Tate Reeves rejects Mississippi lockdown for coronavirus wants to encourage, but not mandate staying at home

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that he is issuing an executive order that further restricts people’s physical interactions to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but he is not mandating that people stay at home. It was not immediately clear whether any steps will be taken to enforce the things he is ordering.

Reeves said his executive order will tell businesses to allow “every possible employee” to work from home. He said it will define essential businesses “to give clear guidance to our partners on the local level, should they decide to take additional action.”

“Understand that we are not at the end of this pandemic. In fact, we may still be at the beginning stages of this fight,” Reeves said during a news conference outside the Governor’s Mansion.

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Governors in several other states, including Louisiana, are putting tighter limits on people’s movements, including stay-at-home orders.

He said his executive order will tell Mississippi restaurants and bars statewide to close their dining rooms and offer only carry-out or delivery food orders. Some cities and counties have already taken this step.

The Republican governor said he is encouraging — but still not mandating — that people remain home when possible. He said people should stop gathering in groups of 10 or more, even for events like funerals, weddings and church services.

He said the order will also tell people to stop visiting hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities that house the people most vulnerable to becoming sick.

According to figures reported by the state Health Department on Tuesday, Mississippi had at least 320 coronavirus cases and one death as of Monday evening. The death was a Hancock County resident with other underlying health conditions, and he died last week in a Louisiana hospital.

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.

Reeves said in response to questions Tuesday that the only abortion clinic in Mississippi should be following state Health Department’s guideline to temporarily stop doing elective surgeries.

“It is without question that the lone clinic in Jackson does, in fact, operate doing procedures that are elective and not required,” Reeves said. He said if the clinic does not stop elective surgeries, “I would be prepared to try to take additional action,” Reeves said, although he did not specify what that would be.

The state Health Department issued an advisory Thursday saying medical facilities must postpone elective procedures to conserve protective medical gear that is in short supply. During the news conference Tuesday, the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said he would review what the abortion clinic is doing before he makes any comments.

The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, told The Associated Press on Monday that she considers abortion to be an essential health care service, not an elective one.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order during the weekend that prohibits “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” In Ohio, abortion clinics received letters Friday from the Republican state attorney general ordering them to cease all “non-essential” surgical abortions.

Reeves said Tuesday that Mississippi’s income tax filing deadline has been moved from April 15 to May 15.

The governor said he knows of no confirmed coronavirus cases in Mississippi prisons or county jails, but he also said he did not know whether anyone in those facilities has been tested. The state prison system stopped allowing visitors several days ago, and Reeves said workers are increasing sanitation efforts.

Mississippi public schools are closed until at least April 17, but some public and private schools have started online classes. He said that as of Tuesday, more than 360 sites were providing lunches for students, either for pickup or delivery.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has started providing public notices about the coronavirus in Spanish as well as English.