Reeves reflects on pandemic response, blames himself for labeling some businesses ‘nonessential’

Leaders call social distancing measures key to keeping economy open if second wave of coronavirus comes
Updated: May. 26, 2020 at 11:00 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Gov. Tate Reeves said Mississippi has learned invaluable lessons and strategies after dealing with the coronavirus pandemic now for the last two and a half months, a trial by fire of sorts for states across the U.S.

While the Magnolia State stands to have more than 15,000 coronavirus cases by the end of May, Reeves and state health experts say they’re confident that the measures they’ve taken will help Mississippians weather the storm for months to come.

“We learned a lot from this first wave. The one thing that we learned is, unlike the state of New York and the state of New Jersey, Mississippi never had a huge peak. But because we never had a huge peak, we had a prolonged plateau," Reeves said.

3 On Your Side analyzed new case data from the Mississippi State Department of Health through seven-day averages; those numbers as of Tuesday show an average of 289.57 cases, the highest average seen yet since the state’s first case on March 11.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, Reeves said he was particularly proud of the state’s approach to testing.

“We made a decision very early on that we wanted to do everything in our power to test as often as we possibly could. We knew, particularly early on, and we took a lot of criticism for it, that our total number of cases per one million residents was higher than many other states that had much lower populations," Reeves said. "But we also knew the reason much of that was the case is because we were testing more.”

Other challenges showed up, too, he says, like making sure residents and health care personnel have enough personal protective equipment.

As of Tuesday, numbers provided by Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel indicate the agency has already distributed 2.25 million masks to the state’s 82 counties, which presumably have plans in place to distribute those to the public as well.

Mississippi’s hospitals -- initially bracing for an onslaught of patients -- didn’t have to worry about that from this first wave, due in large part to the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing measures in place, Reeves said.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the state’s health care workers and hospitals have also kept infections to a minimum within their facilities as well, making infection control a priority.

“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of patients in the hospital but we haven’t had hospital outbreaks to speak of, and it’s because of the diligent infection control practices, which is very encouraging," Dobbs said.

Reeves said he blames himself for not being more clear that all businesses should be considered essential because of how much that business owner or employee relies on it; the end result of those first executive orders caused economic hardship for “nonessential businesses” because they were forced to either shut down or adopt stringent practices that impacted their ability to make a living.

Now, as the state faces a potential second wave in the fall, Reeves said the key to getting through that without another shelter-in-place order and economic shutdown is through what he calls the “little things” -- wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and staying at least six feet apart.

“If a hundred percent of Mississippians would adhere to social distancing guidelines, if 100 percent of Mississippians would adhere to the notion that we have to protect ourselves, if 100 percent of those Mississippians in a vulnerable category over the age of 65 or had preexisting conditions [and] they would shelter in place, then the likelihood that we would need to shut down any businesses would be far less so," Reeves said.

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