Some Starkville businesses are allowed to reopen with restrictions under Gov. Tate Reeves’ new executive order that took effect Monday, but all employees and customers over the age of 6 are required to wear protective face masks from 8 a.m. today until 8 a.m. May 11 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the board of aldermen decided Monday with a 5-2 vote at a special-call meeting.
The resolution requires businesses to “provide adequate supervision, including door monitors” to make sure no one enters without a mask.
The city will also keep its 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in place until May 11, a measure that Starkville Police Chief Mark Ballard said is necessary.
Violators of the curfew or the mask order face a fine of up to $1,000.
Reeves’ “shelter in place” order expired Monday morning after being in place since April 3. The new “safer at home” order still requires people to follow social distancing guidelines but allows some businesses to open with a maximum of 50 percent of their capacity of customers at a time.
Spruill initially proposed that only employees be required to wear masks and said she thought requiring customers to do the same was an overreach, but she supported the board’s decision to extend the requirement to customers.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman David Little were the two dissenting votes and said they opposed the mask requirement.
“We’re about seven to eight weeks into (the pandemic) now, and we haven’t required the masks early on,” Little said. “To come in now, late in the game, and apply that is a little restrictive, and I think it comes down to personal choice.”
Carver agreed that wearing a mask is a matter of “freedom of choice,” though he also said people who are elderly or have health problems should wear masks for their own safety. He said he would not be surprised to see a spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19 as the state reopens but emphasized “personal responsibility” for keeping the virus contained.
“Personally I just don’t have a lot of fear of this pandemic right now,” Carver said. “I’m not a big mask-wearer.”
Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty disputed Carver’s statements and said he would feel safer in a store if everyone was wearing a mask. He also reminded the board that some people might pick up the virus in a public place and never show symptoms but pass it on to someone at serious risk, such as an elderly relative.
“On the surface, maybe it is an impediment to our personal freedoms, what we want to do and how we want to do it, but these are extraordinary times,” Beatty said. “I’m all for personal freedoms and constitutional rights, but this is something we’ve got to get a handle on.”
Spruill told The Dispatch she believed the resolution is appropriate to make everyone comfortable going places if they must during the pandemic, even if it risks infringing on personal freedom of choice.
“I don’t think a two-week requirement for wearing masks is overly burdensome,” Spruill said. “It certainly has a definite end in sight, but I think to keep our entire community safe, it’s an infringement that’s worth the risk.”
Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins proposed requiring customers as well as employees to wear masks.
“We need to do that because we are trying to enact every measure that is reasonably necessary and proper to curb the spread (of COVID-19),” Perkins said.
Spruill suggested requiring businesses to have extra masks on hand for customers who do not have one upon arrival, but Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said such a requirement would be “cumbersome” and the decision should be left up to the individual business owner.
The entire board supported continuing the curfew that it first enacted at its April 7 meeting, with an exception for essential travel, and set to automatically extend and end with Reeves’ shelter-in-place order. Oktibbeha County has its own curfew with many of the same parameters that will last until May 6.
Ballard asked the board to “please stay the course” and keep the curfew. He said “the streets are relatively quiet” now that the curfew deters residents of other cities and counties from coming to Starkville to avoid their own curfews.
“The average working person from 10 (p.m.) to 5 (a.m.) is not deeply affected by this curfew, but public safety and public health are impacted,” Ballard said.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.