Mississippi set to reopen Monday, governor says, despite ‘deadly enemy’ still in our midst

Published 4:57 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he will allow all types of businesses to reopen Monday but they must follow safety guidelines to try to minimize spread of the new coronavirus.

“This does not mean the threat is gone,” Reeves said. “COVID-19 is a deadly enemy that is still in our midst. We live in a dangerous time, and it is up to all of us to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones.”

The Republican governor said that although new cases of the virus continue to be confirmed, Mississippi has had a “plateau” rather than a sharp spike, and its hospitals have not been near capacity. The state is also facing economic problems, including high unemployment.

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“Freedom with risk is better than a prolonged shutdown that threatens livelihoods and lives through government action,” Reeves said. “I trust you. I trust the people of Mississippi.”

Outdoor sports complexes are allowed to reopen Monday, although concession stands will remain closed. Indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, museums, bowling alleys and trampoline parks also may reopen, with limits on the number of customers.

Reeves set statewide restrictions that took effect in early April. He has been easing them in recent weeks, already allowing reopening of barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors and casinos and allowing restaurants to resume dine-in services with limits on customers.

Reeves said he is asking people who are medically vulnerable to remain at home as much as possible, even when his “safer at home” order expires Monday. It will be replaced by a “safe return” order, which will be in place until at least June 15.

The new order sets two rules for group gatherings:

— For situations in which social distancing is possible, indoor gatherings may have up to 50 people and outdoor gatherings may have up to 100.

— For situations in which social distancing is not possible — which, “let’s be honest, is most of the time,” Reeves said — indoor gatherings are limited to 20 people and outdoor gatherings may have up to 50.

He said all types of health care procedures will be allowed as long as hospitals reserve at least 25% of their space for COVID-19 patients.

“That will help us to honor and achieve our original goal — to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed,” Reeves said.

The governor ordered schools to close in mid-March. He said that starting Monday, schools may open their buildings to make up for time lost during distance learning.

“Local governments may be more strict, but we believe that this is the best path forward for our state,” Reeves said.

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 14,044 confirmed cases and 670 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 313 cases and 18 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier.

The number of coronavirus 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 that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The department said at least 1,767 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 341 virus-related deaths in those facilities.

The department also said Wednesday that more than 154,600 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Monday. More more than 6,800 of those were blood tests that detect whether a person has antibodies that usually show up after an infection is resolved.