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Awash with COVID: Mayor Lumumba Sends Workers Home to Stem Spread

City of Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba elected to close down City Hall from Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, to Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

The number of positive COVID-19 cases among City of Jackson workers has increased, prompting Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba to enact an executive order shutting down City Hall for one week, starting Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, and extending to Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.  

“Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has released an executive order closing City Hall and all non-essential city offices due to a surge in coronavirus cases,” a press release accompanying the order said. “The mayor put the order into place out of an abundance of caution to prevent the possible spread of the virus, in particular the Omicron variant.”

“City employees are expected to work remotely where possible to ensure City services remain in place,” it added. “Offices will reopen at 8 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2022.”

The City of Jackson already requires workers to be vaccinated or tested regularly. The mayor said at a press briefing on Dec. 14 that 91% of municipal workers are in compliance with the mandate.

Last week, the mayor tested positive for COVID-19 and began quarantining at home. The next day, Lumumba said in social media posts that his symptoms were mild. 

State: COVID Cases Explode Today to 3,594

Mississippi Department of Health records show that the omicron variant now constitutes almost 13% of cases in the state compared to 0.7% on Dec. 4. 

The Mississippi Free Press reported yesterday that the state is in the early stages of the predicted surge of the omicron variant. The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 7,058 new cases of COVID-19 over the long Christmas holiday. This morning, MSDH announced 3,594 cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi confirmed the last day, along with 19 deaths and 130 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities. That brings COVID-19 totals in the state to 538,852 cases, 10,439 deaths and 1,443,274 persons fully vaccinated. 

Virgi Lindsay, city council president and Ward 7 councilwoman, told the Mississippi Free Press by phone this morning that Mayor Lumumba’s decision was necessary due to a spike in COVID cases among employees.

Jackson City Council President Virgi Lindsay said City Hall is “awash” with COVID-19 cases. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

“City Hall is awash with COVID cases, and we’ve had several employees to test positive,” she said. “I think this is a necessary move to try to break the cycle.”

Omicron Cases Increasing Rapidly

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, MSDH issued an updated guidance to physicians and medical facilities, stating that the 13% figure “likely represents an underestimate of the impact of Omicron on the state, with samples collected in the last two weeks still pending sequencing,” and that the number of cases, hospitalizations, and outbreaks due to COVID-19 in Mississippi has rapidly increased over the last week.

“For the week of 12/21-12/27, 8,344 new COVID-19 cases occurred, representing an 80% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week,” the report said. 

Angelique Lee headshot
City of Jackson Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee supports Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba’s move to close the City Hall in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

Restricting City Employees’ Travel

Mayor Lumumba’s executive order mandates closure of city hall and non-essential municipal offices and city-owned or leased non-essential facilities. Non-essential employees must work remotely, and their travel is restricted with violations liable for possible misdemeanor prosecution. 

“The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rates … the City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat,” Lumumba’s press release said. 

In a text message to the Mississippi Free Press on Wednesday, Dec. 29, Council Vice President and Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee said she supports the mayor’s action.

“The chances of infection and spreading the virus are higher in indoor spaces and crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected people spend long periods of time together in close proximity,” she wrote. “We’ve also been made aware that several employees have tested positive that work in city hall, so we are trying our best to keep others safe and properly disinfect and sanitize the building.”

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