Adams County Supervisors take flak for passing mask ordinance

Published 5:15 pm Monday, July 6, 2020

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NATCHEZ — Members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors said they’ve received community pushback about a recently passed resolution requiring facial coverings inside and outside of businesses and public spaces in both the City of Natchez and Adams County.

The new ordinance adopted Friday during a joint meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors requires face masks or some sort of facial covering in public places where person-to-person contact is likely and social distancing is not possible and could result in fines for offenders.

The ordinance is in effect until July 31 or until it is rescinded if the number of infections goes down, officials said.

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Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford said Monday that Adams County has 69 known cases of COVID-19 that are still active.

“This is the first time we’ve had 69 active in such a short amount of time, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to grow,” Bradford said, adding laws to protect public health are necessary not to put a strain on the lone hospital in the county.

“Our hospital services a large area, not just Adams County. When people in surrounding areas get sick it could put a strain on our hospital. We’re looking toward the future and where we could be instead of the right now,” Bradford said.

District 5 Supervisor Warren Gaines said in Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting callers from his district had questioned the legality of the law.

“I’ve been asked in my district was I a part of passing this illegal (law). … Are we within our legal statutes?” Gaines said, adding he is not opposed to the law. “… For some it is asymptomatic. You could possibly have this disease and not even know it so I think it’s important to wear masks wherever people are congregated.”

Adams County Attorney Scott Slover said the Board of Supervisors had been given the authority to pass reasonable laws pertaining to public health and safety by declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a reasonable restriction that prevents people from harming others, even if they are doing so unknowingly,” Slover said. “… It’s no different than requiring people to wear a seatbelt.”

District 1 Supervisor Wes Middleton said he’d also received numerous calls from business owners who had questions about the law and felt better once it had been explained.

“Most people felt a little more comfortable with the resolution after it was explained to them. They took it to mean you are required to wear masks 24-7,” Middleton said, adding the masks aren’t required for people who are out walking by themselves and most people were OK with simply wearing masks around others and inside of businesses.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said the new law had been enforced over the weekend though no fines were issued.

Unmasked shoppers were stopped as they were coming into grocery stores and were asked to leave and not return without masks, Patten said.

“It’s not something that we want to do but it’s definitely something that we’re going to do in order to keep people safe,” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said.

In other matters during Monday’s meeting, the board:

* Heard a proposal from Sixth District Circuit Court Judges Lillie Blackmon-Sanders and Debra Blackwell for creating a public defender’s office with an annual budget of $320,000. The board took the proposal under advisement and took no further action for a public defender’s office.

* Unanimously agreed to allow Jordan Kaiser and Sessions to redesign and obtain specs for construction of the dam on Robins Lake Road that could be submitted to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for approval. Adams County Attorney Scott Slover said the goal of the redesign is to find a solution to the dam’s overflow problem that meets the county’s price range and MDEQ’s safety requirements.