Mayor Toby Barker has issued another executive order regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, this one stipulating that all employees of businesses in Hattiesburg - essential and non-essential - are required to wear a mask when working around the public or other employees.
The order, which was handed down Wednesday and goes into effect Friday, defines a "mask" as any face covering, including but not limited to fabric masks, homemade linen or cloth masks, household dust masks, handkerchiefs, scarves, surgical masks or N95 masks. Employers are not required to provide or purchase the masks, but they must ensure that every employee is wearing one.
The order does not not apply to essential health care operations as defined in the order recently issued by Gov. Tate Reeves, as those institutions will continue to follow protocols that have been handed down by the Centers for Disease Control regarding personal protective equipment.
"The Centers for Disease Control and the state department of health this week have come forward recommending that people wear masks, because there are certain people who have this disease who are asymptomatic," Barker said. "(That means) they don't have fever, they don't have cough, they're not showing any symptoms, but they can be carriers of this disease and then pass it unknowingly to others, particularly those in those vulnerable populations - senior citizens and those with underlying chronic health conditions.
"Because of this, we want to take a more proactive approach in making sure that those essential places that you go are safe for you and safe for other employees. We believe that if a business is open, it should take care and make sure that its employees are safe."
Under the order, businesses are allowed to implement stricter regulations regarding masks and other safety measures at their discretion to help contain and prevent the spread of the virus. All previous social distancing rules, including the prohibition of gatherings of more than 10 people, will still be enforced under previous executive orders handed down by the mayor and the governor.
Barker's order will be enforced, with the possibility of penalties, by the Hattiesburg Police Department, Hattiesburg Fire Department or other local enforcement agencies.
Barker also is recommending the public wear masks while going out for essential items.
"The CDC and the state department of health have recommended this, and it's important that you do everything you can to not only protect yourself and your family, but all those people you come into contact with, because you can unknowingly spread this if you are asymptomatic," he said. "The thing about this is, we can look ahead and we can know what are future looks like two and three weeks from now.
"We can look at other parts of the country who are in the throes of this, who are in the worst parts of it. And the thing is that we can prevent that from happening in Hattiesburg, MIssissippi, and the surrounding area, if we just take practical and responsible steps to do that."
Barker said when the pandemic is over, he wants the community to be able to look back and be proud of how it handled the situation.
"(We want to know) that we took steps, that we made ourselves uncomfortable for the greater good," he said. "So today, as we implement this new executive order ... I'm encouraging you to be personally responsible - to make good decisions, to do only the essentials, to protect yourself, and most importantly, to stay home."