March 24 UPDATE to below story: At a press conference this morning, Gov. Tate Reeves said he's still taking a "Wait and See" approach to a shelter-at-home order. He didn't give details of executive orders he says he plans to sign as Mississippi saw the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in a single day thus far.
Gov. Tate Reeves rejected calls today for a statewide shelter-at-home order, a measure of caution against the spread of COVID-19 being rapidly deployed next door in Louisiana, elsewhere in the United States and across the globe.
"It is my goal to make sure we make good, solid decisions based on experts,” the governor said in an afternoon Facebook Live address, where he took questions from Mississippi residents. “No one at the State Department of Health has recommended that we have a statewide shelter-in-place order," Reeves added.
Late Friday, MSDH issued an alert recommending that restaurants close to sit-down service and that Mississippians not attend funerals, weddings, church services, or other community or social events with an expected attendance of more than 10 people.
A number of questions the governor fielded urged him to take immediate action to order the shutdown, following Ohio, Louisiana, Delaware, California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Michigan, West Virginia, Oregon and Indiana. Other states, like Washington, have urged residents to stay in their homes, but have yet to formally issue the order.
The value of a shelter-at-home order is relatively simple. Individuals who acquire COVID-19 may spread it asymptomatically—without any signs that they are infected—for up to 14 days. Without a good grasp on who is infected, it is impossible to tell where the virus is, meaning the only way to strangle the spread of the virus is to stop as much of its transmission as is possible. Is is also a measure to protect against overloading the health-care system, leaving it unable to care for all the critically ill patients.
Read breaking coverage of COVID-19 in Mississippi, plus safety tips, cancellations, more in the JFP's archive.
One Mississippian asked the governor why the state was not emulating China, the first country to detect COVID-19 and the first to control the spread of the virus. “Mississippi's never going to be China. Mississippi's never going to be North Korea,” Reeves responded. He added that “when looking at the numbers China’s putting out, claiming that they have no new cases over a period of time—I’m not entirely sure we can trust that data.”
Reeves’ skepticism of China’s control of the COVID-19 pandemic is incorrect, however. In areas across China most heavily affected by the novel coronavirus, the extensive lockdown, testing and case isolation protocols have eliminated the spread of the virus to the degree that the imminent danger for these areas is not community spread, but reinfection from travelers returning from abroad. Dr. Bruce Aylward, World Health Organization senior advisor, explains the dedication of the Chinese model. "They’re mobilized, like in a war, and it’s fear of the virus that was driving them. They really saw themselves as on the front lines of protecting the rest of China. And the world," he said.
Life in China has begun to return to normal, although it is still on high alert for reintroduction of the virus. Both foreign and domestic observers have pointed out that internal travel restrictions and commerce are beginning to normalize across the nation, with many international businesses opening back up as the threat abates. Aylward calls this the "phased restart" of the economy, with many warning mechanisms in place if the virus returns.
However, Reeves seems to be erring on the side of keeping people going to work rather than sheltering at home to help flatten the spiking curve of the virus in Mississippi. “We don’t want to make any decisions that would ultimately do more harm than good,” Reeves said, however, in his Facebook address. He was referring to fears that a full shutdown of non-essential businesses would damage the Mississippi economy and leave its workforce at the mercy of debt collectors and landlords.
The raft of other states choosing to batten down the hatches as the virus spreads did not move Reeves to join in. "We're not going to make rash decisions just because some states have decided to do things,” Reeves said.
The Mississippi State Department of Health’s newest information on COVID-19 lists 249 detected cases out of 1,392 tests—a 213% increase since Friday.
Reeves explained today that Mississippi’s criteria for COVID-19 testing was “a fever of 100.4 or greater, and severe cough/chest pain."
On the subject of hospital beds, Reeves said that Mississippi’s statewide capacity was 2,700 total ICU beds, with 900 currently unoccupied. But in the case of a crisis, ICU expansions could increase that capacity by between 50% to 100%. That would mean a maximum of roughly 2,250 additional ICU beds available in the coming weeks and months.
Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Read about announced closings and delays in Mississippi here. Read MEMA’s advice for 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. Seyma Bayram is covering the outbreak inside the capital city and in the criminal-justice system. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @seymabayram0.