March 18, 2020 10:46:03 AM
Amid an "extraordinary last few days" where news and recommendations on how to respond to the COVID-19 is "changing by the hour," Mayor Lynn Spruill asked aldermen Tuesday to declare a local state of emergency and announced sweeping changes to how the city will operate in the coming weeks.
Those changes include dialing curbside garbage pickup to one day per week for each route during the emergency, rather than twice weekly, and temporarily suspending curbside recycling altogether. Under that plan, the regular Monday/Thursday trash route will run each Monday and the regular Tuesday/Friday route will run each Tuesday, Spruill said.
Emergency measures will remain in place until at least April 7, when the board of aldermen will meet again to consider extending the declaration.
Overall, Spruill said, the city will function "somewhere between holiday and normal operations" during the emergency. The city is rotating its employees, including sanitation, for on-site duties and some are already working from home, though all will be paid their full wages regardless of whether they are "at their desk," aldermen clarified.
Foot traffic has been limited in City Hall and Starkville Utilities Department, with online, walk-up kiosk and drive-thru payment options being utilized more frequently, Spruill said. Parks and Recreation has closed the Sportsplex and suspended programs until further notice.
While the emergency gave the city power under state statute to enforce quarantines and place certain mandates on the private sector, Spruill said she is not yet prepared to do that. For instance, some cities across the U.S. had forced restaurants and bars to shut down during the crisis, she noted, but said those businesses in Starkville were already taking measures on their own to mitigate the virus' spread -- such as dispensing with dine-in, limiting their crowds in their establishments to no more than 10, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and offering "to-go" or delivery options.
"I haven't reached a point where I am comfortable shutting restaurants down," Spruill told aldermen. "I feel in all candor that would be singling them out in a way that isn't necessarily fair to other retailers. I feel our restaurants have been very responsible in their response."
If state or federal declarations mandate more extreme measures, however, Spruill said the city would follow those directives.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk commended both the business community and citizens overall whom she said had "really stepped up" during the crisis. She also reminded citizens that continuing to limit their exposure to becoming sick is the best they can do right now.
"It's imperative we understand we can't prevent this," Sistrunk said. "The most we can do is 'flatten the curve' to where our medical facilities aren't overwhelmed."
Spruill said even during the emergency, she aims for the city to maintain some sense of normalcy while also adequately responding to the pandemic.
"In Starkville I believe we are in a position where we will make it through this with no permanent damage," she said.
The Oktibbeha County supervisors approved a local emergency declaration on Monday.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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