Governor says Mississippi ‘can’t take much more’ of coronavirus-sparked economic woes

Published 5:37 pm Thursday, April 16, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic are “insane” as the state — like other parts of the U.S. — continues to see steep increases in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits.

Mississippi processed more than 129,500 unemployment claims between March 14 and April 11, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration. Reeves has said the usual number is no more than 1,000 a week.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security is on a seven-day-a-week schedule and has brought in extra workers to process claims, but people are still having trouble reaching the agency to apply for benefits because of the high demand.

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“It’s now a 14,000% increase in lost Mississippi jobs. Many more still can’t get through because of the surge,” Republican Reeves said Thursday on Twitter. “This is insane — the bleeding has to stop. Lives depend on this as well. Please pray for wisdom as we consider all options. Our people can’t take much more.”

Reeves has said he will announce Friday whether to extend his stay-at-home order that took effect the evening of April 3. It is currently set to expire Monday.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and several other types of businesses that are considered essential have remained open under Reeves’s order. Restaurants are allowed to offer drive-thru or carry-out services. Many businesses, including automotive and tire manufacturing operations, have furloughed workers.

The state Health Department said Thursday that Mississippi had at least 3,624 confirmed cases and 129 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. That was an increase of 264 cases and seven deaths from the previous day. The state’s population is about 3 million.

Cases have been confirmed in at least 65 long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, the department said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

African Americans make up 38% of Mississippi’s population and are being disproportionately affected by the outbreak. The Health Department said 56% of confirmed cases of the virus and 66% of the deaths from it are in African Americans.

The Health Department and the University of Mississippi Medical Center have had mobile testing sites for the coronavirus in several communities the past three weeks. Mobile sites were open Thursday in two predominantly African American counties, Holmes and Wilkinson.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation and has long had high rates of diabetes, heart disease and asthma, which can make people more vulnerable to complications from the virus.