COVID-19 has arrived in Jackson, infecting two students so far, at least one of whom traveled out of state for spring break. Mississippi and Jackson leaders declared a state of emergency at both the city and state levels, and Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, suggested that the Legislature may suspend its session. Photo by Ashton Pittman
Two students—one from Jackson State University and the other from the University of Mississippi Medical Center—are Hinds County's first confirmed cases of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19. This morning, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced two new cases, bringing the total to 12, including the first case in northeast Mississippi, in Monroe County. The other new case is in Pearl River County in south Mississippi. MSDH also changed the location of a previously announced case from Pearl River County to Hancock County on the Gulf Coast.
The UMMC student reported symptoms shortly after returning from a trip out-of-state for spring break. It is not yet confirmed if the JSU student also traveled outside Mississippi for vacation prior to contracting the virus.
Both students are isolated at home, neither requiring hospitalization at this time, as is common for young adults the virus afflicts. All of the state's public institutions of higher learning have extended spring break through this week, in preparation for online learning to begin next week.
"This will test all of us like nothing we have experienced in many years," UMMC School of Medicine Dean LouAnn Woodward said in a Sunday email to university faculty, staff and students. "I know you will join me in remaining calm and professional, and at all times serving our patients and each other with the very best we have to offer."
'Social Distancing' Required in Jackson; Legislature May Adjourn
The confirmed arrival of COVID-19 follows a weekend of growing restrictions on movement and public gatherings nationwide. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control announced new guidelines advising against gatherings of 50 people or more, specifically targeted at "large events and mass gatherings [including] conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies."
While the guidelines do not apply to schools, universities or businesses, ample evidence shows that these institutions serve as vectors of transmission for the disease as well.
Public officials expressed the dire threat of COVID-19 with weekend proclamations. Gov. Tate Reeves, newly returned from a family trip to Spain and self-quarantined due to that country's extensive outbreaks of the virus, issued a state of emergency in Mississippi.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba is set to declare a civil emergency in the capital city today, with a press conference scheduled for 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. The emergency declaration will shutter non-essential city government offices and establish remote-work protocols for all non-essential city employees. Gatherings of more than 50 people will be prohibited in the City of Jackson, and all large gatherings will be "limited."
Read breaking coverage of COVID-19 in Mississippi, plus safety tips, cancellations, more in the JFP's archive.
Those restrictions, as well as the restrictions of the CDC, do not apply to the Mississippi Legislature, both chambers of which are scheduled to gavel in at 4 p.m. today. Last week, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann announced new restrictions on legislative attendance, preventing access to the Capitol for most of the public, sending pages home and barring lobbyists from the Capitol rotunda.
"We intend to work as long as is humanly possible," Hosemann said at a Friday press conference in the Capitol press room. Elsewhere, that limit is already being reached. As of Monday morning, legislative sessions in 20 states across the U.S. have postponed or adjourned to avoid providing a vector for the virus to spread.
Sources at the Legislature told the Jackson Free Press this morning that discussions are underway about the immediate future of the legislative session. Part of the hesitation, one source added, was a desire to pass emergency legislation to "ease the burden on citizens." Such legislation could pass quickly before the Legislature shuts down to weather the global pandemic's spread.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, acknowledged the threat the virus posed to public health and the unique danger of the disease spreading through the Legislature. "We each represent a different part of the state—If somebody were to be infected there it would certainly be possible for us to take it back to our districts," he said in a phone interview Monday morning.
The threat of viral exposure across such a cross-section of the state is precisely why so many legislative sessions are already adjourned. McDaniel believes Mississippi is soon to follow. "I do believe we'll suspend operations here pretty shortly," McDaniel said.
Confusing Over Testing Abating in Mississippi Clinics
On Sunday, the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered a two-month suspension of service disconnections for a wide range of utilities, including water, sewer, electricity and gas lines. MPSC Central District Commissioner Brent Bailey explained the need for "extraordinary steps to protect consumers."
"We don't take the execution of today's action lightly, but the Commission felt that it needed to issue this Order to protect public health and welfare," he said.
Over the weekend, the Jackson Free Press reported the confusion over COVID-19 testing on the ground level of clinics and health-care providers last Friday, as the Mississippi Department of Health acknowledged it was engaged in the process of reaching out to clinics and physicians to instruct them in addressing the pandemic. Some of that confusion seems to have abated. Clinics and hospitals the Jackson Free Press called Monday morning had a much better grasp of the process of COVID-19 sample retrieval and testing.
Commonwealth Apartment Complex, a federally qualified health-care provider, displayed an accurate understanding of the screening, sampling and testing process. St. Dominic Memorial Hospital told the Jackson Free Press that it was capable of testing patients, but referred those not hospitalized seeking COVID-19 testing to MEA clinics in the area. They confirmed they have the ability to collect samples for testing. All clinics and hospitals nationwide require that individuals seeking COVID-19 call ahead for screening.
The spread of the coronavirus in Mississippi is a rapidly changing story. Please follow reporter Nick Judin on Twitter at @nickjudin and watch our archive at jacksonfreepress.com/coronavirus for updated information.
Read the JFP's coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. And read about announced closings and delays in Mississippi here. Read MEMA's press release on a COVID-19 preparedness kit here. Email information about closings and other vital related logistical details to [email protected].
Email state reporter Nick Judin, who is covering COVID-19 in Mississippi, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin. State intern Julian Mills contributed to this report.