JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday that he’s adding another week to his statewide “safer at home” order because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s also easing restrictions on water parks and other outdoor sports and leisure venues.
The home order had been set to expire Monday, which is Memorial Day. The new expiration date is June 1. The Republican governor said he recommends all people stay home “as often as possible.” He noted that the virus can be especially difficult for people who are 65 or older or who have conditions such as heart disease.
“I know that we’re going into a holiday weekend when we are used to gathering in large groups and cooking out and having a great time,” Reeves said. “My plea to all Mississippians is to recognize we still have the virus in every community.”
He implored people to limit holiday weekend gatherings to small groups where people maintain social distancing, sanitize items, wash hands and wear masks.
Even with the “safer at home” order in place, Reeves has steadily eased restrictions on businesses that he had closed or limited in March or April.
Casinos were allowed to start reopening Thursday after being closed for two months. Restaurants, gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons and tattoo parlours have been allowed to reopen in the past two weeks. All must limit the number of customers and must take extra steps for sanitation.
Movie theatres, bowling alleys and museums have not received the governor’s blessing to reopen. He said he continues to consult with health experts.
Under revisions Reeves made Friday, sports teams can hold outdoor practices, and schools can open their gyms and weight rooms with extra sanitation.
Reeves said Friday that because Holmes County has a high rate of the virus, he is adding it to the list of seven other counties where extra precautions are mandated. The precautions remain in place in Attala, Leake, Scott, Jasper, Neshoba, Newton and Lauderdale.
In those eight counties, masks must be worn by people at outdoor events such as flea markets or auctions, and by those shopping inside retail businesses such as grocery stores. The new order also requires businesses to provide masks for their employees in retail settings, and it requires the employees to wear the masks while working.
In addition, businesses are required to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each shift, to provide hand sanitizer and ensure employees remain at least 6 feet (1.8 metres) apart wherever possible. Those who cannot maintain that distance must wear a mask while working, and the mask must be sanitized or replaced daily.
The state Health Department said Friday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 12,624 confirmed cases and 596 deaths from the coronavirus as of Thursday evening. That was an increase of 402 cases and 16 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier. The deaths reported Friday included three that occurred between May 5 and May 12; those were counted after the department received death certificates.
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, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Friday at least 1,627 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 300 virus-related deaths in those facilities.
The department said Friday that more than 137,900 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Thursday. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Thursday that more than 4,000 of those were blood tests that detect whether a person has antibodies that usually show up after an infection is resolved.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press