Gov. to extend executive orders, voices support for reopening schools

As it stands, Mississippi’s ‘Safe Return’ order and the executive order placing 13 counties under stricter guidelines are set to expire on Monday. However, during today’s press briefing, Governor Tate Reeves said that both of those orders will be extended. 

While nothing is official at this time, the governor did specially mention 12 counties that they are “watching very closely” including: 

Forrest, Jones, Lamar, Panola, Bolivar, Simpson, Tate, Covington, Walthall, Tallahatchie, Humphries, Sharkey

In addition to the counties that could be added to the order, Governor Reeves pointed out that officials are continuing to discuss potential measures that could place stricter guidelines on bars moving forward. During her visit to Mississippi earlier this week, the White House’s Dr. Deborah Birx voiced her concern to the governor and state health officials regarding the spread of the virus in bars. 

As for what those orders may be, the governor says that they are weighing their options. 

“Does it look like a closure? Does it look like going back to where we were at one time where we had curfews in place?…or rather than having curfews, do we have a bar setting that is more similar to what we do in restaurants, where we have 50% capacity? Maybe we go to where you can’t be served unless you’re sitting at a table,” Reeves explained. 

Earlier today, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported an additional 1,032 cases of COVID-19, the third straight day with over 1,000 new cases. Hospitalizations remain at an all-time high, placing the state’s healthcare system under great stress. ICU beds are scarce across the state, with State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs saying that some patients have had to be moved out of state in recent days. Currently, 8 “major medical centers” in Mississippi have 0 ICU beds available. 

“Every day that we add 1,000 new cases, statistically, that’s another 170 patients that are likely going to be in the hospital in the next couple of weeks. So, we anticipate significant, ongoing stress within our hospital system,” he said.

Dr. Dobbs mentioned that hospitals will be ordered to activate their surge capacity plans as hospital admissions continue to rise.

Prior to today’s briefing, the governor met with Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, to discuss the plan to reopen schools in Mississippi. While individual districts will ultimately decide how they return for the 2020 school year, the governor has continued to support a return to in-person instruction. 

“We all agreed that we cannot go any longer without our kids learning in classrooms,” the governor said recapping the meeting. “That’s simply not reasonable, it’s simply not possible. We talked a lot at the beginning of this pandemic about essential workers and essential services. I can think of nothing more essential than a child’s education.”

In the absence of in-person learning, the governor highlighted the gap that exists between those students that have access to distance learning tools and those that don’t and how detrimental that can be. 

School districts will ultimately decide between a traditional, online or hybrid schedule with a combination of distance and in-person learning. 

Dr. Dobbs did say that outlines have been drawn up to instruct schools and districts on how to handle an outbreak. Large outbreaks at schools could lead to disruptions and closures during the school year. 

$150 million is being spent to distribute PPE to schools across the state. As for teacher safety, the governor said that while there will be risk, he believes that schools will be able to create safe environments for both teachers and students.