The day after Gov. Tate Reeves activated the National Guard to help, the number of officially confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Mississippi rose to 21 on the Mississippi State Department of Health's website, with four additional Hinds County cases added, bringing the local total in the capital-city region to six.
Two new Gulf Coast counties—Harrison and Jackson—joined Hancock County there with one case each. Leflore County, in the Mississippi Delta, now has four confirmed cases, with three in the Hattiesburg area (Forrest County), and two each in Copiah and Pearl River counties in south Mississippi. Monroe County is the only northeast Mississippi county with a confirmed case so far.
Read breaking coverage of COVID-19 in Mississippi, plus safety tips, cancellations, more in the JFP's archive.
The growing cases in Mississippi led Reeves, who just returned from a spring-break trip with his family to coronavirus-inundated Spain, to sign an executive order activating the National Guard to help set up more testing sites. As of this morning, the State has only tested 389 people in Mississippi.
"Our goal is over the next several days to stand up additional testing centers throughout Mississippi,"" Reeves said in a video announcement. And we're going to give the Department of Health as well as the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency access to Mississippi National Guard personnel to ensure the safety of our health-care workers."
The Urgency of Social Distancing Hits Home
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs gathered reporters in the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency headquarters Monday before today's new numbers went public to address how the State is responding. "As you're aware, the president made a new recommendation just this afternoon about decreasing crowd size to 10," Dobbs says, reflecting the nation's rising awareness of the need for "social distancing." Just days ago, the common recommendation was no crowds of over 250 people.
Gov. Reeves agreed in his video statement: "We need to allow for all state agencies to determine who is essential, and then to send all nonessential personnel home," he said.
The increasing concern by government officials is leading to both orders and recommendations to close facilities like bars and restaurants around the nation, especially after weekend images of young people packed into bars and restaurants in U.S. cities filled social media. In Mississippi, however, it is still a suggestion.
"At this time we're not making recommendations to close bars or restaurants," Dobbs said Monday. "Certainly it's under additional consideration, but we're making no such recommendation now."
On Monday, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba strongly suggested that capital-city restaurants move to take-out and curbside service instead of sit-down service, instead of ordering it outright, which he indicated could still happen. "We know that this has severe economic implications, and we know that those establishments are concerned for that, but we believe that the public-health concern rises above that," Lumumba said in a streamed press conference.
Lumumba also signed an executive order banning gathers of 50 or more people in Jackson about the same time the White House indicated that groups should be limited to 10 or fewer people.
Such social distancing is important to "flatten the curve" and try to limit an explosion of cases that would over-burden the health-care system, leaving it unable to care for the people infected with COVID-19. The most likely to die from COVID-19 are elderly people, and younger people can carry and transmit the symptoms without ever getting sick from it themselves, although many do.
"For those who are over 65 or have current medical conditions, it's especially important for them to avoid crowds given their susceptibility to severe outcomes," Dobbs said Monday.
Avoid Clinics Visits If Not An Emergency
Dobbs called for Mississippians to help keep medical professionals available to deal with the growing number of cases here. "We are urging that clinics cancel unnecessary or nonessential clinic visits," he said. "If it's not an absolute necessity for someone to come into the medical environment, to delay that for a future date. We are also strongly recommending that facilities such as surgery centers and hospitals delay elective surgeries."
Mississippians cannot just show up at his department to get tested for coronavirus, even if they have symptoms, Dobbs reminded: "You cannot come to the County Health Department to get tested for COVID-19. You need to see your physician, your provider to get assessed."
With the number of confirmed cases growing in Mississippi, Dobbs applauded the State's efforts to bring in reinforcements to help accommodate more testing. "We are working closely with MEMA and National Guard partners looking at options for even doing pod sites where we can do rapid throughput testing," he said.
But the big thing, Dobbs said, is to stay at home, especially if you have symptoms. "Please, if you're ill, and you have fever, please don't go to work. Stay home, and protect your coworkers," he said.
The spread of the coronavirus in Mississippi is a rapidly changing story. Please follow reporter Nick Judin on Twitter at @nickjudin and watch our archive at jacksonfreepress.com/coronavirus for updated information.
Read the JFP's coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. And read about announced closings and delays in Mississippi here. Read MEMA's press release on a COVID-19 preparedness kit here. Email information about closings and other vital related logistical details to email@example.com.
Email Jackson Free Press Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @donnerkay. Email state reporter Nick Judin, who is covering COVID-19 in Mississippi, at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin.