Mississippi governor reconsiders reopening state after new spike in coronavirus cases, deaths

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Friday he would hold off on further measures to gradually reopen the state after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and deaths, surged overnight.

His decision came after the state health department recorded at least 397 new infections and at least 20 new fatalities within a 24-hour period. As of Sunday, Mississippi recorded a total of 7,441 confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 291 deaths.

“Things can change quickly. We have to stay flexible. Today, I was prepared to announce further reopenings. That was the plan and I was excited to get more of our people back to work,” Reeves said at his COVID-19 news briefing Friday. “This was a large enough change to make me take a step back, and I have come to the conclusion that I must hold on for now.”

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During the briefing, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reported that, as of Friday, 554 COVID-19 patients occupied Mississippi hospital beds.

“This thing is not even remotely toward the end,” Dobbs said. “Don’t be surprised if we have rebounding cases and have to reverse course if people are not willing to do the simple things that are requested at this time.”

Initially citing a low number of patients and medical resources being utilized, Reeves, a Republican, had allowed the state to transition into a safer-at-home order on April 27, permitting some nonessential businesses to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

“The increase was a large enough change to make me take a step back, reexamine things and must hold on and reconsider at least over the weekend,” Reeves said Friday. “We may still move forward with more reopenings soon. We believe what we’re considering represents safe steps. They wouldn’t recklessly put more people in harm’s way.”

The governor is expected to announce an update to his plans to reopen the state by Monday, WREG-TV reported.

Before the Friday spike in COVID-19 cases, Reeves was singing a different tune in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.

The governor said he felt comfortable opening nonessential businesses given Mississippi had less than 100 people utilizing ventilators and fewer than 200 in intensive care unit beds. Across the state, there are approximately 4,500 hospital beds available, he added.

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“We always knew that we weren’t going to be able to stop the spread of the virus, that we were trying to slow the spread to protect our health care system and we feel confident at this point that we have been able to do that,” Reeves told Fox News.

Under the safer-at-home order, retail businesses could operate at 50 percent capacity for a two-week period provided they follow stringent public health guidelines that included implementing social distancing and providing hand sanitizer for customers. Elective medical and dental procedures were cleared to resume. Meanwhile, gyms, movie theaters and salons were required to remain closed.

“You cannot shutter businesses for months and months and expect they’re just going to come back and be ready to go because even with the massive amounts of federal help, people in our state – and I think people across the country – are hurting,” Reeves said Thursday.

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Given that more than 200,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment, Reeves said other state officials needed to start taking the long-term economic impact this shutdown will bring more seriously.

“We have a short-term public health crisis in this nation, but we also have a short-term economic crisis that every single day that the economy’s not open is going to be harder on the backend. That is something that I think is lost on some people,” the governor said.

Fox News’ Teny Sahakian contributed to this report

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