Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker challenged Hub City residents Tuesday night to remain at home as much as possible as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase in the upcoming weeks. The request came as Barker announced further business restrictions.
Barker said the number of coronavirus cases are expected to increase statewide.
“It is still alarming,” he said at a 9 p.m. live-stream announcement via Facebook. “As of this evening, we had the 12th-highest infection rate in the state of the 320 cases. We know more positive cases are coming. There are still well more than a hundred tests among Forrest General, Hattiesburg Clinic, and Merit Health Wesley."
The mayor added that dozens of people will be tested every day over the next number of days. As those tests are processed, more positive cases are likely to result.
This latest order goes into effect on Thursday and will be enforced until April 30. It includes the following for essential businesses:
• All financial services institutions (including banks and related financial institutions, insurance, payroll, accounting, and services related to financial markets) should limit public access to the building’s interior through and by appointment only. Banks can continue drive-through service to customers.
• Gas stations, laundromats, automotive/bicycle repair shops, liquor and beer stores should limit access to 10 or fewer customers at one time.
• Grocery stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and hardware/building material stores should implement systems to limit access to a certain number of customers at one time in the store. This limit should correspond to the square footage in their sales areas. Guidelines for these ratios will be sent to each store, and these systems should be in place no later than March 26.
• Grocery stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and hardware/building material stores should not allow lines to form outside their entrances. Customers waiting to enter the building should wait at a vehicle.
• Grocery stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and hardware/building material stores should provide at least six (6) feet of space between customers in and around checkout lines.
• Grocery stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and hardware/building material stores should take steps to discourage the clustering of customers in sales areas.
The order also includes the following recommendations for nonessential businesses in the City of Hattiesburg, taking effect Wednesday until April 30.
• All spas, nail salons, tattoo shops and massage parlors shall close.
• All barbershops and hair salons may continue to operate by appointment only. The barber, cosmetologist, stylist or other practitioners must wear personal protective equipment to cover his/her mouth. There shall be no available sitting area for waiting customers. There shall be a maximum of one customer in the building at one time. All barbershops and salons shall adhere to best practices and state regulations in regards to hand washing and cleaning, sanitizing and/or disinfecting chairs, floors and equipment thoroughly after each customer.
• Nonessential retail stores (sporting goods, clothing stores, florists, furniture stores, auto dealers – excluding auto repair shops – book stores and jewelry stores) shall limit access to their stores to either curbside service, pickup sales or by appointment only. However, at no time shall there be more than 10 customers in a building at a time.
Barker praised city residents and business owners that have adapted to the closures and lock-downs.
“Over the past few days, we have continued to work through strength,” he said. “I want to thank our restaurants for transitioning their services to takeout, pickup, to-go, and drive-through services. That move did not come easily and I appreciate it. Gov. Reeves issued the same order for the entire state earlier this evening.”
City officials said they would be discussing the next moves as the number of coronavirus cases increases, Baker said.
“As we anticipate growth in a number of positive cases, as we try to think through what our next steps will be and policies that can help reduce person-to-person contact, I'm asking you to stay home,” he said. “Do only what is essential and then go home.
“I know this is uncomfortable and it's destructive,” Barker continued. “I know the pandemic fatigue is already setting in, but this isn't one that we can see; it isn't one that comes quickly and within a week or two is gone. Slowly the spread of this disease will stretch us and demand that we make months-long changes.”