On the day Mississippi recorded its second-biggest jump in COVID-19 cases so far, Gov. Tate Reeves announced plans to relax measures meant to curb the novel coronavirus’ spread, saying the economic pressure is too great.
“This disease has not hit every American fairly, and the economic damage has not hit every American fairly,” Reeves said. “Wall Street and Hollywood will be fine. Mississippi small businesses and workers are not. That’s who has been asked to shoulder the country’s burden. It’s not fair, and it’s not right. We are starting to reopen our economy.”
Reeves’ shelter-in-place order, which he enacted on April 3, will end on Monday in favor of a new “safer-at-home” order, the governor said during a press conference in Jackson this afternoon. On the same day, the State confirmed the second-biggest day-to-day jump in known COVID-19 cases yet, with an additional 280 cases confirmed and eight more deaths recorded.
There are now 5,434 confirmed cases and 209 confirmed COVID-19 deaths across the state. The past seven days saw the biggest increase in cases yet, with 1,641 new cases confirmed since last Friday, up from 1,324 new cases during the preceding seven days.
‘Measured Steps to Make Life Better’
While many of the provisions in Reeves’ earlier order will remain in effect, previously closed retail stores will be able to reopen starting Monday, so long as they limit the number of people allowed in their stores at a time to no more than 50% of capacity to promote social distancing, as well as frequently clean all surfaces. The new Executive Order No. 1477 encourages businesses to offer hand sanitizer to customers upon entry.
Other businesses must remain closed, including movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys, fitness and exercise gyms, dance studios, clubs, tattoo parlors, spas, salons, barber shops, and “other personal care and personal grooming facilities.” Restaurants remain closed for indoor dining services and must continue offering only curbside pickup or takeout options.
Reeves’ new order still encourages Mississippians to remain at home unless they “need to leave for essential activities or essential travel, such as caring for someone in the vulnerable population, getting food or necessary supplies, and going to work.” It instructs people to continue sheltering in place if they are over age 65 or have pre-existing health conditions, like high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity or asthma.
Non-essential social gatherings of more than 10 people remained banned, and people must still maintain 6 feet from other people while out in public. Reeves encouraged businesses and nonprofits to continue allowing employees to work from home where possible.
“It’s not a light switch that only goes on and off. It’s a dimmer,” Reeves said Friday, explaining the limited drawdown. “We can take measured steps to make life better.”
The new order permits health-care professionals to “resume performing elective medical and dental procedures and surgeries as allowed and approved by MSDH.” The order calls for facilities performing non-emergency procedures and surgeries to limit their use of personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, and “not request PPE from any public source.”
Reeves had already set his earlier executive order banning elective procedures to expire on Monday. Reeves told a radio host two days before signing it earlier this month that he had “copied and pasted” much of it from an order that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used to temporarily shut down abortion clinics across the Lone Star State in March. Within days of Reeves signing the order, though, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas abortion clinics could continue performing medication abortions despite Abbott’s order, and Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which performs medication abortions, continued offering services.
MSDH to Begin Broad Testing in Nursing Homes
During the press conference, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said that the Department of Health has decided against releasing the names of nursing homes and other long-term health facilities with COVID-19 cases.
“There’s a lot of downside to that that we’ve witnessed elsewhere and in previous situations,” he said without offering specifics. MSDH has confirmed 552 novel coronavirus cases in long-term facilities in 48 counties.
Dobbs did signal a change in the way the state approaches nursing homes with COVID-19 cases. “Going forth now that we’re moving into a different control phase, we plan to do 100% testing of everybody in a nursing home and residence even if they have only one single case,” he said.
On March 29, the Mississippi Free Press reported one of the first known cases of coronavirus in a Mississippi nursing home after an employee at The Grove in Columbia, which is in Marion County, tested positive for the virus. After The Grove confirmed its first case, a woman whose grandmother lives there told the Mississippi Free Press that she feared for her grandmother’s life, because the nursing home was not testing other employees or residents and opting only to monitor fevers and check for symptoms. Since, the number of confirmed cases there has risen to 12 in a county with 55 confirmed cases overall.
MSDH has confirmed four deaths in the county, but has not said whether any nursing-home residents are among the dead.
The Mississippi Free Press has an interactive map showing diagnosed coronavirus cases across the state and one showing the number of ICU beds in counties across the state.