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Task Force member: City issued guidelines after waiting three weeks for county to approve

NATCHEZ — Natchez COVID-19 Task Force members sent out additional guidelines for essential businesses on Monday night more than three weeks after initial stay-at-home orders were issued by the city on March 25.

The additional guidelines are geared toward essential businesses in the city limits, including grocery stores, hardware stores, convenience stores, dollar stores, pharmacies, etc.

The additional guidelines require the businesses among other things to limit the number of customers to five per 1,000 square feet and to require customers and employees to wear face masks.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said police officers delivered written copies of the guidelines to businesses in the city on Tuesday morning but no penalties are enforced for breaking the guidelines.

“It is a strong recommendation,” Armstrong said of the guidelines.

William Thames, a member of the Natchez Task Force, said the guidelines had been in the works for approximately three weeks but the Adams County Emergency Operations Commission still had not approved the guidelines so the city went ahead and issued the guidelines Monday night.

“I wrote them and they were reviewed and approved by the planning section (of the EOC) and were supposed to go to the board of supervisors and were supposed to go out to the community,” Thames said.

Adams County Emergency Operations Director Robert Bradford Sr. said he and EOC members were surprised to get an email from Natchez Monday night announcing the additional guidelines.

Bradford said the guidelines had been introduced by the Adams County EOC’s planning committee three weeks ago before being sent to the incident command team and after approval there sent on to the city board of aldermen and the county supervisors.

“The board meetings meet at different times,” Bradford said. “We’ve been trying to work hand-in-hand with everybody so we can be on the same sheet of music but the city went on and jumped the gun because our board meeting was yesterday so . . . we were like, why did the city put that out already?”

Thames said time is important.

“That was three weeks ago and time marches on, as does the virus,” Thames said. “So, we, the city (the mayor’s COVID-19 Task Force), decided we could not wait any longer and we proceeded. It was going to come out from the county but never did, so we proceeded.”

Bradford said the county is still reviewing the guidelines and he plans to present the guidelines to the county attorney and the board of supervisors at their next meeting.

“There is a process it needs to go through,” Bradford said, questioning if the guidelines are too strict.

Bradford also said it would be confusing for the county to approve a different set of guidelines and questioned the constitutionality of enforcing the guidelines.

“I’m not going to put anything out of my office if it hasn’t been approved but don’t infringe on people’s rights because that is how people get sued,” Bradford said. “That is how you get in trouble.”

The guidelines issued Tuesday are:

Maintain Social Distancing

1. Only one person per vehicle should enter inside the store.

2. Limit the number of customers in any commercial space to 5 people per 1,000 square feet.

3. Apply tape or decals to floor to set safe distancing of customers at 6 feet or more while in check-out.

4. Limit directional flow in narrow aisles to one-way.

5. Please don’t bring children under 16 years old into stores if at all possible. Make every attempt to find someone to watch your children at home. If you must bring your children into the store you must keep them under tight control and good behavior. If children are not under control, the customer should be asked to leave the store. Do not leave children in vehicles during hot weather.

Facial Masks

6. Employees and customers (including children) must wear a protective mask. Any type of mask will suffice, including bandanas, scarfs or similar mask covering both the nose and mouth. Medical masks are not required. Remember: “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”

Hand, Cart, Counter Hygiene and Hoarding

7. Provide hand-washing stations for customers and employees to use both before and after shopping and encourage use upon entering and exiting. If hand-washing stations are not possible, provide hand sanitizer for every customer to use before allowing entrance into the store. Hand washing and sanitizing applies to children as well.

8. Sanitize shopping carts before use by each customer. This can be accomplished by a spray sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, or washing them down between customers with lightly soapy water.

9. Check-out clerks should sanitize hands and counter between each customer. Gloves are not needed unless the employer’s policies require them. Check-out clerks should be required to wash hands no less than every half hour.

10. Continue to implement policies to prevent hoarding of scarce items.