*CLARIFICATION: The Lamar County declaration of March 19 limits inside gatherings of more than 10.

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Paris city councilors on Thursday expressed concern that residents are still gathering in groups larger than 10 and are failing to heed medical advice to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Council extended the mayor’s previous coronavirus disaster declaration for 30 days on a 6-0 vote and adopted a county resolution from Wednesday at a meeting Thursday afternoon. It also unanimously postponed elections to November and named Benny Plata to the District 3 seat held by Bill Trenado, who is vacating the seat due to health issues unrelated to the pandemic.

The disaster extension comes as national numbers show the United States now leads all countries in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. John Hopkins University on Thursday reported more than 85,000 cases. The U.S. had more than 1,100 deaths, about 400 of them in New York State, the worst hotspot in the nation.

Led by Mayor Steve Clifford, councilors commented about the local coronavirus situation during the 30-minute meeting available to the public via video conference.

Councilor Derreck Hughes expressed concern about large gatherings at Leon Williams Park and at the corner of 2nd NE and Pine Bluff streets, while Renae Stone talked about teenagers gathering in parking lots.

“How is this going to be enforced?” Hughes asked.

Because the Lamar County declaration of March 19 limits inside gatherings of more than 10, City Attorney Stephanie Harris said police could issue citations punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine up to $500.

“My understanding is people have been cooperative when police have dispersed crowds when they explain what is going on,” Harris said.

However, Harris said she had drafted a complaint, not for a specific case, but “just in case we need it so we’ve got that ready to go if we have people who are not cooperative.”

Because teenagers think they are indispensable, Stone said she is afraid the younger generation will be “the largest contributors of this disease.”

As a physician, Clifford asked for public cooperation.

“We are going to need the help of everybody in the community,” the mayor said. “People are really going to need to take this seriously; I don’t think it has quite hit home yet what we might be in for.”

Even though the Paris-Lamar County Health Department has reported just one confirmed case, Clifford said, “with absolute certainty there are people in our community that have this virus, many of them asymptomatic, because we can’t test all the people that need to be tested.”

The mayor urged families to send one person to get groceries once a week instead of entire families in tow.

“The next logical step would be to limit the number of people at a time in grocery stores,” he said, warning that people would be standing in line waiting to enter.

Clifford conceded only so much could be accomplished with ordinances and declarations.

“There is not a law we can pass that will result in anything beneficial unless the community is behind us and agrees that it is necessary,” Clifford said.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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