JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Five more people have tested positive for coronavirus in Mississippi, including two in the Hattiesburg area, where the state's initial case lives, and two whose home counties aren't yet being released, the Mississippi State Department of Health said Friday.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been in Spain with his family for a daughter's soccer tournament, is returning Friday, news outlets reported. Asked whether the governor will quarantine himself in light of the thousands of cases in Spain, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said, “We are meeting with him. We don't want to scoop what the governor has to say.”
The news that Mississippi now has six cases of the respiratory illness called COVID-19 came as school and college closures, which have mounted nationwide, began to spread across Mississippi and numerous public events were postponed or cancelled. It's all part of a push to stem new cases of the illness caused by the virus.
“It's very apparent that things are progressing and evolving very rapidly,” said Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist. “This is not unexpected ... based on what we've seen in other states and other countries.”
The two new Forrest County cases include a woman over the age of 65 who recently traveled to North Carolina and has been hospitalized. A man who recently traveled to Florida is isolating himself at home to avoid spreading the virus, a news release said. The third newly diagnosed person is a Leflore County woman who is also staying home, Byers said at a news conference with Dobbs on Friday afternoon.
He said he cannot yet release information about the other two newly diagnosed people. “We're still in the process of notifying their physicians about their patients, trying to identify those individuals, make contact with them and identify their contacts,” Byers said.
The six are among 90 people tested so far.
“We are conducting further investigation to determine if and how these cases might be connected to the first presumptive case. At this point, that is not clear, but we are thoroughly exploring all possibilities,” Dobbs said in the earlier news release.
Most people with the disease called COVID-19 have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of those infected get well. Recovery takes about two weeks for people with mild symptoms but can take three to six weeks for those with more severe illness, according to the World Health Organization.
Dobbs said the department now recommends that nursing homes and other long-term health facilities stop “group social activities” and urges everyone to avoid gatherings of more than 250 people.
On Thursday, health officials said people with health problems should avoid such gatherings and advised long-term care facilities to restrict visitation. Mississippi's Department of Corrections suspended visitation to state inmates.
“Do not go to church,” Dr. Rambod Rouhbaksh of Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg said Thursday. “Do not go to mass gatherings that are not absolutely necessary."
In addition to Forrest County cases, some Mississippi residents in the state’s northwest corner are on home quarantine after possible exposure to a case in nearby Memphis, Tennessee.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told reporters Friday that lawmakers would continue to meet at the state capitol in Jackson, but the state Senate Rules Committee voted to stop inviting student pages or people to be honored on the floor of the Senate. Hosemann told the Clarion Ledger that displays by groups inside the capitol will also be canceled. Hosemann said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs advised lawmakers on restrictions.
“We have not discussed postponing,” he told the Clarion Ledger.
The state Board of Education announced Friday that it would hold its meeting only online next week, saying it wanted to limit public contact that might be spreading the virus
The board noted that it doesn't have authority to close schools statewide, leaving that decision to local authorities. Schools must make up any days they miss, unless the governor or president declares an emergency, it said.
At least six public school districts — Tupelo, Oxford, Hollandale, Marshall County, Lafayette County and Lowndes County — have announced they will take days off next week. Many schools statewide have been on spring break this week.
Most of the state's 15 community colleges said they would cancel classes next week. Some colleges said they plan to resume on-campus instruction for at least some students on March 23. Their move comes after the state's eight public universities announced they were extending their spring breaks through March 23 and then would begin online classes.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History closed all its museums, including the twin civil rights and history museums in Jackson.
Many large events statewide were canceled or postponed, including monster truck rallies set for this weekend in Tupelo and Friday night appearances by televangelist Joel Osteen in Jackson and comedian Tracy Morgan in Tunica County.
The Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Basketball Classic will go on Friday, but only immediate family and coaches will be admitted, the Mississippi Association of Coaches said.
The Rapiscan Systems Classic senior golf tournament set for March 23 through 29 in Biloxi was also canceled, while rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd's March 20 concert in Tupelo will be rescheduled.
Gulf Wars, an eight-day Society for Creative Anachronism event scheduled to start Saturday in Lumberton, also was canceled.