Gov. Tate Reeves (left) is ending Mississippi’s transitional COVID-19 shutdown period, while State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs (right) has agreed to obey the court order compelling the release of long-term care facility names to the press. Photo courtesy State of Mississippi
Mississippi’s transitional COVID-19 shutdown period is slated to end Monday, June 1, with the end of Gov. Tate Reeves’ “Safer At Home” executive order and the beginning of what he is calling a “Safe Return” order.
“All businesses will be open, but they will have to follow the strict health rules that we have set forward,” the governor said. The health rules laid out in the executive order include mandatory social distancing inside venues, regular screenings for COVID-19 symptoms and enhanced cleanliness schedules.
The order allows for large gatherings, previously restricted to prevent clustered spread of coronavirus. “We will have two rules for gatherings: one where social distancing is possible and one where it is not. If you can cluster groups that are frequently in contact together in a socially distant way, you can have indoor gatherings of 50, and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 ... starting on Monday,” Reeves said at his May 27 briefing.
But gatherings without the possibility of social distancing still allow up to 20 individuals indoors and 50 outdoors. Additional rules for sporting events are included in the order.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs’ concern lies with the hospitalization metrics remaining stable. “Our ICU patients, our number of ventilators and our total number of deaths, every single one of them being a tragedy, have continued to stay relatively flat,” he said Wednesday. “The number is so low that they fluctuate every single day, but it looks like the number of cases is primarily driven by finding asymptomatic or unserious cases through our ramped-up targeted testing.”
Hospitalization data remain flat, as Dobbs suggested, but new cases of COVID-19 have steadily increased in recent weeks. In the last two weeks, the seven-day average of new cases has increased from just over 250 to more than 300.
Dobbs argued that increased case numbers are likely asymptomatic or “unserious” cases, due to the stable hospitalization metrics.
Today’s COVID-19 update brings 328 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 14,372 statewide. Yesterday’s update included 313 new cases, representing the steady incline of new infections from the proceeding weeks. An additional 23 Mississippians died from complications related to COVID-19, as well as 18 the day before, for 693 fatalities since the beginning of the crisis here in March. Dobbs chalked up the heightened spread to family transmission, community gatherings like block parties, and nonspecific businesses that bring Mississippians into close proximity.
The state health officer also agreed to obey the court order mandating the Mississippi State Department of Health to release the names of the long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, in Forrest County to the Pine Belt News, which prevailed in a lawsuit against the state health agency. Previously, Dobbs cited “privacy concerns” as a reason to conceal the 127 long-term care facilities currently suffering outbreaks of COVID-19.
Dobbs said additional requests for data on afflicted facilities would pass through their legal team for a response. The court order demands that MSDH provide the records requested within seven days, or else provide a legally valid exemption for withholding the information.
The Jackson Free Press has requested the names of all 127 long-term care facilities affected by COVID-19 as of May 28 from MSDH. This newspaper’s position is that MSDH should update the list of facilities and numbers of cases in each on its website daily alongside other COVID-19 information and data.
Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Email state reporter Nick Judin at [email protected] and follow him @nickjudin