A rise in positive COVID-19 cases within Sunflower County and Indianola has prompted city officials to implement a rule requiring all city workers to wear face coverings while on the job.
At Monday night's Board of Aldermen meeting, Mayor Steve Rosenthal said the number of persons who tested positive for the coronavirus has jumped up.
He stated that he had planned to open up city-owned rental facilities like the Scout Hut and the Bethune Center for events, but in light of the rise in positive cases he was not going to recommend it.
"Last weekend we had 11 positive cases in Indianola, but as of this past Thursday we've had close to 20 additional positives and those who were tested on Thursday and Friday of this past week, those numbers won't come out until tomorrow, (Tuesday) so we're in the middle of a pretty good upswing in positive cases," Rosenthal said.
The issue came up during a review of the city's current emergency proclamation. "If it were up to me I would require everybody to wear masks, but I don't think we could get everybody to do that," Rosenthal said.
Piggybacking off of Rosenthal's statement, Alderman Marvin Elder said, "One thing we can enforce and we can set a perfect example with city employees all wearing their masks and also adhering to the social distancing because if people see city employees with their masks on, they'll be more prone to start wearing masks too because they would ask the question, 'why is the city employee wearing the mask' we're trying to protect you from us and you from them and vice versa."
Alderman Gary Fratesi submitted that since Rosenthal is in charge of day-to-day operation he could just mandate the employees to wear masks. However, Rosenthal stated that he would rather have a board consensus. “Because for some reason the employees have kind of been told that they don't have to listen to me,” Rosenthal stated.
City Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn O'Neal addressed Rosenthal's statement. “I don't think the employees are not (adhering) to what you are saying, it is that you are looking over the department heads," she said.
O'Neal suggested that Rosenthal should go through the department heads and allow them to inform the workers to facilitate a better understanding. "Well, I will say that a policy is in place, as of tonight that all department heads will require their employees to wear masks," announced Rosenthal.
The aldermen agreed and unanimously accepted the mayor’s proposal. Elder said the city needs to set the example and it wouldn't hurt the employees to have the masks on. A short discussion ensued regarding who would provide the masks and although several options were presented there was no mention of a definitive source.
The city lawmakers also reviewed the provisions of Indianola's emergency declaration. Attorney Kim Merchant reminded them that the proclamation must be reviewed at each meeting and the members decided they would continue with their previous order with only a couple of minor changes.
One change was made based on one of Gov. Tate Reeves’ recent proclamations that allows gyms/fitness centers to increase their capacity to 50 percent. Another modification was one based on a suggestion by Alderman Sam Brock, who asserted that a constituency of citizens are concerned about social gatherings involving young people who seem to be oblivious to the dangers of COVID-19.
Based on his declaration, the aldermen altered the restrictions on gatherings, whether inside or outside to no more than 50 people, even if social distancing is possible. Alderman Ruben Woods disagreed and said the restriction should stay the same as before, which was 100 people outdoors and 50 people indoors when social distancing is possible. He said it should be based on social distancing.
Reflecting back on a previous objection from Elder regarding the wording on the agenda, Fratesi contended that they couldn't vote on the emergency declaration because the agenda read "approval to review."
That prompted a response from Merchant. "Y'all playing semantics, but let me clarify for you. First of all, the law requires us to not only review, but to vote on whether we want to modify, to keep it or to rescind the proclamation al together at every meeting and so we're going to follow the law on that.”
Merchant continued. “Number two, I know y'all playing this game back and forth, so let me just weigh in on that, if it's on the agenda to discuss you can take action and make a motion to do so."
Fratesi then said she should have spoken up earlier and Merchant responded, "Nobody asked me and I'm not going to speak up unless somebody asks me, but on this point we're going to follow the law.”
Fratesi made the motion and it passed 4-1.
In addition to the changes, some things remained unchanged. The 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is still in effect and the limitations on restaurants and gas stations remain in effect.
In other business,
The aldermen accepted the letter that was submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. The document gives the okay for the Sunflower County Tax Assessor/Collector to collect property taxes for the city of Indianola.
Additionally, the city lawmakers also approved the signing of a contract with Gardner Engineering for the Mississippi Department of Transportation's proposed street project, which according to Ron Cassada will provide a $1 million pot of money to work on 10 city streets.
They also approved a memorandum of understanding with Delta Health Alliance for a two-year extension on Indianola Promise Community's programs. According to Rosenthal, the city's only obligation is a $5,000 in kind agreement to maintain city parks. “Which is something we will do whether we sign with them or not,” Rosenthal said.