Mississippi reported its second confirmed death from coronavirus on Wednesday, although testing remains so limited in the state that it’s unclear whether the outbreak has caused other deaths without being identified as the reason.
The state Department of Health said the man was 60-65 years old and had underlying health conditions, died in a hospital and was from Holmes County, a rural area in central Mississippi. It did not provide other details.
An executive order issued by Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday further restricts people’s physical interactions to try to slow the spread of the virus, but he has not mandated that people stay at home, a step many other governors have taken.
“Understand that we are not at the end of this pandemic. In fact, we may still be at the beginning stages of this fight,” Reeves said during a news conference Tuesday outside the Governor’s Mansion.
The Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi had at least 377 confirmed cases as of Tuesday evening. The first death was a Hancock County man with underlying health conditions who died last week in a Louisiana hospital. But testing remains limited, meaning most people now spreading the highly contagious virus may not know that they’ve been infected.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the overwhelming majority of people recover. But severe cases can need respirators to survive, and with infections spreading exponentially, hospitals across the country are either bracing for a coming wave of patients, or already struggling to keep up.
Reeves ordered Mississippi restaurants and bars statewide to close their dining rooms and offer only carry-out or delivery meals. Some cities and counties have already taken this step.
Reeves also said during the news conference that he wants businesses to allow “every possible employee” to work from home. His order lists several types of businesses that should remain open because they are considered essential; that includes farming and construction operations. It also lists essential government services, including courts and child protective services.
Governors in several other states, including Louisiana, are putting tighter limits on people’s movements, including stay-at-home orders. But Reeves, a Republican, said he is encouraging — still not mandating — that people remain home. He said the ban on gatherings includes funerals, weddings and church services.
His order tells people to stop visiting hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities that house those most vulnerable to becoming sick. An exception is for visiting people receiving “imminent end-of-life care.”
The governor said he knows of no confirmed coronavirus cases in Mississippi prisons or county jails, but he also said he did not know whether anyone in those facilities has been tested. The state prison system stopped allowing visitors several days ago, and Reeves said workers are increasing sanitation efforts.
Mississippi public schools are closed until at least April 17, but some public and private schools have started online classes. He said that as of Tuesday, more than 360 sites were providing lunches for students, either for pickup or delivery.
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