Selectmen OK face-covering mandate for retailers, keep parks closed

City Attorney, Orlando Richmond with the West Point Board of Selectmen during an emergency meeting Tuesday, May 5.
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The West Point Board of Selectmen and Mayor Robbie Robinson called an emergency meeting to discuss Governor Tate Reeve's announcement of implementing Stage 2 of Safer at Home.

"There are some changes that I thought we needed to discuss," Robinson said. "There was a new executive order passed Monday."

Robinson said he was concerned about opening parks, and was against it at this time.

Safer At Home Stage 2 had the following changes:

In-house dining at restaurants with strict social distancing and sanitation, with 50% seating capacity.

Bars and bar areas not offering food services remain closed.

Outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people will be permitted and parks can open to the public with limited hours.

"It gives the Board of Selectman the authority to be more restrictive if it so desires," City Attorney Orlando Richmond said. "But it cannot be more lax on the guidelines."

Richmond said that means social outdoor gatherings cannot have more than 20 people and those people need to continue to practice social distancing.

Robinson had mentioned at the beginning of the meeting his concern about opening parks to the public. The board as a whole voted to not open the parks to the public at this time.

"The walking tracks are still open, " Robinson said. "We hope everyone will continue to take advantage of those.”

Restaurants have the opportunity to open at 50% capacity with tables a safe distance from each other.

"I have not been able to get facial coverings for my employees, hand sanitizer is impossible to get," Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer said. "I hope they will be on the next truck. We have gloves. Tennessee and Georgia are open, but the Captain Ds there are still doing drive-thru and take out. It will take a lot of changes to become compliant with the guidelines for opening the dining room."

There must be disposable plates and utensils, while the self-serve drinks will not be available, McBrayer said.

"I think we will open the front, but not the dining area," McBrayer said. "That way customers who call in can pick up their order without having to come to the drive-thru. We want to serve our customers to the best of our abilities and still be within the guidelines."

Ward 2 Selectman William Binder shared his concern about the lack of facial coverings in West Point businesses.

"We wear the face coverings to keep from spreading the virus," Binder said. "I think we should require everyone to wear a facial covering when out."

Binder also said everyone should wear a face covering when entering a retail store.

"We start on a slippery slope when we start mandating everyone wear a mask," Richmond said. "If a mask or facial covering is required to enter an establishment, what about those who do not have access to face coverings?"
Ward 3 Selectman Ken Poole said the people who want to wear them already are.

"There are people who are making them," Poole said. "Some are selling them, some are giving them away. But we need to allow people to make their own decisions. We have taken what may look like a lot. People are going to get tired of not being able to do this, but having to do that."

Richmond said it is possible Monday, that the governor may open everything.

He recommended looking at the data and waiting until the regular meeting Tuesday, May 12.

"This sort of thing has never happened before," Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman said. "We represent the people, and they come first. I don't have a problem making a decision and then changing it to meet the needs of the people."
McBrayer asked how to go about enforcing the wearing of masks, if so many people don't pay attention to the recommendations for social distancing?

"The numbers of those positive with COVID-19 have increased because of testing," Torrey Williams, EMA director for Clay County, said. "We highly recommend wearing face coverings to reduce the number of people infected."
The owners and managers of retail stores will be the ones to enforce the wearing of face coverings, it is working in Starkville and Oxford, according to Binder.

"It’s about putting things in place to keep our people safe," Selectwoman Leta Turner, of Ward 1, said.

The requiring of wearing a facial covering when entering a retail establishment was put to a vote with Keith McBrayer, William Binder, Leta Ford, and Jasper Pittman voting yes and Ken Poole voting no.
The board came to an agreement to implement the wearing of facial coverings when entering retail stores. at noon, Monday, May 11.