Mayor George Flaggs, Jr. shocked many people listening to Monday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting when he mentioned that doctors from the coronavirus task force could force a shutdown on pharmacies and grocery stores as soon as next week.
Reached after the meeting, Flaggs clarified that he has spoken with representatives from the area’s grocery and big box stores, as well as doctors with the state task force, and he has put the onus of whether they will be allowed to stay open in Vicksburg on the stores.
To comply with the most recent state orders, the stores must enforce social distancing, limit the number of shoppers in the stores at any one time as well as providing hand sanitizers and insisting customers wear masks while shopping, Flaggs said.
He emphasized that he doesn’t want to shut anyone down, but the situation is serious enough that protocols must be followed and enforced, even in essential businesses like grocery stores.
“This is serious,” he said repeatedly.
To their credit, Walmart announced new procedures for shoppers last week to enforce social distancing guidelines in their stores nationwide.
Flaggs said the task force doctors feel strongly on this matter due to the rate of infection for grocery store and pharmacy employees.
“With the shelter in place order in effect, that actually means that you stop going to the store unless you have no other choice,” wrote task force member Dr. Daniel Edney in a Facebook post Sunday. “Think about the common link in the community that is left … stores. Yes, the grocery stores are staying open but this is for emergencies—not normal shopping. You need to have enough supplies to get through at least 2 weeks and up to 4 weeks WITHOUT going to the store.”
Doctors are looking at the incredibly high numbers in New York state, which has lost as many as 600 people per day due to the virus.
Gov. Tate Reeves has listed pharmacies and grocery stores as essential businesses in his executive orders, including in the shelter-in-place order that took effect on April 3. He has also said that no municipal or county government can do less than his orders, but are free to do more.
“Whether you agree or disagree with the governor, I’m not going to be against him,” Flaggs said.
According to Flaggs, 1.4 billion dollars will be given to the state of Mississippi to help with financial constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic. After losing tax revenue from Sports Force Park, casinos and the tourism industry Flaggs will cooperate with Reeves by all means necessary.
“I don’t know how the state will reimburse cities, but if Gov. Reeves is gonna determine how much money I get then I’m not gonna bite the hand that feeds me,” he said.
In Mississippi, Mayor Flaggs believes we are two weeks ahead of flattening the apex curve, but the next two weeks will be the worst so far.
“This is going to be a tough week,” Flaggs said.
Warren County currently sits at five confirmed COVID-19 cases. Mayor Flaggs does not believe these numbers reflect the drive-through testing conducted in Vicksburg last week.
“It is a seven-day turnaround, and tomorrow is the seventh day, so we may or may not see a spike in our numbers,” Flaggs said.
Flaggs said according to other COVID-19 models one out of five tests come back positive, and he is not aware of the total number of individuals tested at the testing center. Reportedly, some 45 people were tested.
“Whatever you do for the next week, God, please use social distancing. Use all sanitary things we need to do, and please wash your hands,” Flaggs said.
“This house is about to burn. You can either stay in it or you can get out because on the other side of this curve, it’s only gonna be the living,” he added.
Curfews continue for the city from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. for adults and 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. for ages 17 and under.
The Vicksburg City Hall will remain open, but the doors will be locked to the public. Flaggs said the phone number is posted on the door, and if you need something, just call the number provided and someone will assist you. Many city employees may be working from home, but Flaggs made it clear employees should only be working on City of Vicksburg work tasks.
“If you are working another job during the hours you should be working this job, and I got anything to do with it, with every fiber in my body you will be fired,” Flaggs said. “We are not going to pay you twice.”
Flaggs used grass cutting as an example.
“If you cut grass for the City of Vicksburg, and you start cutting grass on private property while on the city time, God as my witness you’re fired,” he said.
“We are all in this together,” Flaggs added. “We all can manage this. We all can get to the other side, but we gotta use every precaution we can.”
Mayor Flaggs will be taking questions during a Facebook Q&A session tonight at 6 p.m. You can watch and ask questions on the Vicksburg Daily News Facebook page.
Ronni Mott contributed to this report.