After grim plea from leader at state’s largest hospital, governor relents, issues statewide stay-at-home order for coronavirus

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday that he is ordering people statewide to stay at home to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The order will take effect at 5 p.m. Friday and last until 8 a.m. April 20. The Republican governor said: “This will not be easy for anyone, but we believe it is the right course of action.”

Reeves was not the only Southern governor to reverse course Wednesday. Two of his Republican counterparts who had repeatedly resisted statewide stay-home orders — Ron DeSantis of Florida and Brian Kemp of Georgia — also issued the mandate.

Reeves said his order is designed to prevent Mississippi’s health care system from becoming overwhelmed, and he called it “the right tool at the right time to save lives.”
Mississippi has surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to numbers released Wednesday.

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Reeves has been among the minority of governors who had resisted issuing a statewide stay-at-home order, expressing concerns that it could seriously hurt the economy. Despite his reticence to do so, an increasing number of Mississippi cities took it upon themselves to set tighter restrictions on people’s movements by closing fitness centers, tattoo parlors, nail salons and barber and beauty shops.

Reeves issued his order after consulting with officials at the state Health Department and the physician who leads the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. LouAnn Woodward.

In an email to Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn early Wednesday, Woodward said that without such an order, “our health system will be overwhelmed.” The Associated Press obtained the letter through public records request.

“The immediate time frame (right now) is our last inflection point in controlling COVID-19 spread in our state,” Woodward wrote.

She wrote that projections show Mississippi will see its peak need for hospital beds in late April or early May, and that the need for ventilators and intensive care unit beds “will surpass our resources.”

“All ICU beds are not the same,” Woodward wrote. “Small critical care units in small hospitals will be in over their heads quickly. The reality is we are facing an uphill battle as a state. As CEO of the organization that will bear the brunt of fallout, I need to speak my mind.”

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said during a news conference with Reeves on Wednesday that the coronavirus is spreading in some nursing homes.

Reeves issued his first stay-home order Tuesday, but for only one of Mississippi’s 82 counties. Reeves said Lauderdale County, on the state line with Alabama, had seen a recent rapid increase in positive tests for the highly contagious virus.

The state Health Department on Wednesday updated Mississippi’s confirmed coronavirus caseload to at least 1,073 people and 22 deaths.

Because testing remains limited as the outbreak grows, many people moving around their communities may not know they’ve contracted the virus until well after they’ve infected others.

Most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, but a fraction of people suffering more severe illnesses can require respirators to survive, and as the caseload rapidly grows, hospitals are bracing for a wave of patients.

Reeves said his statewide stay-home order includes a ban on evictions. It mandates the closure of movie theaters, beaches, bowling alleys, gyms and salons. Reeves said walking trails would remain open.