JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that public school buildings will remain closed the rest of the semester to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, but he wants schools to continue distance-learning efforts.
Reeves also said some school districts should look at an option of offering summer classes.
He praised teachers, administrators and parents, saying that he thinks most students have continued to take some classes online or through other efforts. He also thanked school bus drivers who have delivered meals and packets of school work to children in parts of the state.
But, referring to the recent school closures, Reeves said: “This hasn’t hit all students equally.”
He acknowledged that some parts of the state lack strong internet access and some residents don't have access to computers.
Reeves, a Republican, issued an order March 19 for public schools to close through this Friday. Many schools have semesters that end in mid-May. He said Tuesday that he consulted health experts before making the decision on extending the closure order.
Reeves also said Tuesday that he is appointing some of the state's “top business minds” to examine it might be safe for Mississippi to start reopening businesses that have closed because of the pandemic.
The state had at least 3,087 confirmed cases and 111 deaths from the virus as of Monday evening, according to numbers released Tuesday by the state Health Department. That was an increase of 145 cases and 13 deaths from the previous day. The state’s population is about 3 million.
The Health Department said cases have been confirmed in at least 60 long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
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.
Reeves on Tuesday toured parts of south Mississippi that were struck by tornadoes Sunday. At least 12 people were killed and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged in 30 of the state's 82 counties, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Reeves said the coronavirus remains “a real threat," and storm recovery adds to the state's problems.
Mississippi remains under the governor's statewide stay-at-home order until at least early next week. Many businesses are closed, and tens of thousands have applied for state unemployment benefits. Reeves said he'll continue to consult health experts about when a wide reopening of businesses might be safe.
“We not only have a public health crisis before us. We have an economic crisis before us, as well,” Reeves said. “It is incumbent upon all of us as leaders to do everything we can to get our economy back open as soon as possible and as soon as it is going to be allowable, given the public health challenges that exist.”