JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that the state economy will reopen gradually after health officials and others say it's safe to do so during the coronavirus pandemic. He cautioned that life will not immediately return to normal.
A day after other Republican governors in parts of the South announced plans to start reopening some businesses in coming days, Reeves said he is still considering how to ease into more changes in Mississippi.
“This is not going to be a light switch that we can turn on,” Reeves said.
Reeves's statewide stay-at-home order began the evening of April 3 and remains in effect until Monday, after he extended it by one week.
The governor's first step toward reopening some businesses started this week, with those deemed “nonessential,” such as florists and clothing stores, allowed to sell items by delivery or curbside pickup. Owners of some small businesses had said they were being hurt by big chain stores that had continued to sell clothing and other items in addition to groceries.
Mississippi restaurants have been restricted to delivery or carry-out service for weeks. Reeves did not say Tuesday when restaurants will be allowed to reopen for dine-in service. But he said they will probably be told to leave some tables empty for a while to allow more distance between customers.
The governor and Mississippi Department of Employment Security director Jackie Turner also announced Tuesday that pandemic unemployment benefits are now available to thousands of people who are self-employed or are gig workers, independent contractors or employees of charities and faith-based organizations.
Like other states, Mississippi has seen a dramatic increase in claims for unemployment benefits in the past month because of the global pandemic. Turner said some gig workers and others who are newly eligible for benefits have already submitted applications.
She said they don't need to restart the application process, but they do need to submit an updated document to certify that they are still seeking benefits. Others already receiving benefits are also required to submit recertification documents weekly.
The state Health Department said Tuesday that Mississippi had at least 4,716 confirmed cases and 183 deaths from the coronavirus as of Monday evening. That was an increase of 204 cases and 14 deaths from the previous day. The state’s population is about 3 million.
The department said Monday that coronavirus cases have been confirmed in at least 79 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 52,364 coronavirus tests had been done in the state as of Monday..