “we’re making our decisions on the fly,” he said.
He offered three tips: “No. 1, be calm. No. 2, say your prayers. No. 3, use some good sense.”
Supervisor Robert Accardo asked Watson’s advice on a curfew, stay-at-home order or travel restrictions.
“Are we wise to do that or not?” Accardo said.
“I think you are,” Watson said. “That’s a hard decision to make.”
Brannan noted Magnolia is close to Louisiana, which has far more cases than Mississippi. She said the community needs to be told “to isolate, to stay away, no gathering. We have a problem with people congregating at night.”
Bacot said if people won’t isolate themselves, “we have to make decisions for their own good.”
Sheriff James Brumfield said restrictions are hard to enforce, require lawmen to come into close contact with people, and will require overtime.
“I do think we have to do something,” he said, citing a nighttime curfew for youth as an example. “To shut every business down — I’m just going to tell you, I’m a pro-business people. I can’t do that.”
Supervisors echoed agreement with his sentiments.
Supervisor Lee Fortenberry said some students see this as nothing more than early summer vacation.
“People see this as a time to get together, have parties, especially young people,” Fortenberry said.
Chief deputy Brad Bellipanni said calls to the sheriff’s office have risen at night with kids out of school and suggested a nighttime curfew except for people working.
Supervisors said they hope municipal officials will go along with the curfew. Board president Sam Hall suggested sending them the proposal and inviting them to Thursday’s meeting. “We won’t do anything till we talk to them,” Hall said. “They can go with us or not.”
Civil defense director Richard Coghlan reminded the board that the county imposed a week-long curfew after Hurricane Katrina and “it worked quite well.”
Tax Assessor Laurie Allen asked about daytime gatherings of young people, and supervisors agreed to “strongly recommend” people limit group sizes.
“Our children think this is just an extended holiday,” said Tax Collector Gwen Nunnery. “If you’re congregating beyond the 10, that’s too many people.”
Brumfield warned the curfew could prompt binge-shopping in the first few days, even though there’s no shortage of food or fuel.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Accardo said. “We don’t have a template for this. But we’re trying to protect the citizens of this county.”