Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Tuesday, Mayor Toby Barker was joined by city officials, community leaders and Forrest General’s Dr. Steven Farrell and Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh to discuss city operations, court procedures and recent developments for business guidelines.
Barker stated, “Monitoring COVID-19 comes with many steps and factors – including listening to the medical community, meeting with stakeholder groups from the Greater Hattiesburg area, adjusting city services and personnel and working through CDC guidelines – all while trying to process and interpret recent recommendations from the President and the Governor. Today’s updates across city operations, court procedures and business guidelines will all help our community as we continue to work through this pandemic together.”
For city operations, employees over the age of 60, who interact frequently with the public, will begin working from home remotely on Wednesday, March 18. These employees will be put on administrative leave, consistent with a recommendation from the state auditor’s department; and currently affirmed by one legislative act – House Bill 1647. These employees – both full time and part-time – will continue to be paid.
Additionally, city administration and directors continue to share the importance of staying home if not well, operating good basic hygiene protocols and encourage any who are symptomatic to call a primary care physician, an immediate care facility or our own employee health clinic.
More notes about basic city services include:
- Last week, water cut-offs were suspended until further notice.
- For the next two weeks (effective Wednesday, March 18), Hub City Transit will suspend service on the GOLD and GREEN routes. Service on the BLUE route may additionally see less frequent service than posted. An interactive map featuring bus trackers can be accessed at hubcitytransit.com/map.
- Hattiesburg Police Department is shifting from taking in-person reports to taking them by phone and email. These actions will not be available in-person at HPD’s physical locations at 300 Klondyke Street or 104 Lamar Boulevard
- To file a report, call 601-545-4965.
- To request a copy of a report, call 601-545-4964 or email email@example.com.
- Additionally, all who call dispatch services will be prompted to answer questions regarding symptoms of COVID-19. This is to help ensure those first responders are able to put on the proper protective equipment (masks, gloves, etc.). All are asked to answer these questions honestly, but “I Don’t Know” is absolutely an okay answer.
With a municipal court system as large as Hattiesburg’s, court leadership have also been working diligently and deliberately to work through processes that will provide alternative ways to do business by phone and email due to COVID-19. These are addressed by an emergency administrative order signed by Judge Wes Curry this week (click to view).
This order states that all cases scheduled for the weeks of March 16 – March 20 and March 23 – 27, including all previously scheduled plea days, trial days, DUI days and other dockets, will be continued (rescheduled).
Specifically, this means:
- All defendants scheduled for court cases during this time period and attorneys are instructed to contact the court via phone at 601-545-4938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out when said case will be rescheduled.
- Cases that are not reset within a reasonable amount of time will be reset by Court order.
- All defendants wishing to plea guilty to traffic cases may do so by phone at 601-545-4938 or email email@example.com. Once communication occurs, instruction to fill out guilty plea forms will follow.
Barker added, “Court will remain open to the public, to allow for the filing of motions, charges, the seeking of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, payment of fines and costs.”
While open, all will be asked several screening questions before proceeding. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough + shortness of breath) should proceed with conducting court business via phone at 601-545-4938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking steps to better protect the public health of the Hattiesburg community and to provide guidelines for the business community, Barker also addressed guidelines for businesses through the issuance of an executive order.
“While we know more in our community will be sick and COVID-19 will spread, please be reassured that your medical community, educational institutions, elected officials and city/county administrators are doing all we can to create a best-case scenario so that we all move through this pandemic together,” said Barker. “This means adjusting some key policies as it relates to restaurants, bars and other event venues. Protecting our public health is paramount. Keeping our head about us and making strategic decisions to keep Hattiesburg functioning is also important.”
That order is effective March 18, 2020, through March 31, 2020, and it includes:
- All full-service restaurants with indoor seating will cease operations at 9 p.m. daily. Once the dining room closes, a restaurant may still offer delivery or pick-up and to-go orders.
- To further the city’s social distancing efforts, full-service restaurants and coffee shops will reduce indoor seating capacity by half – or to 50, whichever is less. Restaurants must provide at least 6 feet of space between tables.
- Full-service restaurants and coffee shops will also reduce outdoor seating capacity by half – or to 50, whichever is less. Restaurants must provide at least 6 feet of space between tables.
- Bars and nightclubs will cease service at 12 a.m. daily. They will reduce their capacity by half of the posted patron limit. Last call will be 11:15 p.m. Everyone must be out and headed home by midnight.
- Mall food courts – both at Turtle Creek and Cloverleaf – will reduce seating capacity to 50 people and ensure there is at least 6 feet between tables.
- Operators will post notice to patrons that when they depart to please consider returning home.
- Operators will not allow gathering for waiting for seating, or access purposes. They will implement use of text messaging, phone call or other notification to advise if the table is ready.
- Operators will encourage no public gatherings in any area.
- Once patrons exit the premises of restaurants or bars, they may not loiter in the street or congregate in groups outside. This will be enforced city-wide.
- All dance hall permits are hereby suspended until March 31, 2020.
- All event venues shall ensure that there are no gatherings of more than 50 people.
- All gyms and fitness centers shall ensure there are no more than 50 people in their facilities at one time and will practice frequent sanitation methods throughout business hours.
“We are mandating these new guidelines and requesting restaurants, bars and businesses comply with these recommendations – understanding that they could change any day, just as what we know about this virus and federal/state mandates and guidelines are changing, every day.”
Barker closed the press conference by releasing an initiative to support local business – “The Hattiesburg Way.” This effort is a commitment by restaurants and bars to assure customers of a safe and healthy transaction while the community works together through COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
The commitments include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Insist that employees DO NOT come to work if they are not well.
- Employees will have temperatures checked at beginning of shifts and answer questionnaires about contact with those who might be unwell.
- Increased hand washing
- All servers will wear gloves.
- Tables and chairs are wiped down each time a table is turned.
- Restaurants will ensure sanitizer solution buckets and towels on each kitchen station will be changed hourly.
- Restaurants will comply with distancing methods for dining rooms to meet capacity guidelines.
- Hand sanitizer available for customers.
- Pre-wrapped plastic cutlery will be available to customers.
- Protocols for take-out and curbside delivery where needed.
- Eliminate self-service stations.
“This virus is testing all of us. It is uncomfortable. It is disrupting our normal way of life. But it is here, and it will be with us for the next weeks and months. We will get through this, but we’ve got to stick together,” said Barker. “Use your local restaurant and coffee shop. Go get a gift card for future use. Order pick-up or curbside delivery. As Hattiesburgers, we celebrate each other’s successes and we pick each other up when there is a challenge. This situation presents an opportunity for all of us to do our part.”
For additional updates as they are released about COVID-19, visit hattiesburgms.com/coronavirus.