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COVID Cases Are Up In The County


WATER VALLEY – The number of COVID-19 cases in Yalobusha County has spiked during the last week according to the latest statistics from the Mississippi Department of Health. Tuesday’s report shows there have been 36 positive cases in the county since March 11, with 14 new cases reported during the last week. 

Yalobusha County remains one of 15 counties in the state that does not have a reported death from the virus. The total number of deaths statewide since March 11 has increased to 435, with 22 new deaths reported Tuesday.

The latest number of positive cases also includes the first case at the Yalobusha Nursing Home. Officials at Yalobusha General Hospital and Nursing Home confirmed the case Monday morning and reported protocols are in place to manage and treat the patient, as well as those who have been in close contact with the patient. 

Residents’ families were notified of the first confirmed case Sunday and Monday. A hotline, (662) 473-5299, was also set up at the nursing home and hospital to distribute information.

City Leaders Urge Residents To Wear Masks, Decide Not To Reopen Walking Track

Even before the spike in local cases, the Water Valley Board of Alderpersons and Mayor Donald Gray issued a strong recommendation for residents in the city to wear a mask or face covering when entering an essential business or where there is a group of people in an area you are entering. The recommendation followed a lengthy discussion during the monthly city meeting on May 5 about mandating masks or face coverings in Water Valley. 

Aldermen ultimately decided against the mask mandate as the topic shifted from a broad requirement for all citizens to wear masks in public to only requiring businesses that sell groceries or medical supplies to have their employees wear masks or face coverings. Mayor Donald Gray offered an alternative to the mandate, explaining that he would visit the businesses that sell these products and ask if they would require their employees to wear masks.

Gray first opened the discussion, explaining that he has fielded calls on both sides of this issue.

“I have visited with a lot of businesses in town, asking for their opinions. Most of them do not want a mandatory mask order,” Gray said, adding that different reasons were cited by the businesses.

“They did understand that they are taking a risk when they allow people to come in without a mask. But there is the other side of this that we know it is very contagious. We don’t know if masks totally stops it, it is one of the things that might stop it. I will open it up to y’all and let you express your opinions. And if we require it, how will we police it?” Gray added.

Ward One Alderman Kagan Coughlin was first to offer his opinion. 

“I wish that everyone would put a mask on … I can’t think of a good reason not to wear one. Why would you not if it could help at this time?” Coughlin asked.  “But at the same time, this is America and we pride ourselves in allowing people to make foolish decisions for themselves or not believe science. What would we do if half the community gets very angry and refuses to wear masks? Right now, half of the community is choosing not to wear masks and hopefully they are feeling some sort of social pressure to wear masks. If we made it a rule, what would we do if they said no?” Coughlin continued.

“We are seeing that in other communities,” Gray said about pushback from similar mandates in other cities. “Like you said, people are saying this is America and we have rights. And I know we have to have laws and rules to operate, I know we do. I just don’t want to overstep sometimes. I see both sides of this,” the mayor reiterated adding that he has two people in his household who have preexisting health conditions.

“We hope everyone is responsible, it goes back to being my brothers’ keepers,” Gray said.

Ward 4 Alderperson Nicole Folson was next to share her opinion. 

“Just like Kagan, I am for wearing the masks personally. I know some people who don’t wear the masks, don’t want to wear the masks and that is totally their choice. But I know that we can’t just say mandate and require this because policing it is a whole other issue,” Folson said. “But if somebody is not wearing a mask, I am not going in their business. But that is just me,” Folson said.

Alderman-at-Large Herbie Rogers spoke next, explaining that both he and his wife had been hospitalized with the virus.

“We know both sides of this and we know the importance of wearing the mask,” Rogers shared. “But I look at the people we have in our great city and I put a lot of faith in these people, to make their decisions the right way. I feel like that we don’t need to mandate something that they need to do. I would rather try to enforce the mask in our own personal ways, so I am against mandating this,” Rogers added.

Next to speak was Ward 3 Alderperson Cinnamon Foster.

“I wear a lot of hats and one of my hats is as a healthcare provider as a Family Nurse Practitioner,” Foster said. “I have been trained to protect myself and others, so my personal philosophy would be to please wear a mask. The mask can’t hurt you, it can protect you and the others that you come in contact with,” she added.

Foster also stressed that masks must be worn correctly.

“A lot of it is in education, if you are going to wear a mask and you don’t know how it should fit, please contact me,” Foster added. 

Foster also shared that she had discussed enforcement challenges with the police chief.

“If we mandate a face covering, how do we actually enforce that. Do we have the capacity to do that. How much overtime are we willing to pay, what fine are we going put on the violation of not having a face covering and will it stand up in court,” Foster explained about enforcement challenges. 

Water Valley Police Chief Jason Mangrum added that the mandate would be difficult to enforce without allocating significant overtime pay for his officers.

Citing a quote from Governor Tate Reeves, Foster shared that Mississippians ultimately have the power to reduce the spread of the virus by making smart, individual decisions.

“I would love to see everybody wearing masks, because I have personally seen what this virus can do and the devastation it can cause. On the other hand, we do not have the city resources to enforce such an ordinance,” Foster said.

The next input came from a citizen, Joe York, who explained he is a strong proponent for wearing masks in public places. York also said he understands the enforcement issues cited by city officials.

“Perhaps it would make sense to have a measured response to this,” York added as he recommended that masks be required in grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and places that provide essential services where people must go to get the things they need to survive.

Foster noted that business owners already have the right to require masks in their stores without a city mandate.

Gray added that he had already shared that input when he visited businesses prior to the city meeting.

“I think I am seeing everyone basically having the same opinion, that we wish that everyone would wear masks. But with our limited resources of enforcement and also not wanting to tread on the rights of the individuals to make decision, that we will not require it,” Gray said.

The mayor also said he would like to publicize that the city would strongly suggest wearing masks in public.

“I think pleading to our citizens in Water Valley would be a whole lot more efficient than trying to mandate something, I think they would abide by it a whole lot better,” Rogers agreed.

“I don’t think that we can police the population, but if we have the authority I would be much more open to requiring the businesses to have any of their staff that are touching merchandise that is of a critical need to our population, that they must be masked,” Coughlin then recommended.

Gray then asked City Attorney Daniel Martin for input on the city’s authority for the mandate.

“The authority of the city through the emergency state of declaration gives extreme authority to the board to implement practices and procedures which they feel will protect the community from this pandemic,” Martin explained, adding there is also clear authority for the city to impose fines for violating the city requirements.

Martin also said he is confident that the police would work to educate people in the community about a mandate, if city officials implement it, before citing violators.

Martin also said the city has the authority to place restrictions on specific businesses.

“What if I go to the businesses (food and medical businesses) and ask if they would require their employees to wear masks?” Gray asked. “The businesses that I have spoken with, they are all willing to do what they need to do.”

Coughlin countered with a motion for the City of Water Valley to require businesses that sell food or medical supplies to enforce a mask policy for their employees, which spawned questions about both policing and procedural problems for the limited mandate and the motion died.

“The motion died without a second, but I still will visit the businesses,” Gray said about making the request for businesses that sells groceries and medical supplies for their employees to wear masks without the mandate. 

“Thank you mayor, I think a lot of this is shuffling on who is the bad person, and I think it would make it easier on the business owners if we are willing to take that bullet. But if we want to see if they will bear that mantle, and if they don’t I will raise this topic again,” Coughlin said.

“We haven’t made any steps publicly yet, so I am proud to see that we are actually discussing it and discussing it publicly and reaching out to the public. Like I said, if it were up to me, everybody needs to cover their face. But we have to look at other things like how to police it,” Foster added.

Walking Track Will Remain Closed

Also in last Tuesday’s meeting aldermen decided not to reopen the walking track at Crawford Sports Complex.  Gray asked for aldermen for input on reopening the track, adding that he would be in favor of opening it.

“The weather is getting pretty and everybody is wanting to walk, I don’t have an objection to opening the walking track,” Gray stated. He also cited the latest order from the governor, which allowed restaurants to reopen if they meet safety guidelines. The mayor also noted the order allows outside gatherings up to 20 people as long as they maintain social distancing.

“I don’t think that is a problem at the walking track, but that is my opinion,” Gray said about maintaining adequate distance between walkers. “Unfortunately with the playgrounds, I just don’t think we can do that,” he said about reopening other areas of city parks.

Foster cited input from the governor’s office, explaining municipal and private parks are allowed to reopen for recreational, outdoor activities from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. But Foster said playgrounds are not included in the governor’s order and cannot reopen yet.

“My main concern around closing the sports complex was around minimizing the amount of work that our emergency personnel have to worry about and respond to,” Coughlin said. “The mortality rates have not improved, the contagion rates have not improved since our last meeting.”  

Coughlin added that in a rural area, he does not feel a need to open the city parks or walking tracks at this time.

“As a healthcare professional, I must agree with Kagan. Even though I understand that people aren’t going to be walking on top of each other on the track, how do we police that?” Foster said.

“I totally agree. If we do open that walking track, people are going to be so excited to be out and be on the track, some people are going to take their children as well. So I think that would be a problem,” Folson added. “People have other places that they can walk.”

“At this time with the problems we have, I agree that we need to keep everything closed,” Rogers said as all four alderpersons were in agreement not to reopen the track.

Statement From The Mayor

Gray also provided a statement about his role during the last month after sharing that he has been accused of being an absent mayor during this time.

“I don’t do Facebook, so they don’t see me on Facebook making announcements like the mayor of Oxford does. But let me tell me what I have been doing,” Gray explained during the meeting.

Gray said he has worked diligently with city departments to help protect the employees’ health while continuing to provide city services. He cited examples including the Easter night storm when the crews with the city electric department worked long hours to restore electricity, as well as tracking down supplies to ensure city workers are protected.

“We have been trying to keep our city going. I haven’t been an absent mayor. I have been accused of that by a couple of people. So I wanted to just make that general statement,” Gray said. He also noted the accusations didn’t come from board members.

“I don’t appreciate being called an absent mayor. To the public, I have shared my phone number with people. We are trying to get through this thing together. No one has the answers. We have never faced this before, as a world, as a country, as a county or as a city,” Gray said.

He also noted earlier disasters, like Katrina, were not widespread and assistance came from neighboring states or even other countries.

“But right now, we are all going through it together. And no one has the answers. There are people who are a lot, lot smarter than me who don’t have the answers. We are just trying to do the best that we know how to do,” Gray added.

The meeting marked the second month for city officials to meet remotely using a video interface to conduct business. Aldermen Fred White was absent. 

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