Gov. Tate Reeves clarified Thursday an executive order he passed earlier this week limiting gatherings and businesses throughout the state in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, putting to rest concerns by local officials that the order would supersede emergency restrictions previously passed by municipalities or counties.
On Tuesday, Reeves issued Executive Order No. 1463, which mandated Mississippians “avoid social or other non-essential gatherings in groups of more than 10 people” and that “restaurants, bars, or other dining establishments shall suspend dine-in services unless able to reduce capacity to allow no more than 10 people to be gathered in a single space at the same time where individuals are seated or otherwise in close proximity to each other,” among other restrictions.
The order also identified “essential businesses,” such as health care, grocery stores and law enforcement, and mandated local officials could not further restrict those services.
Reeves’ order, which was less restrictive than many local emergency ordinances already passed in municipalities across the state, raised alarms among mayors and city attorneys, including in Columbus and Starkville. Both Columbus’ city council and Starkville’s board of aldermen have passed emergency resolutions within the last week suspending dine-in services altogether and mandating restaurants serve customers via takeout, drive-through or delivery. Columbus’ council went a step further by enacting a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew and closing other businesses it deemed nonessential.
At a press conference Thursday, Reeves clarified his order was meant to be a statewide minimum and that officials in individual municipalities and counties had the option to enact further restrictions, such as curfews or the closings of nonessential businesses, if they felt it was the right option for their communities.
“If you have a small community restaurant in Prentiss that has, including employees, four or five people dining there, then you are in compliance with the state EO,” Reeves said. “If, however, the City of Prentiss decides that they want to limit all restaurants to only dine-out services, they have the authority to do so.”
Both Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill and Columbus City Attorney Jeff Turnage said their primary concern with the order had to do with the restaurants.
“I wanted clarification on the restaurants and the dine-in option that he provided,” Spruill said. “… He was pretty clear in the press conference that the cities are well within our authority, even under his executive order, to ban dine-in restaurants. That follows with our resolution that we passed on (March) 20.”
Turnage said the press conference and other talks with the governor’s office also assured him the city is in line with the executive order, for the most part.
“I got clarification from the governor’s office today that the city is not restricted from prohibiting dine-in services, so that was the main thing the city is concerned about,” he said.
Turnage said the only part of the order that may not line up with Columbus’ emergency resolution relates to essential businesses or services. Reeves stressed during his press conference that local governments did not have the right to restrict those service’ operations.
Included in the order’s list of essential businesses is child care facilities, which the city of Columbus ordered closed by March 21 at 5 p.m., along with other non-essential businesses such as convention centers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, nightclubs and gyms.
“Child care (facilities), we are looking at that,” Turnage said. “I don’t think there’s any citations. The mayor and city council will take that up when they meet next time.
“We’re not planning to violate the governor’s orders with that, in a nutshell,” he added.
Spruill said none of the essential businesses listed in Reeves’ order clash with anything Starkville’s board of aldermen has passed. She said any further action the board took with regard to essential services “would need to” be in line with the order.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith has renewed the citywide 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew through 6 a.m. on Monday, according to a city press release.
The city council enacted the curfew Saturday, along with closing “nonessential” businesses, passing restrictions on others and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. City officials hope the new restrictions will limit person-to-person transmission of the virus.
Smith said the curfew may be renewed again on Monday.