JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he expects to take steps next week in a gradual reopening of the state's economy during the coronavirus pandemic. He didn't specify what those will be, but said he's taking advice from public health experts.
He also said he recognizes that people face economic hardships.
“I've said it before and I will say it again: There is no such thing as a nonessential business to the owners and the people who depend on that business to provide for their families,” the Republican governor said.
Orders issued in Mississippi and other places have closed many businesses in recent weeks to try to slow the spread of the virus. Grocery stores and pharmacies are among those allowed to remain open because they are deemed essential. Early this week, Reeves took the first step toward easing restrictions on some businesses classified as nonessential, including clothing stores and florists, by allowing them to sell items for delivery or curbside pickup.
Reeves's current statewide stay-at-home order expires Monday morning. He said Wednesday that he's likely to extend that order for people who are most vulnerable to the highly contagious virus — those who are 65 or older or who have conditions such as obesity or high blood pressure.
He also said he has not set a timeline for allowing restaurants to reopen for dine-in services.
“Much to the chagrin of some ... we did not shut those down very early in this process," Reeves said. "We allowed restaurants to (remain) open, particularly those who could key social distancing guidelines in effect. We allowed them to serve groups of smaller than 10 people.”
He said it is likely to be a gradual process in reverse, with restaurants being required at first to limit the number of customers and to provide space for people to keep distance from each other.
The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi had at least 4,894 confirmed cases and 193 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 178 cases and 10 deaths from the previous day. The state’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.
The department said Monday that at least 470 coronavirus cases have been confirmed at 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.
The Health Department said more than 53,800 coronavirus tests had been done in the state as of Tuesday.
Reeves said Wednesday that four inmates in the Mississippi prison system had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday, and 19 inmates have tested negative. He said a test for one inmate was still pending. The Department of Corrections previously said that one inmate who tested positive for the virus had died.
Four staff members for the Department of Corrections have tested positive for the virus, and at least one of those people has returned to work, Reeves said. He said 25 corrections staff members have tested negative, and test results for six others are still pending.
The Mississippi prison system has about 20,500 inmates in custody.