Last month, Mayor Toby Barker issued an executive order that requires any employee working at a city business to wear masks around other employees and members of the public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That measure will now be extended to consumers, as beginning May 1 all customers must wear masks at all retail locations – essential or non-essential – while shopping at those businesses in the Hub City. Barker made the announcement Thursday evening via Facebook Live, saying the measure is one of the next steps back to normalcy.
“As thing begin to potentially open back up, we take a lot of that guidance from the governor, but we also look at our own local data,” Barker said. “The majority of you are already wearing masks when you go out to grocery stores and pick up food, but that will be required for everyone in the month of May.
“The benefit of a mask is, if everyone wears them, we protect each other. And if we’re going to get back to some semblance of normalcy … and if you want salons, churches (to open again), then masks are part of the equation. And I think we need to prepare that that’s going to be part of our lives for the next few weeks and potentially months.”
A mask does not have to necessarily be an N95 or surgical mask, as long as the mask covers an individual’s nose and mouth while still allowing them to comfortably breathe.
As of April 29, the Hattiesburg-area health care system – which includes Forrest General Hospital, Merit Health Wesley, Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative and Hattiesburg Clinic, which together serve almost 20 counties – reported 5,249 total tests for COVID-19. Of those, 619 were positive, 4,290 were negative and 341 were pending/awaiting results.
“Those are not just from Forrest and Lamar counties,” Barker said. “In fact, what we’re seeing in recent days is that even though we’re staying at a certain threshold, we’re seeing more tests at some of our health care organizations come back positive.
“That just shows that this is a regional problem that effects our two health care institutions.”
As of the same date, 35 patients who have been confirmed COVID-19 positive are hospitalized, close to the 34.79 average over the last 14 days. There were no patients under investigation who are hospitalized.
Fourteen COVID-19-positive patients were in ICU, right at the 13.50 average over the last 14 days. No patients under investigation were in ICU.
As of April 29, Forrest County reported 198 cases of COVID-19 and Lamar County reported 102, for a total of 300 cases in the metropolitan area.
As far as the five-day average of cases, Barker said there was a peak in the middle of April and then a significant decrease before another slight rise at the end of last week.
“We have seen a little bit of a drop this week, which is very positive,” he said. “Lamar County kind of took an upward tilt there, because that’s going to reflect the eight new positive cases (April 29).
“What we’re hoping is that these numbers will stabilize and we’ll start to see that 14-day trajectory go down, which is part of the requirements issued by the White House before we can issue any sort of re-opening protocol.”