Southaven aldermen are, at its meeting Tuesday evening, expected to rescind the city’s COVID-19 civil emergency ordinance, but continue to abide by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ current shelter-in-place order, which was extended and amended on Friday morning, April 17 to be effective on April 20 through April 27.
Reeves’ order Friday said lakes and beaches could reopen and some currently closed businesses can offer curbside, drive-through, or delivery options.
Aldermen Tuesday will also consider Mayor Darren Musselwhite’s plan to reopen city businesses and facilities on a phased-in basis with the goal of having them completely open on June 1.
Musselwhite detailed his plan at a special meeting Friday afternoon remotely attended by the board with the exception of Alderman John David Wheeler, who was in attendance.
No action was taken at the Friday session, but the mayor wanted to present the plan in a public setting so his residents could have hope the state’s third-largest city is moving back to some sort of normalcy.
‘I know people have made sacrifices, they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do,” Musselwhite said. “It’s time now for some hope. We’ve got some hope for the future.”
In what could be called the “33-50-100 comeback plan,” Musselwhite said certain businesses that have been closed would be allowed to reopen on a conditional basis as of 12:01 a.m. on April 28.
The businesses able to reopen would be required to allow 33 percent of its occupancy limit inside the business at one time. That restriction would be in place through May 15 at 12:01 a.m. At that time, the number of people allowed at one time in a business would be expanded to 50 percent of occupancy limits. The restrictions would come completely off and everything could reopen on June 1 at 12:01 a.m. The June target date is subject to any further updates.
Distancing restrictions would still be in place, per CDC and state health directives.
During the first phase of the plan, theaters, recreational and amusement facilities would remain closed. That includes playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, baseball/softball fields, and football/soccer fields. Golf courses, tennis courts, walking/running trails, and other activities done without teams are permitted to operate with distancing requirements.
City government facility interiors would also stay closed, other than those for public meetings required by state law, fire and police stations. Drive-thru payment stations, drop boxes, and other remote means would continue to be used.
Gyms may reopen with capacity limits on April 28. Theaters would be taken off the “closed” list when Phase II comes into effect in May.
Snowden Grove and Greenbrook Park facilities and the Southaven Arena would open for baseball, softball, and volleyball tournaments with distance limitations on May 15. Concessions won’t be open and some admission fees for tournaments may be increased to cover expected concession financial losses. Fans won’t be able to use the bleachers but can bring lawn chairs to sit and watch games.
Forever Young senior activities won’t be open until June 1 under Musselwhite’s plan.
The Southaven mayor said he gets a daily update from Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto and health officials on the trends of coronavirus cases locally and at the state level. Musselwhite said indications are that the trends are favorable and that the measures taken are working.
“We know that we can’t stop the spread of this virus, but we know that the number one goal is to slow it, so we don’t take a risk of an overrun of our healthcare facilities,” Musselwhite noted. “I’m proud to tell you that today, so far, that overrun is not happening in Southaven and DeSoto County.”
Friday, 213 people in DeSoto County had reported a positive case of coronavirus with just three deaths in a county of approximately 185,000 population. The Friday case figure was a rise of just two from the previous day.
Musselwhite took a moment Friday to address what he called misinformation about the city’s stance of places of worship holding services. Churches have been considered essential services, but gatherings were limited to 10 people or less. Many churches in the area went to online means to hold services in the past few weeks since the Shelter-in-Place and Civil Emergency was instituted.
“Anything that the City of Southaven has done related to churches was never intended to restrict worship in any way,” the mayor said. “We were told that the more you limit public gatherings, the more you minimize the risk to your people.”
As far as a Constitutional basis behind limiting gatherings, Musselwhite referred to a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling from a Massachusetts case where it determined that governments have a Constitutional right to temporarily limit assemblies, “that may pose a danger to the general health and welfare to the public.”
He also explained why playgrounds would continue to be closed during the ramp-up to June’s 100 percent reopening.
“Playgrounds are a place where kids all touch the same thing,” Musselwhite said. “There is no way to keep them separated, like youngsters coming down a slide or on a swing. Playgrounds bring a tight gathering of kids all touching things. A playground is an extremely dangerous place for what we’re facing right now.”
The mayor added that if Reeves delays his lifting of the Shelter-in-Place order beyond April 27, the city’s plan would be adjusted.
“If the governor decides Shelter-in-Place needs to stay longer, we will comply with that,” Musselwhite said. “We would just adjust our plan according to that. Maybe we adjust the percentages somewhat. That’s something we won’t know until we know what the governor decides to do. We will stay in compliance with his order.”