Mayor Barker Announces Working Group in COVID-19 Response

Mayor Barker Announces Working Group in COVID-19 Response

Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Wednesday night, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker addressed citizens via Facebook Live to announce a community working group as the next step in the city’s response to COVID-19. This working group will be tasked with identifying both the challenges and creative solutions in re-opening all facets of Hattiesburg after the shelter-in-place ends.

“As we have done with every decision, we try and see the landscape for what it is and what it could become. We try to put knowledgeable voices at the table, share information and get buy-in ahead of time,” said Barker. “This approach recognizes that one person or group does not have all the answers, and we are better when we solve problems together.”

The group includes leaders in the community across health care, government, tourism and hospitality, the private sector, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, and Hattiesburg representatives that were selected for Governor Tate Reeves Task Force.

Barker added, “Understanding these realities, I believe a team approach is best in navigating the uncertain times that lay ahead. Together, we will try to build consensus on how closely to follow guidance and timelines from the state and federal government, understanding that the unique needs of Hattiesburg might be different than those of other parts of the state or country. We will look at local testing data. We will look at best practices. Ultimately, I and other government leaders want to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone in Hattiesburg, and having people who know their fields and know their business is key in making the best decisions.”

The working group consists of the following:


  • Phyllis Chambers-Berry, DNP – Forrest General
  • Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh – Forrest General
  • Traci Rouse – Merit Health Wesley
  • Dr. Steven Farrell – Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic
  • Matthew Banks – Merit Health Wesley
  • Andy Woodard – Forrest General
  • Dr. Bryan Batson – Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic
  • Dr. Sherry Turner – Merit Health Wesley
  • Karen Newell – Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative
  • Sherri Siggers – City of Hattiesburg Employee Health
  • Dr. Rita Porter – Pine Belt Mental Health Care



  • David Hogan – President of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors
  • Jody Waits – Administrator of Lamar County
  • State Representative Missy McGee
  • State Senator Juan Barnett
  • Glen Moore – Forrest County Emergency Management



  • Chad Edmonson – Lee-Way Financial
  • Jonathan Krebs – Horne LLP
  • Valencia Williamson – The ADP
  • Todd Jackson – The ADP
  • Jerome Brown – The First, ANBA
  • Hoppy Cole – The First, ANBA
  • Carlos Flores – Jefcoat Fence
  • Abb Payne – Payne Companies
  • Roman Galey – Southgroup
  • Bernard Green –  Global Green Insurance
  • Chamberlan Carothers – SVN Realty



  • Marlo Dorsey – Visit Hattiesburg
  • Frank James – Hilton
  • Nelson Haskin – Blu Jazz
  • Diana Pennington Hembree  – Keg & Barrel
  • Chris Ortego – Cotton Blues
  • Rebecca Chandler – HCLO and Hattiesburg Ballroom and Beyond



  • Carlos Wilson – Ebenezer Baptist
  • Jeff Clark – Venture Church
  • Traci Fowler – United Way of Southeast Mississippi
  • Michael Dixon  –  Pinebelt Foundation
  • Reginald Woullard – Shady Grove Baptist
  • Father Tommy Conway – St. Fabians
  • David Martinez – Iglesia Vida



  • Robert St. John – New South Restaurant Group
  • Jonathan Jones – Jones Companies


In addition to announcing the group, Mayor Barker also thanked citizens for patience and cooperation with executive orders and the shelter-in-place order.

He said, “With good personal and collective decisions, we have seen the 5-day average of new positive cases for the Hattiesburg metro area begin to come down. While we are still seeing multiple new cases per day – sometimes in the double digits; and some of the higher rates  thus far of COVID-19 related hospitalizations (at least for our two hospitals) – we do believe we are making measured progress toward our two goals.”

Barker has defined the following goals for the city’s response to COVID-19:

  • Protecting the city’s most vulnerable populations; and
  • Preventing an overrun of the health care system by slowing the spread

The announcement also included a call to action by all citizens to be kind and have compassion for those most vulnerable as the city continues to make decisions in response to COVID-19

He closed, “In the end, we will get through this. But I want us to look back on this time and be proud of how our community responded. I want us to look back one day and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best of ourselves showed up each and every day.”



5-Day Average Graph through April 20, 2020