Heightened precautions

Otken Elementary School and other McComb School District employees unload prepared meals for pickup at the school on Wednesday.

The McComb city board declared a state of emergency in a special meeting before Tuesday’s work session due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country and state.

Mayor Quordiniah Lockley explained that the declaration gives the city the power of purchasing anything relating to the outbreak without board approval, and the city will be reimbursed for expenses associated with the emergency.

“A state of emergency primarily eliminates a lot of the red tape that we would have to go through in purchasing and things like that,” Lockley said. “It is there if we need to use it.”

Lockley said the board is following suit with national and state declarations.

“The state has already declared a state of emergency, the government did, and what we are doing is also following in line with declaring,” Lockley said.   

Magnolia Mayor Anthony Witherspoon also declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

“As we go through and we deal with this coronavirus, we don’t know what is going to occur, whether or not we will need this state of emergency,” Lockley said. “Hopefully, we won’t need it, but (we’ll have it) in place just in case we do need it.”

Selectman Shawn Williams asked if surrounding areas have declared an emergency as well, but Lockley said he was unsure.

Selectman Ronnie Brock asked about Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center and the possibility of getting a representative from the hospital to talk to the board. He said he believed the communication between the hospital and the city is poor.

“Just a matter of record, other cities throughout the United States are working hand-in-hand with hospitals and what goes on in the city, and we seem to be out of the loop,” Brock said.

He said it’s important for the city and the hospital to work together.

Lockley said he asked for someone to come from the hospital to talk to the board and department heads, but that was canceled when the recommended limit of gatherings was lowered from 50 to 10 people.

“It is important that we all — the hospitals, schools and all of us — are working together as it relates to this pandemic,” Lockley said. “However, we are doing our part as a city to protect the citizens as it relates to their health and welfare.”

“As we strive to care for the ever-growing number of patients coming to our facility, we ask everyone to please visit our website and FB often for updates and changes,” hospital CEO Charla Rowley said in a statement Wednesday. “We’ve had many local agencies call with questions, concerns, input and offers of assistance and collaboration. We truly appreciate each of you. Please continue to reach out to us. Working together for the good of our community is our highest priority.”

Lockley said this is not a time to panic, and residents should follow CDC guidelines.

During the discussion, the board talked about the city’s decision to cancel all events on city property because of the new recommendation limiting gatherings to 10 or less people.

Selectman Donovan Hill asked Police Chief Damian Gatlin if that was enforced, and Gatlin said until the recommendation becomes a mandate, officers will not break up a larger gathering, rather they will discourage them.

The board also unanimously approved an item that gives City Administrator Dirkland Smith more flexibility with city employee schedules. Smith said he wanted to limit exposure by rotating a minimum number of employees while the state of emergency is in effect.

“Under the governor’s executive order, we can allow staff members to remain at home, and it will not affect their pay or sick leave.”

He said he would still like to continue city operations, “meaning we will still have someone there if patrons would like to come in and pay their water bill or get a permit.” 

Smith said he will work with the different department heads to see the minimum number of employees they need to operate successfully and they will move from there.

Hill asked how the rotation would work, and Smith said many employees in the same department are cross-trained to do multiple functions, so he could fairly divide the work in rotations rather than have one employee working twice as hard while other employees are on call at home.

Smith said that all employees that are sent home will be required to come back when they get a phone call or email. Brock asked if every employee will have access to an email, and Lockley said that every employee at least has a phone and would be reachable.

Smith said he wanted to work on getting a secure email portal that would connect all employees.

Selectman Devante Johnson asked if the city could shut down City Hall, but board attorney Angela Cockerham said it is a municipal building, and residents must have some access to it.

Brock asked if they could put up signs telling people who may feel they have been in contact with the virus to leave, and Smith said they would make signs and put them in the entrances of City Hall.

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