301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Published 8:39 a.m. CT March 22, 2020 | Updated 4:37 p.m. CT March 22, 2020

Mississippi has at least 207 reported cases of coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health, with one death reported, as of Sunday.

The Mississippi State Department of Health on March 11 reported the state’s first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus.

As of Sunday, the department said they had conducted 1,321 tests.

State government: Mississippi lawmakers to halt legislative session over coronavirus

Vicksburg mayor issues city-wide curfew

    • Social distancing will be enforced starting at noon on Monday.
    • A city-wide curfew begins from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m Monday. This excludes first responders, law enforcement and those trying to get to and from work for 14 days.
    • The city is limiting gatherings to 10 people or less for theaters, churches, entertainment venues and places of public gathering. They city is also closing night clubs.
    • Restaurants, night clubs, lounges and bars will be closed except for take-out, delivery and drive-thru pick-up. Restaurants should close by 11 p.m. and open at 5 a.m.
    • The city recommends funeral services to be limited to 50 or less people. The city recommends holding funerals on the property of the funeral home or in the City of Vicksburg Auditorium.
    • Liquor stores will provide only curbside delivery with no more than 10 employees inside a store at one time.
    • Nail salons and barbershops should close by 6 p.m. and should not have more than 10 customers inside at one time.
    • Salvation Army will offer curbside meals for senior citizens on Monday, Tuesday, March 30 and March 31. Other sites for senior citizen meals include Wednesday at Jackson Street Center and April 1 to April 3 at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

More testing sites on the way

The Health Department on Saturday said it will set up six COFID-19 testing sites across the state next week.

The sites will test residents with symptoms such as a fever of 100.4 or greater and severe cough or chest pain.

Gov. Tate Reeves provides unemployment benefits

  • Reeves signed an executive order instructing the Mississippi Department of Employment Security  to expedite payments to unemployed Mississippians and relax collection requirements on employers.
  • One-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits for all claims filed from March 8 to June 27 is waived and all work search requirements that normally must be met to receive benefits are suspended.
  • To relieve some of the pressure on employers, Reeves is also suspending all collection activities, such as enrollment of liens and tax garnishments

Hattiesburg mayor’s executive order closes restaurants and bars

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker has issued an executive order effective at midnight:

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Delivery: Varies

  • Closing bars and restaurants except for take-out, delivery and drive-thru pick-up of food
  • Limiting gatherings to 10 people or less and closing entertainment venues like skating rinks, bowling alleys and movie theaters
  • Advising people to stay away from large gatherings like church, funerals and social events
  • He’s concerned about 5 cases of COVID-19 in Forrest County, large number of Hattiesburg coronavirus tests being sent to state lab and university students returning from places where there have been high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
  • Forrest County Supervisors’ Board President David Hogan also issued executive order closing restaurants and bars in the county

Batesville hospital sets up floor for COVID-19 patients

  • Panola Medical Center, in Batesville, has set up a dedicated respiratory care floor for COVID-19 symptomatic patients — the first of its kind in Mississippi.
  • It will be a quarantined floor to safely test and treat patients with coronavirus symptoms.
  •  22 rooms are available to serve patients who test positive for the coronavirus and need inpatient treatment services.
  • The hospital has also set up a drive-thru testing center — open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

State distribution of personal protective equipment

Mississippi  Department of Health and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will begin distributing Personal Protective Equipment to counties Saturday:

  • 25% of state PPE inventory will be distributed to local health care facilities and emergency management agencies.
  • Shipments are from state Department of Health and U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Training Academy closes

The Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer’s Training Academy suspended all training of new officers due to “current conditions and concerns regarding COVID-19,” the Mississippi Department of Public Safety announced Sunday.

“This closure not only ensures the safety of trainees but will also allow law enforcement officials assigned to the academy to serve in any needed capacities in response to COVID-19,” according to an emailed press released.

Reeves prays on Facebook live

The governor prayed and read from his Bible on Facebook live Sunday as he encouraged Mississippians to consider a “shared sacrifice.”

Reeves asked that older Mississippians, deemed “high risk categories” stay home and encouraged others to “think about delivering groceries to your elderly neighbors.”

Noting the limited hospital beds, Reeves said, “I believe that could help us long term.”

During the video, multiple viewers commented, asking about supplies and a statewide lockdown. Reeves did not address the comments.

First coronavirus death reported

Thursday, the Mississippi Department of Health reported the first death from coronavirus in Mississippi. The case was a male 60-65 years old from Hancock County with chronic underlying conditions. He died in a Louisiana hospital.

MS coronavirus: Mississippi’s first coronavirus death reported in Hancock County

Schools out through April 17

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Thursday morning that public schools throughout Mississippi will remain closed until at least April 17.

By April 17, public schools in Mississippi will have been closed for four weeks, at which point Reeves said he and education officials will determine whether to further extend school closures.

Mississippi approved for small-business disaster loans

Mississippi was approved Friday for a federal economic disaster declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration. This will unlock low-interest government loans worth up to $2 million for businesses dealing with plummeting revenues from COVID-19.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday that he sent a letter to SBA Director Kim Fleming to request the disaster declaration. On Friday, the request was approved.

Auto plants: Nissan, Toyota car plants in Mississippi set to temporarily halt production due to coronavirus

Auto plants: Nissan, Toyota car plants in Mississippi set to temporarily halt production due to coronavirus

Primary runoff rescheduled for June

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Friday he has delayed a primary runoff election until June 23 due to the coronavirus outbreak. The runoff was originally scheduled for March 31.

The only runoff contest is for Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District. Thomas Carey, a retired realtor who ran for Senate in 2014, faces Brian Flowers, a U.S. Navy veteran from Clinton who works at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. B.C. Hammond, a Sunflower County soybean farmer, was eliminated in the primary earlier this month.

The winner will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democrat in Congress.

Clinics open to treat, test symptomatic people

State and local hospital officials confirmed on Friday the construction of a free testing site in downtown Jackson to attend to those who need help as coronavirus cases in the region rise.

Officials with the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced the placement of a field hospital and testing facility at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. It will open 8 a.m. Monday and provide testing for residents across the state.

It is not open to the general public. Mississippi residents must first go through a screening process through a telehealth app created by CSpire before scheduling an appointment. The app can be downloaded for smartphones at the Google Store or Apple App Store.

Tests are being scheduled only one day in advance, so if all the testing slots are taken, people will be asked to call back the next day and schedule a test. Officials said the facility will have the capability to test 128 people a day, or about 16 per hour.

Testing: Hinds, Copiah, Warren counties

Several clinics in Hinds County and neighboring Copiah and Warren counties will now offer testing for the new coronavirus, officials said Friday.

The testing at 10 area clinics will also be available for uninsured or under-insured residents, said Dr. Jasmin Chapman, CEO of Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center.

“Our job is to take care of the under-insured and uninsured and those who fall though the cracks,” she said.

 Residents are asked to call ahead to be screened before an appointment is made.

Testing will be available at the following locations during regular business hours:

  • Bennie G. Thompson Health Facility:  514G E Woodrow Wilson Ave., Jackson
  • Central Mississippi Medical Center: 1850 Chadwick Dr., Jackson
  • Copiah Comprehensive Health Complex: 550 Caldwell Dr., Hazlehurst
  • Ethel James Ivory Homeless Clinic: 327 South Gallatin St., Jackson
  • Jackson Medical Mall: 350 Woodrow Wilson Ave., Jackson
  • Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center: 100 Magnolia St., Edwards
  • Jackson Hinds South Clinic: 145 Raymond Rd., Jackson
  • James Anderson Health Facility: 3502 W. Northside Dr., Jackson
  • Vicksburg Warren Family Health Care Clinic: 1203 Mission Park Dr., Vicksburg
  • Willie E. Simmons Clinic: 129 White Oak St., Utica

Testing sites outside of Jackson

OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville on Wednesday opened a drive-through clinic to test people for COVID-19 — only those with symptoms who have a written order from their medical provider.

In Hattiesburg, a clinic opened Wednesday at Hattiesburg Clinic’s Cloverleaf Immediate Care facility.

Dr. Bryan Batson of Hattiesburg Clinic said the Cough and Fever Clinic will take walk-ins, but it is recommended that if people have questions about their symptoms to first contact their primary health care providers.

People without a primary care physician and those without insurance may also come to the clinic to be examined and if need be, tested. No one will be turned away for inability to pay.

Batson said people should not visit the clinic if they do not have symptoms, which include fever, a cough, runny nose, sore throat or in some cases difficulty breathing.

Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh with Forrest General Hospital said if the model is successful, other areas of the state might soon be developing similar facilities.

In Tupelo and Fulton, drive-thru testing is available at MedPlus Family and Urgent Care locations, according to the Daily Journal reported.

The testing began on Sunday. According to the paper, it’s available only to patients who have cough/respiratory symptoms and fever and suspect they have coronavirus or have traveled abroad or come in contact with someone who had coronavirus. Tests are limited.

MDHS continuing meal delivery program

The Mississippi Department of Human Services on Wednesday said it would be continuing several services, such as the Home Delivered Meals program. Spokesman Danny Blanton said the program delivers meals to more 160,000 older Mississippians statewide.

Meanwhile, the department says it will halt a program where senior citizens gather to eat and instead distribute more non-perishable and frozen foods.

As parents pull their children out of daycare programs, MDHS said it is working to ensure that child care centers continue to receive federal funding. The release said MDHS has submitted a waiver to the federal government that requests that daycare providers be paid based on enrollment — not attendance. The release notes that the department of health has not recommended the closure of childcare programs.

Universities postpone graduation

Universities across Mississippi are postponing their spring commencement ceremonies because of the coronavirus.

As of Thursday, Alcorn University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and Mississippi Valley State University have all made the decision to postpone graduation.

According to a letter sent to students by Alcorn University Wednesday, the Mississippi Institute of Higher Learning has recommended that “traditional commencement exercises be indefinitely postponed.”

ABC allows curbside alcohol pickup at stores

Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control is allowing phone and online sales of alcoholic beverages at licensed package store retailers throughout the state.

The alcohol can be picked up by the customer in the package store parking lot, said Pat Daily, deputy chief of ABC’s enforcement division.

The measure applies only to package stores, not restaurants and bars, he said.

“You can’t call food in and then try to get a Jim Beam and Coke and pick it up at the same time,” Daily said.

Gulfport Memorial reports cases in Harrison County

Kent Nicaud, CEO of Memorial in Gulfport, announced Tuesday that two cases had been confirmed by the Health Department, making them the first in Harrison County to be identified.

Per CDC guidelines, the patients were isolated, the hospital said in a release. The individuals were not hospitalized and were never inpatients at either Memorial or Stone County campuses. Each patient is at home recovering, self-quarantined.

State of emergency declared

On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced two executive orders that will activate the National Guard to keep health care workers safe at testing centers being set up across the state, send all non-essential state workers home, require schools to set up “distance learning” and continue to offer students free and reduced lunches.

Reeves said any state or local government employees that miss work due to the outbreak will receive paid leave.

He said he hopes that businesses will follow the state’s example in sending employees home and offering them paid leave.

Reeves also announced the closing of Mississippi casinos.

The biggest risk is that coronavirus cases in Mississippi overwhelm the health care system. He urged people to wash their hands and practice good hygiene.

“Be smart, be safe. Because, the reality is, while you may be healthy, this is about protecting Mississippi’s most vulnerable. Even if you are healthy you are still need to protect your friends and your neighbors,” Reeves said.

Reeves stressed the seriousness of the crisis. He said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency considers the virus a “level one” disaster, which hasn’t been seen since Hurricane Katrina.

Over the weekend, Reeves declared a state of emergency for Mississippi on March 14.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office announced it would close temporarily to help prevent the spread of the virus. The office will be closed until further notice.

Office staff will continue to respond to emails, answer calls and guide people through online resources, a news release said.

 “We care deeply about the health and safety of all Mississippians, as well as our staff,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson. “Our mission is to provide the highest level of customer service, and that effort will continue during this unique and challenging time.”

Reeves warned Mississippians to avoid any large gatherings, including church services Sunday, and to “use caution” and not panic. Reeves also asked for Mississippi schools to close for at least a week. Most were on spring break last week. Dozens of school districts have announced additional closure plans, with some announcing closures of two weeks, including Madison and Rankin districts.

Non-essential government employees sent home

Reeves said Monday all non-essential state and local government employees will be sent home. It will be up to agencies to determine which employees are non-essential.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said non-essential Jackson city offices and government leased buildings will be closed and non-essential city employees will be required to work remotely. The Water and Sewer Business Administration will remain open.

Jatran buses are being cleaned nightly, Lumumba said, and drivers are being provided personal hygiene supplies. Residents should use online city services as much as possible.

All non-essential Hinds County employees will leave work at 5 p.m. Monday and not return until after March 30, Hinds County supervisors announced at a press conference Monday afternoon. All employees will be paid during the time off, said board president Robert Graham. It was not immediately known if the affected employees would lose sick days due to the break.

While non-essential employees will also be sent home from the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department, deputies will continue to patrol. Of those deputies, Sheriff Lee Vance said, “There’s nothing we can do to keep them absolutely safe, it’s basically the nature of the business.”

Visitation at the Raymond Jail has been limited to attorneys only until March 30, Vance said.

County offices, including justice court, will remain open, Graham said.

Graham said the reason for the March 30 date was because it’s “past the 14 day isolation period.” Surrounded by almost a dozen county officials in a room with approximately 35 people, Graham noted that earlier in the day the CDC recommended limiting gatherings to 10 people.

Graham said, to his knowledge, no county employees had called in sick due to coronavirus symptoms.

One case identified in worker at North Mississippi plant

An employee at the Tronox plant in Hamilton has been identified as one of the Mississippians who has tested positive for the coronavirus. Any employees who had close contact with that person have been sent home and are self-monitoring, according to WTVA.

“The employee reported to the site medical suite with a fever on Wednesday, March 11 and was promptly sent home,” Tronox Senior Vice President Melissa Zona told the station. “The individual subsequently has been hospitalized and is currently undergoing treatment.”

The company decontaminated both the medical suite and the employee’s work area, the station reported.

Health Department manning coronavirus hotline

The state Health Department has setup a coronavirus hotline to take questions from the  public and healthcare workers.

The department said it has increased lines and staffing and also plans to extend hotline hours. It is currently available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The number is 877-978-6453.

Meals provided

Some metro area school districts are providing lunches for area students despite being closed.

Jackson Public Schools, in partnership with the Mississippi Food Network, will serve grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals during school closures. Children 18 years and under will be able to pick up breakfast and lunch at no cost. They do not have to be a student.

Adult meals are $2.50 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch. Meals will be served from 9 to 11 a.m., March 18 to March 20 and March 23 to March 27.

The district will also distribute family food boxes with shelf-stable pantry items and fresh and frozen foods. The boxes will provide a family of 4 to 5 with enough supplemental meals to last for several days.

The meals will be provided at the following schools:

  • Boyd Elementary, 4531 Broadmeadow St.
  • North Jackson Elementary, 650 James M. Davis Drive
  • Spann Elementary, 1615 Brecon Drive
  • Blackburn Middle, 1311 W. Pearl St.
  • Galloway Elementary, 186 Idlewild St.
  • Lake Elementary, 472 Mt. Vernon Ave.
  • Raines Elementary, 156 N. Flag Chapel Rd.
  • Smith Elementary, 3900 Parkway Ave.
  • Marshall Elementary, 2909 Oak Forest Drive
  • Peeples Middle, 2940 Belvedere Drive
  • Whitten Middle, 210 Daniel Lake Blvd.
  • Wilkins Elementary, 1970 Castle Hill Drive

The Rankin County School District is providing posted on social media Sunday night that it will provide “grab and go” lunches for free for any child 18 and under. While the student must be present to get a lunch, they do not have to be a student in the Rankin County School District.

The lunches are being will be distributed at three schools via a drive thru line with more locations expected to be added. Parents can also purchase a lunch for $3.50. First responders in uniform receive lunch for free.

The Hinds County School District will provide to-go meals for students starting March 23. Students will be given a lunch and a breakfast the following morning. Meals will be provided for children 18 and under from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Meals will be provided at the following schools:

  • Bolton Edwards Elementary Middle School, 9700 I-20, Bolton
  • Gary Road Intermediate School, 7255 Gary Road, Byram
  • Raymond Elementary School, 417 Palestine Road, Raymond
  • Terry High School, 235 West Beasley Road, Terry
  • Utica Elementary Middle School, 260 Highway 18 and 27, Utica

Lunches can be picked up from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at McLaurin Elementary, Richland Upper Elementary and Pelahatchie Elementary.

In a separate effort, volunteers are providing a drop-off meal service for Jackson families in need, the People’s Advocacy Institute announced. Several organizations are partnering to provide breakfast and dinner for families through schools’ extended breaks. Meal drop-off operations are being guided by healthcare professionals, the release said, and volunteers will minimize one-on-one contact and group gatherings.

Call or text (615) 946-4197 to set up a meal drop-off location and time. The mobile meal hotline is being monitored 24 hours a day, according to the release.

Public Service Commission suspends disconnections

In a special meeting March 15, the Mississippi Public Service Commission voted to temporarily suspended disconnections of some utility services throughout the state: all water, sewer, electricity and gas services.

The restriction will remain in place for 60 days.

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“This action is in response to Gov. Tate Reeves’s Declaration of a State of Emergency on March 14, 2020, regarding the spread of COVID-19,” PSC officials said in a news release. “The PSC coordinated with Mississippi State Department of Health and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency throughout the weekend to implement protocols that ensure all Mississippians have access to essential utility services during the spread of COVID-19.”

Some banks closing lobbies

The Mississippi Bankers Association said some banks are closing their lobbies and using drive through and online services.

“Banks are closely reviewing their individual situations in each community around the state,” a press release said. “Some banks are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus by closing lobbies when necessary and using drive-through options, encouraging digital banking, use of ATMs, and requiring appointment-only loan meetings in some instances.”

Banks are keeping customers aware of interim practices via social media, branch signage, and other means, the association said.

Blood shortage across the state

Numerous blood drives have been canceled in Mississippi due to concerns over the virus, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced Monday.

As of 9:00 a.m. Monday,  29 blood drives have been cancelled, which accounted for 1,000 units of blood, according to the agency. Mississippi Blood Services will be adding community drives daily as cancellations occur.

MEMA and the Mississippi State Department of Health encourage those that are able to donate make an appointment to give blood. All blood types are urgently needed at this time.

For more details on ways to donate visit the Mississippi Blood Services website: www.msblood.com or find a location near you by using the free mobile app. You can also call (601) 368-2673 for information.

Beware of scams, Attorney General warns

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch urged people to be vigilant about scams and frauds during the emergency.

In a news release, Fitch’s office provided tips on how to protect yourself from scams:

  • Use trusted and official sources. Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for information about the virus.
  • Don’t let anyone rush you into donating. Exercise caution when someone asks for donations in cash, gift card or money transfers. Check the Federal Trade Commission’s website for advice on how to donate wisely.
  • If you think you see price gouging then take a photo, including a time and date stamp of the price signs.
  • People who think they have been scammed during the coronavirus outbreak can contact the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division at (601) 359-4230 or (800) 281-4418.

State universities switching to online courses

Mississippi’s eight public universities are moving to online classes to inhibit the spread of coronavirus.

The state College Board made the announcement March 12 that universities would change their schedules for spring semester classes.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff are paramount,” Alfred Rankins Jr., Commissioner of Higher Education, said in a statement.

All eight universities are observing Spring Break this week or next and will extend the break an additional week to allow faculty members time to prepare to offer classes remotely.

Mississippi Special Olympic cancellations

Special Olympics Mississippi on March 19 announced the suspension of all activities until further notice and the 2020 State Summer Games have been canceled.

Wildlife department closures

  • The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks announced business changes effective until March 31.
  • State and regional offices will be closed to the public.
  • State lakes will remain open for those that wish to go fishing; however, state fishing lake offices and bath houses will be closed.
  • State parks’ bath houses and primitive camping areas will be closed; however, RV camping will remain open.
  • The Museum of Natural Science and the North Mississippi Visitor Education Center will be closed to the public.
  • MDWFP shooting facilities, Turcotte, McHenry, and McIvor will remain open; however, tournaments and events are canceled.
  • MDWFP wildlife management areas will remain open.
  • Any questions regarding licensing or boat registration can be answered by calling 601-432-2055. Any new boat registrations must be processed through a mail-in application. A form can be found at www.mdwfp.com under the fishing and boating tab at the top of the home page.
  • Purchases of hunting and fishing license or permits are also available at www.mdwfp.com, the MDWFP Hunting and Fishing Mobile App, local agent locations, or by calling 1-800-5-GO-HUNT.

Mississippi, federal court system changes

The Mississippi Supreme Court issued an order Sunday outlining changes due to coronavirus. All courts will remain open, but individual judges have the discretion to postpone any trials on their own docket scheduled through May 15, 2020. Courts shall not conduct any proceedings that require witnesses or parties to travel from an infected area or that involve vulnerable persons, according to the high court.

No more than 50 people are allowed in a courtroom at a given time, changing from the previously limited 200. Access to trials is limited to judges, attorneys, witnesses, security and other necessary people.

Jury summonses may not be sent to jurors which would be returnable to any date prior to May 18, 2020.

Through March 31, all non-essential civil and criminal cases set for a hearing or trial in any federal courthouse in the Southern District of Mississippi have been postponed.

However, Chief Judge Dan Jordan said initial appearance, arraignments, detention hearings, and issuance of warrants are essential, therefore, they will go on as scheduled.

It will be up to the presiding judge to determine during the period if any other court matter is essential and should go forward or whether the matter can be conducted via videoconference or telephone, Jordan said.

In the Northern District, all proceedings, civil and criminal, scheduled or typically undertaken in person should be continued or conducted by video or telephone conference to every extent possible, said Chief Judge Sharion Aycock.

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Contact Sarah Fowler at 601-961-7303 or sfowler@gannett.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.