JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi barbershops, salons and gyms and will be allowed to reopen Monday but must take steps to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday.
It was the Republican governor’s latest announcement to gradually remove restrictions he has set because of the pandemic in the past several weeks. Reeves said people must continue taking precautions against the highly contagious virus as confirmed case numbers continue to rise. But he also said he is trying to avoid another Great Depression.
“I believe in my heart that endless government shutdowns are not an option,” Reeves said.
He said the pandemic has been “particularly cruel to the working class — those people who work on their feet, those people who don’t have a home office or paid leave.”
Reeves said he is extending his “safer at home” order for another two weeks. It was set to expire Monday morning, and Reeves said the new expiration is May 25. It requires medically vulnerable people to stay home and suggests that people work from their homes if possible. It limits indoor gatherings to groups of no more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings to groups of no more than 20.
Rules for restaurants took effect Thursday and will remain in place through May 25. They are allowed to reopen their dining rooms and patios with limits on the numbers of customers; servers must wear masks.
Mississippi lawmakers on Friday started talking about how the state should spend part of the $1.25 billion it is receiving in coronavirus relief money from the federal government. Leaders said a priority would be helping small businesses that have had to shut down or severely curtail services because of government orders during the pandemic.
Senators debated putting at least $100 million into a fund to help businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Applications for aid would be handled by the Mississippi Development Authority, the state agency that promotes job creation.
“Our intent is to give businesses that were impacted and have not received any federal assistance the first go,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Josh Harkins, a Republican from Brandon.
Legislative talks were happening a day after Reeves conceded that legislators could have a role in spending the federal money. He and the Republican-controlled Legislature had clashed for more than a week, with House and Senate leaders pointing out that the Mississippi Constitution gives spending power to the Legislature and Reeves saying that a 40-year-old state law gives the governor some spending power during emergencies.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn appeared with Reeves at a news conference Thursday to say they would all work together.
Mississippi, like other states, has seen a dramatic increase in claims for temporary unemployment benefits the past few weeks. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has expanded its hours and brought in extra workers to process the claims, but many people have faced long waits to apply over the phone or online.
“The number one concern, complaint, frustration that I’ve heard from citizens is in the arena of unemployment,” Gunn said Friday.
The state Health Department said Friday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 9,090 confirmed cases and 409 deaths from the coronavirus as of Thursday evening. That was an increase of 404 cases and 13 deaths reported the previous day.
The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Friday that more than 80,900 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Thursday. The department said at least 1,091 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 175 deaths from it in those facilities.
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