A standing room crowd of more than 70 masked business leaders gathered in the board room at Forest City Hall last Wednesday to find out what can be done to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Thank you for coming, I’m proud of the numbers,” Mayor Nancy Chambers said as she opened the meeting. “What we are trying to do today is talk with all of you and give you some suggestions of some things you can do in your businesses that are tried and proven to have helped us in the past with the spread of the virus and to see if we can all work together to do some of these things before we get some mandates coming down from the state.”
Forest Fire Chief and city Emergency Management Director Jason Tillman said he also was impressed with the numbers in attendance at the meeting and assured the crowd they were following the proper safety guidelines. “As long as everyone is wearing a mask — you and I are talking, and we are six feet from each other, your exposure is very low,” he said.
Tillman said he was concerned that with the spike of the virus in other areas of the country the same could soon be seen in this area if preventative measures are not taken.
“We are seeing an uptick again,” Tillman said. “What it looks like to me is exactly what it looked like in March and April. We are seeing a slow increase and all of sudden that slow increase just takes off and then we have brand new cases everywhere. What I’m seeing right now is this is just spread out which means we are having community transmission, but we’re not beyond putting the breaks on this thing. We’re not beyond controlling it. We want to be proactive and get in front of it. The leaders of this community, you, need to lead by example.”
To do that, Tillman asked three things of those in attendance.
1. Wear a mask.
2. Ask people who come in your business to wear a mask.
3. Have your employees wear a mask.
“What we are going to do is get ahead of this,” Tillman said. “We are going to voluntarily say ‘I’ll wear a mask, my employees will wear a mask, people coming into my store, my business, will wear a mask.’”
Tillman said he understood the difficulty in making that requirement of employees and customers, but added, “What’s more important? We will have more people die. It is going to happen. It doesn’t matter to you unless they are close to you. It’s kind of impersonal unless somebody in your family gets sick, somebody in your family is suffering, or unfortunately somebody in your family dies.
“We are going to ask that you as business owners strongly encourage your people and your customers to wear masks. We know that masks will work. We can get ahead of this right now as a community.”
Lackey Memorial Hospital CEO Sydney Sawyer, RN, agreed and warned that flu season is right around the corner and he fears the hospital will be overwhelmed.
“At least twice a year we get full with flu cases and we have to send patients other places. I will tell you that this year we’re not going to have a place to send those patients,” Sawyer said. “My fear has been from the beginning that you show up at my emergency room and I can’t transfer you and I don’t have the means to keep you alive. COVID has changed everything. That’s what this meeting is about. It scares me to death.”
“Let me tell you something about this disease,” he added. “Your life is wrecked if you get this disease. It doesn’t matter that you don’t die, your lungs are wrecked. We don’t have a lot of people dying — thank God — but we could not stop the spread until the governor said you have to wear a mask.”
In a passionate plea the CEO stressed that COVID-19 is not a hoax. This is very, very, very serious,” he said, “and people that make light of this, are wrong, they are wrong. When you read stuff — and I see it all the time on Facebook — people blowing this off. Blow it off all you want, but its going to affect you in some way. It is going to affect somebody in your family before it’s over with. We can stop it. We can stop it here.”
Sawyer said Scott County ranked 26th in the nation per capita in the growth of coronavirus prior to the governor’s mandate that residents wear face coverings in public. “We dropped out of the top ten in the state within two or three weeks (after the mandate)” he said.
“This is a terrifying disease that for some reason everybody is making light of, it is a pandemic and it is affecting this entire planet and it ain’t going away,” Sawyer concluded. “What I want is for y’all to take this thing serious. I don’t like wearing this thing (mask) any more than anybody else does. But if we don’t, were going to get told to about October, maybe before that, maybe September and there are going to be a lot more sick people by then.”
Mayor Chambers wrapped up the meeting asking those in attendance to type up a message and put it on their front door requiring masks before entry. “If they don’t have a mask, tell them go to go get a mask,” she said. “They’ll either go get a mask or go somewhere else. If they choose to go somewhere else I don’t know where that’s going to be because if we are all together on this they will put the mask on. It’s the least we can do.”
The mayor added, “I am fully prepared that before fall is over with I will be issuing an executive order, unless we get this handled now.”
As of Monday’s daily update from the Mississippi State Department of Health Scott County had recorded 773 positive cases of COVID-19 since March 11 and 15 deaths. That is a gain of 40 positive cases since the same time last week and zero additional deaths. Statewide positive numbers have spiked from 25,567 last week to 31,257 this week with 55 additional deaths.