Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves fears closing businesses over coronavirus may ‘do more harm than good’

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he is not ordering businesses to close or people to stay at home to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, in contrast to what several other governors are doing.

Republican Reeves strongly suggested that Mississippians follow state Health Department recommendations to wash their hands, stay home if possible and keep distance from others in places like grocery stores. He said he is trying to balance concerns about public health and the economy.

“We don’t want to make any decisions that will ultimately do more harm than good,” Reeves said Monday during a Facebook live session in which he spent nearly an hour answering questions from the public.

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Reeves led a prayer session Sunday on Facebook and suggested that people avoid gathering in large groups. He faced intensifying criticism Monday from some local officials and state lawmakers who said he needs to issue a statewide order for people to stay at home unless they have essential jobs or are getting groceries or prescriptions.

“Mayors and local leaders are putting in place differing curfews and orders. This patchwork system is creating public confusion that will result in panic,” Democratic state Rep. Jarvis Dortch wrote Monday on Twitter.

Reeves last week ordered public schools to remain closed until at least mid-April. Some schools are taking steps to help students with distance learning. In the Jackson suburb of Clinton, teachers on Monday distributed iPads. Some parents wore masks or gloves when they picked up the tablets.

Victor Lang, who works at a glass company, picked up an iPad for his daughter, who is in elementary school. He said their family does not have its own computer or iPad at home.

“This is a very big help,” Lang said.

Cherye Graves, a fourth-grade English teacher in Clinton, said Monday that the school was a lonesome place without children.

“The heart isn’t here,” Graves said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to finish the school year with warm bodies in the classroom.”

Reeves said Monday that day care centers are among the businesses that remain open.

The Mississippi State Department of Health on Monday reported the state had 249 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of 6 p.m. Sunday. The department said one Mississippi resident has died of COVID-19; he was a Hancock County resident who had underlying medical conditions, and he died last week in a Louisiana hospital.

Several medical facilities in Mississippi are now providing coronavirus testing to people with fever and “severe cough or chest pain,” and screening began Monday for people to get appointments for a drive-thru testing site that opens Tuesday on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

The health department said Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Tupelo each have two test sites open. The other sites, as of Monday, were in Bay St. Louis, Fulton, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Hurley, Jackson, Long Beach, Pascagoula, Philadelphia, Vancleave, Wiggins and Woolmarket.

The vast majority of people infected with the novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization. Particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

The Mississippi health department recommended last week that bars and restaurants stop dine-in services and only provide carry-out orders of food.

Ocean Springs city officials on Saturday adopted a proclamation that “encourages all citizens to stay home except for essential needs.” The stay-at-home rule does not apply to people working for medical facilities, grocery stores and utility companies. The city told gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlors to close.

Gulfport closed all of its city buildings and facilities, including parks, as of midnight Friday. A statement from the city said many people are adhering to suggestions of social isolation, but some are “irresponsibly” ignoring them.