The capital city is headed into the first phase of reopening for two weeks starting Saturday, May 16, when Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s “Stay at Home” executive order lapses.
Lumumba, speaking yesterday at a press conference at the City Hall Garden, said Gov. Tate Reeves’ state order relaxing COVID-19-related restrictions forced his hand. Jackson cannot be an island where local businesses are at a disadvantage because customers patronize businesses in adjourning cities, he said.
“The reason that I stand before you prepared to relax some of the restrictions is because we now have the governor's order that has enabled businesses to open up around us, and so that brings the question whether our continued effort at social distancing is more of a notion or reality,” the mayor said at the press briefing.
Lumumba said the City’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 have yielded fruit with lower recorded infection and death rates compared to other places in Mississippi and also among similar-sized cities across the country.
“We are proud of these efforts, and we think that these efforts are directly related to the proactive steps that we have implemented as a city,” he said.
The mayor shared details of what the City has done to date to keep infections and deaths lower in Jackson than they could have been. “We put together a comprehensive effort that has provided more tests to our residents and first responders and even those who are currently confined in the Hinds County Jail.”
‘Resources and a Support System’
The new “Stay Safe Jackson” order clears the way for many Jackson businesses and nonprofits to open starting Saturday, including restaurants, barbershops and gyms. The more specific details of the new guidelines will be on the City’s website by Thursday, but draft documents are available there now.
Rickey Thigpen, CEO of Visit Jackson, speaking after Lumumba’s initial remarks, noted that the plan is not just about regulations. He said it “also provides resources and a support system to help our business community to be successful during this phase one of reopening.”
The City is still requiring businesses and individuals in Jackson to continue social distancing, David Lewis, deputy director of the City's Department of Human and Cultural Services, noted at the briefing. This includes the use of facial covering and the practice of maintaining 6 feet of distance between people.
During this two-week “slow open” phase, gatherings in Jackson will continue to be limited to no more than 10 people, and people should practice proper handwashing for 20 seconds. If soap or water is not available, people should use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol after touching public surfaces like gas pumps and doorknobs, Lewis said.
New Rules for Retail Businesses; No Contact Sports
For retail businesses, Lumumba is restricting the number of customers excluding employees in the store at one time. The sampling of food or products is prohibited as are services that require the removal of face-covering. Businesses should encourage customers to use hand sanitizers upon entering the store.
Lewis said venues should use plexiglass protective barriers at registers, and businesses should screen employees daily for symptoms of COVID-19 infection, including daily temperature tests.
Restaurants and bars, in addition to the above, must set closing hours no later than 10 p.m., and screen customers for illnesses upon entrance by asking questions or by posting a list of health indicators. Restaurants must seat no more than six customers at a table with no sitting at the bar or a counter.
City Attorney Timothy Howard said at the press conference that workers shall sanitize all front-of-house and high-contact areas at a minimum of every two hours.
“All individuals living in the City of Jackson are encouraged to stay at home or in their place of residence, when not engaged in permitted activities in the Stay Safe Jackson order, which will be on the website by Thursday,” he said.
Non-contact sports may resume, subject to strict guidelines, but no contact sports. Theater houses and places of amusements must remain closed. The City will reopen parks, but exercise equipment cannot yet be used.
Churches, which the State designates as essential businesses and services, must conduct services with at least 6 feet between worshipers. Lumumba encouraged those who are at high risk of COVID-19 complications to stay at home.
“While these may not be the measures that I would implement based on where the data has us at this time, there is little choice and in many regards our hands (are) forced,” he said. “And as opposed to having businesses opened up in violation, doing it the way they see it across the city, we are electing to have an organized process by which we open up safely and to the best of our ability to keep people safe.
“From day one, the question that we have been balancing, has been how do we protect the safety and health of our citizens while simultaneously operating an economy in the presence of COVID-19,” Lumumba added.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.