Forrest Co. supes give update on virus order

By HASKEL BURNS,

After a phone conference with Gov. Tate Reeves and other state officials, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors held a special-called meeting Wednesday morning to give an update on COVID-19 matters throughout the county, in particular urging residents who have tested positive or are awaiting test results to self-quarantine.

Board president David Hogan said there are reports of individuals who are waiting on results – and possibly some who presumptively have tested positive – who are not honoring that order, which is legally binding through the Mississippi Department of Health.

“If you’re awaiting tests, or if you have had a positive test, it’s mandatory that you stay at home,” he said. “Those quarantine orders are mandatory.”

Anyone who is aware of someone who tested positive and is not following that directive is urged to report the situation to the department of health’s COVID-19 hotline at (877) 978-6453.

Additional ventilators for patients have been requested by the county, and although no allocations have been made as of yet, officials believe there is a plan in place for that measure.

“I just want to be sure we’re on the list, because, per capita, we’re number 1 in the state of Mississippi in the number of cases,” Hogan said. “Our close proximity to New Orleans, and the fact that we service 19 counties and have five facilities, we need to press them on that if we can.”

The Forrest County Jail is currently not allowing visitation, and police are limiting transportation to emergency situations and working extra details to provide security at various locations.

“I don’t think there’s anything new,” Sheriff Charlie Sims said. “We are requiring deputies with any contact with the public to wear masks and gloves for protection and to limit exposure.”

Most county buildings – including Forrest County Circuit Court, the Forrest County Tax Collector’s office and Forrest County Chancery Court – have limited access to one entrance each, and are performing temperature checks on visitors to rule out fever. In addition, officials are urging employees to perform services over the phone or online, rather than in person, whenever possible.

“Traffic is real light, and it has been for a couple of weeks now,” Forrest County Circuit Clerk Gwen Wilks said. “We have one entrance – actually two, because of the handicapped entrance – but it’s really restricted.

“The deputies are doing an amazing job, and the way we work, we don’t have to let a lot of people in. Our busiest (aspect) right now is marriage licenses, of all things.”

In response to new Family Medical Leave Act provisions recently passed by Congress, starting April 1 employees who test positive for COVID-19 – or are in quarantine awaiting results – are entitled to two weeks of paid leave. That measure will not count toward employees’ sick or vacation time.

Individuals who are taking care of a family member with COVID-19, or housing children who are at home because of school closures, will be entitled to 12 weeks of FMLA. The first 10 days of that period will be unpaid, and the remainder will amount to two-thirds of the employee’s salary.

“(The county) is to pay that,” Board Attorney David Miller told supervisors. “The problem we’re going to have is for private employers – Congress put a provision in that you get a tax break for whatever you pay out. Obviously tax breaks don’t do y’all any good, so honestly there will probably be some other form of relief.”

Meanwhile, Presbyterian Christian School will start online classes Monday morning, and Forrest County officials are in the process of setting up wireless access points at each of its 14 community centers through AT&T.

“So they’ll be able to use the parking lot, and the recommendation is to stay in their vehicle and do their schoolwork as needed,” Hogan said.