Lawmakers head back to capital, will consider how to dole out coronavirus aid

Published 3:11 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Mississippi legislators will be back at work Thursday to consider proposals to help businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus outbreak, House and Senate leaders said Tuesday.

It will be the second time in less than a week for legislators to return to the Capitol after putting their session on hold in mid-March because of the pandemic. They passed a bill Friday that would give the Legislature control over spending $1.25 billion that Mississippi is receiving from the federal government as part of a massive coronavirus relief package.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has called that bill a power grab by the Republican-majority Legislature, saying that he is best positioned to act quickly to spend the federal money as needs arise.

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“The backbone of our economy in Mississippi is our small businesses, and now they need our support,” Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, said in news release Tuesday.

Gunn said the House and Senate “will act together to provide relief as quickly as possible this week,” although the statement did not provide details of a plan.

Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said in the statement that legislators represent the whole state.

“We know Mississippi’s small businesses — our local restaurants, barber shops, hair salons, and retail shops — need help,” Hosemann said.

The state Health Department said Tuesday that Mississippi had at least 8,207 confirmed cases and 342 deaths from the coronavirus as of Monday evening. That was an increase of 330 cases and 32 deaths from the previous day. Mississippi’s population is about 3 million.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The Health Department said Tuesday that more than 80,300 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Monday. The department said at least 965 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 125 deaths from it in those facilities.

The governor’s “safer at home” order started April 27, replacing a stricter stay-at-home order that was in place for more than three weeks. The new order remains in effect until Monday morning. It has allowed some to reopen with limits on how many customers may be present. It also allows physicians to start offering some services that had been limited in recent weeks.

Barbershops, salons, tattoo parlors and entertainment venues such as movie theaters remain closed.

Reeves is easing some restrictions on restaurants and outdoor gatherings, beginning Thursday. Restaurants will be allowed to open their indoor dining rooms and outdoor seating areas with masks on servers and limits on the number of customers. Outdoor gatherings such as youth sports practices may have up to 20 people, an increase from the current limit of 10.