During Friday’s press briefing, Governor Tate Reeves was planning on announcing that more Mississippi businesses could begin to reopen. That was until the Department of Health reported the state’s largest one-day spike in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19.
397 new cases and 20 deaths attributed to the virus brought the state’s total up to 7,212 cases with 281 Mississippians passing away from coronavirus. The Governor stated that while he was prepared to announce changes to Mississippi’s ‘safer-at-home’ order, the significant rise in cases forced him to reconsider.
“This was a large enough change to make me take a step back and want to look at the board to reexamine things, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I must hold on for now and consider it, at the very least, over the weekend,” Reeves said.
Mississippi’s current order, which took effect on Monday, eased certain restrictions on select businesses, but salons, casinos and several other industries remain in a holding pattern. Restaurants are still limited to drive-thru, curbside and delivery options.
While the situation surrounding the spread of COVID-19 is ever-changing, the Governor stated that he may move forward with his announcement soon as he explained “we believe what we are considering represents safe steps. They wouldn’t recklessly put more people in harm’s way.”
In the midst of a historic surge in unemployment claims, the Governor emphasized the importance of getting Mississippians back to work.
“I was excited to get more of our people back to work,” he said. “We have to get businesses back open and we have to get our people back to normal life. There are still a few industries that are forced to close and I absolutely hate that. It eats me alive every day.”
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs stated that a “deep dive into the data” will allow them to determine what is driving the increase in cases as leaders continue to map out the reopening of the state’s economy.
“If it’s a nursing home outbreak that’s driving a local community, that’s different than if it’s people picking it up at the big box stores, so that changes your public health response,” Dr. Dobbs said. “We will pull that information out and see which public health intervention seems most appropriate based on the scenario of what’s driving the number of cases we’re seeing and do that for every area.”
The state’s leading medical expert went on to mention that a portion of the increased number of new cases could be the result of more aggressive testing efforts in certain areas.
During today’s briefing, which was more contentious than most, the Governor also spoke out against the Mississippi Legislature’s effort to strip him of the authority to control the spending of Mississippi’s $1.25 billion of CARES Act funding. As the briefing ended, lawmakers passed a bill to do just that after being summoned back to capitol early.
At the root of the disagreement between Governor Reeves and legislative leadership – Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann – is a state statute regarding who has the power to distribute federal funds during an emergency. The Governor says that responsibility lies within the executive branch, while the Legislature says the constitution hands that power to the House and Senate.
The Governor expressed that, without the intervention of the Legislature, CARES Act funding could’ve immediately aided small businesses in danger of going under.
“We were getting ready to begin getting those funds out to the people who need them as soon as next week. They want to debate it for weeks and months before we use these funds for people. That’s not an option. We have the legal authority, but more importantly, I have the duty to handle this…Businesses are laying off people today. Their employees can’t wait a month for help,” the Governor said.
Ahead of today’s vote, Governor Reeves repeatedly stated that precedent is on his side as the same statute was followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’, and most recently, the ‘Restore Act’ following the BP oil spill.
Speaker Gunn and Lt. Gov. Hosemann each argued that the Legislature should be the one to appropriate the funds as the voice of Mississippi taxpayers.
You can watch Governor Reeves’ full briefing below.