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Batesville aldermen set curfew; police chief warns “next step” is coming

The City of Batesville will have a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning Friday and running through April 17 at which time the Mayor and Board of Aldermen will review the state of the city and decide whether to lift, or extend, the travel ban during those designated hours.

In a Wednesday morning meeting city officials voted unanimously to pass the measure that will give police the authority to stop any traffic on the streets of Batesville and issue them citations with fines of up to $1,000 if the driver doesn’t fall into an exemption category.

“We all agree that a curfew is the next step, but as bad as we hate to recommend it to our board I think you’re also at the step of starting to look at what is essential and what is non-essential,” Police Chief Jimmy McCloud said. “We’re at that point.”

McCloud said he was bringing up the “next step” scenario based on discussions at the morning meeting of what has emerged as Panola County’s de facto crisis management committee made up of the police chief, the county’s Emergency Operations director Daniel Cole, the city’s public work director and his assistant, David Karr and Newt Benson, Sheriff Shane Phelps, and deputy police chief Kerry Pittman.

That team is joined some mornings by representatives from Panola Medical Center, and other city and county officials. Each person in attendance then relays the day’s updates and developments to their respective departments in an effort to have some degree of county-wide coordination and communication.

The MSDH reported an additional 136 new cases from Tuesday’s update with a total of 1,073 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state. There are eight cases in Panola County, one more than yesterday. There has been one death in the county.

“The 26th of March, a week ago, statewide we were at 485 and today we are at 1,073. That’s scary because what we’ve done statewide is more than doubled, and we are growing at a rate that is skyrocketing,” McCloud said. “A week ago Panola County was at four positive tests, and if we take the eight today and one fatality we have more than doubled positives. And we’re still working with old numbers because it’s taking so long to get the tests back.”

“This thing is growing, it’s growing, it’s growing. As we sat here this morning and really broke down what is happening in our community and state in the last week it’s very uncomfortable,” he said.

McCloud said a topic of discussion this morning centered on the fact that the larger hospitals in North Mississippi are filling up and the Batesville hospital had to place at least two patients on ventilators yesterday. 

“Our hospitals are about to get full and if people don’t start listening we are going to be where other communities are where the government is warning people they are overloading the healthcare system, so we are going to have to start thinking on the smaller town level. If we have a large spike in numbers we have nowhere to take our patients to,” he said.

“Are we at drastic measures? We’re close,” McCloud said. Panola Medical Center alone is waiting on more than 70 tests, not including some tests performed by RedMed and other local healthcare providers.

Karr said another lurking problem is the possibility of many people carrying the infection without showing symptoms. “We are getting people now that do not have typical symptoms and are getting tested and showing positive. So I think this thing is mutating and people are starting to have different symptoms and have the disease and not know it,” he said.

For the curfew hours, anyone on a direct route to or from their place of employment, or traversing to an open business may be on the streets. McCloud said officers will use their discretion to determine if anyone outside their houses during the curfew hours are in violation.

He said vehicles traveling on Highway 6/278 that are obviously passing through Batesville will not be ticketed, but all traffic on any residential street in the city “better have a good reason for being out.”

McCloud also reported that his department continues to stay in close contact with managers of the local grocery stores and is satisfied with measures put in place this week to limit the number of people in each store.

Another meeting of the board will be convened at 2:30 p.m. today when they take up the matter of compliance issues among local factories. Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar will join that meeting, and update aldermen on which local industries have announced closures and measures others are taking, or not taking in some cases, to ensure the safety of employees and the county’s population as a whole.