The Warren County Board of Supervisors held an emergency special meeting via conference call on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the county’s plan of action for the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Almost every local elected and appointed county official, along with department heads and other key personnel were on the call.
The need for social distancing was brought up by Board President and District 4 Supervisor Dr. Jeff Holland. Social distancing refers to keeping space between people, and examples include not attending large gatherings, working from home and limiting “visits” to electronic devices instead of person-to-person contact.
Holland and District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson discussed the need for the county to have one clear set of guidelines that would apply to all county employees including elected officials. Holland proposed implementing a policy that any employee exposed to someone who is ill, goes on a cruise, goes on a trip over one hundred miles or goes out of the country be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Callers discussed whether county employees would be required to use sick leave, vacation time or be given paid administrative leave when they are quarantined, or offices shut down. Supervisor Jackson vehemently opposed any policy that forces employees to burn through accrued vacation and other leave time. Legislators sent a bill to the governor’s desk Wednesday that allows Mississippi counties and cities to use paid administrative leave.
All agreed that the issue needs further study. Holland instructed department heads to compile data on related employee time issues. There was also a discussion of employees who might be able to work from home.
Election commissioners are already working from home, said Election Commission Chairwomen Sara Dionne. She expressed concerns about the run-off election scheduled for March 31 and said she was waiting for guidance from the secretary of state’s office.
Emergency Management Director John Elfer reiterated the health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with federal and state health officials regarding person-to-person contact, sanitation and personal hygiene. He said common sense should be used by everyone, but especially people who are already ill. Many of those dying from COVID-19 have underlying health conditions and weak immune systems.
Elfer said his office is instituting a mechanism for curbside appointments to obtain necessary permits from his office. In many cases, residents can also address issues online or by phone. Those with questions can call his office at 601-636-1544.
Northern District Justice Court Judge Edwin Woods and County Court Judge Marcie Southerland had a lengthy discussion over opinions issued by the Mississippi Supreme Court on Sunday. Those opinions give individual judges the discretion to postpone any trials on their own docket scheduled through May 15, and give guidance on witnesses, the number of people allowed in a courtroom (50, down from 200), and limiting trial attendees and juror summons.
Southerland, who also serves as Youth Court Judge and has oversight of the Juvenile Detention Center, said she would review each case to see whether it needed immediate attention or could possibly be delayed.
Judge Woods stated that he and the other two justice court judges in Warren County want to keep the courts running as normally as possible. Their area of concern is the civil trial docket, which is heard on Thursdays, he said. Usually, the courtroom is packed to capacity on those days. A proposal was made to have litigants wait in their vehicles until their case is called.
Woods and Central District Judge James Jefferson agreed that initial appearances and criminal cases needed to be dealt with as soon as possible due to statutory requirements.
There was a lengthy discussion about restricting access to the courthouse, and the county is increasing cleaning procedures.
Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace reported that his office and the jail have instituted procedures that limit access to the facility. Persons coming to file or pick up reports are now served by a records officer in the lobby. If someone is symptomatic, they will be dealt with outside the facility. Visitation at the jail has been suspended, and lawyer visits are limited to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. when a nurse is present.
Dr. Holland said that all county department heads and supervisors have the authority to send anyone home that is presenting symptoms of the virus. He also said that quarantine does not mean going out in your boat or to the golf course: It means being in the immediate vicinity of your residence.
All agreed that this is a fluid situation and adjustments will need to be made accordingly.
The next scheduled Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting is April 6. The board anticipates additional special teleconferences in the interim.
Other county entities:
The District Attorney’s Office is open as usual.
The Golf Course is open but is only serving prepacked food and limiting the number of persons in the pro shop and clubhouse areas.
The Public Library in Vicksburg is closed. Director Katrina Stokes reported as many as 50 libraries are now closed statewide.