Starkville mayor talks regulations, leading city through pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the city of Starkville implemented a mandatory curfew and face covering regulation.

"What I can tell you with a great deal of confidence is that it might not have been the exact right thing to do, but it was not the wrong thing to do. So from my perspective, it was better to have aired on the side of greater caution," Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said of the city's earlier stipulation that citizens wear masks in all public businesses. 

The Fourth Resolution of the mayor and Board of Aldermen, passed on April 27, required all employees and patrons of businesses serving the public wear face coverings. 

On Twitter, Spruill received some negative feedback, with citizens apparently angry that their freedoms were being impinged upon. 

"Picking my expert would imply I have a choice in the matter. My choice is being removed by so called 'leaders' who think their job is to save us from ourselves. We need a nanny," one user tweeted.

However, others expressed support. 

"Thank you Mayor @lynn_spruill for all you have done for our "College Town" Starkville and getting us through this pandemic. I love living and teaching in StarkVegas!!! #HailState #YouRock," a Mississippi State University faculty member tweeted.

Spruill said it is clear social distancing is the key to preventing the rampant spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, once the state switched to a "safer at home" initiative and people began to repopulate public areas, this spacing became more difficult to maintain, resulting in the need for face coverings. 

"If you go to Lowe's and you go to Kroger and all those places that serve the public and you are unable to keep an adequate social distance, which you almost inherently can't because you turn the corner of an aisle and there's someone in your face, that's when the masks make sense for everyone," Spruill said. 

Another factor unique to COVID-19 that makes masks necessary, Spruill said, is the fact that people can unknowingly be carriers of the virus. 

"You have no idea if you have it in some cases, and so a lot of us may be traveling around out there willy-nilly affecting others, unintentionally. And so for us to best serve the community as a whole, wearing masks makes sense," Spruill said. 

In addition to the face covering regulation, the city implemented a mandatory curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. excluding all travel except for essential activities as outlined by the governor.  

"The curfew, initially, we didn't have one, but our surrounding communities did. And we found that people were coming into town to party and basically just be out and about and be away from their own area because they weren't allowed to there, so we instituted the curfew in conjunction with and in coordination with our surrounding counties and cities," Spruill said. 

The curfew was extended several times, but Spruill says there are no plans for it be extended past its current date of expiration on the 19th

Clearly, there are many strongly-held and differing opinions about how those in leadership should be handling the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Spruill said lots of careful research and discussion go into the decisions she and the city government make.  

"Not every community is the same, so that is all a part of it is that we bring these ideas forward to talk about them, their impact on our community, the balancing effort that you go through to keep your fiscal part of your community, your obligation to your community, as well as the health and welfare of your community," Spruill said. 

Through navigating this unforeseen leadership challenge, Spruill said the main thing she has learned is to take into account as many voices as possible and determine a middle ground which works best for the most people. 

"As someone who is an elected leader, you have to pay attention to the things both in whether you are a Fox News watcher or an NBC news watcher. You tend to need to know both sides in order to see if there's some area in between because the truth is always in between," Spruill said. 

Spruill said it is important to make balanced, informed choices rather than getting wrapped up in the hysteria of the situation. 

"There's a whole lot of fear and anger out there, and fear and anger does not lead to good decisions," Spruill said. 

Spruill said, even with the reopening of the city, she is not anticipating a spike in COVID-19 cases, if preventative measures such as face coverings and social distancing are properly utilized. 

"I am hopeful that we will continue to open up a little bit more, a little bit at a time," Spruill said. "As the governor has said, it is a dimmer switch; it's not a light switch. It's not a full-on, full-off; it's a gradual opening."

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