Jackson, Miss. — Mississippi legislators will start meeting again May 18, two months after they suspended their session because of the coronavirus pandemic, House and Senate leaders said Monday.
The announcement came the same day that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves eased some restrictions on people’s movements, allowing many businesses to reopen but limiting how many customers they can have in their stores. The state has surpassed 6,000 confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus, according to the Health Department.
“We know that the threat is not over. It is real, it is deadly and we must take it very, very seriously,” Reeves said Monday. “Even as we phase into more and more reopenings across the state of Mississippi, we want the people to continue to be vigilant.”
Officials at the Capitol will take precautions when the legislative session begins again, possibly limiting the number of people in the building and screening visitors for symptoms of COVID-19, republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said during a conference call with reporters.
Legislators were at the midpoint of their session when they suspended work, and they still face several big issues. Hosemann said he will continue pushing for a teacher pay raise that would take effect during the budget year that begins July 1.
He said many people have a newfound appreciation for teachers as parents juggle duties of doing their own jobs and helping their children with online classes or other forms of distance learning.
“The last thing I want to take off the table is a pay raise for teachers,” Hosemann said.
He said legislators will write a state government budget in June, just weeks before the July 1 start of the new state fiscal year. Legislators want to see how tax collections are looking through the end of May, Hosemann said.
With a sharp rise in unemployment and widespread business closures because of the pandemic, “I expect a significant reduction in cash flow,” Hosemann said. He said state agency leaders have been told to find ways to save money.
The governor’s stay-at-home order that had been in place since the evening of April 3 expired Monday morning. It was replaced with his new “safer at home” order, which still requires medically vulnerable people to remain home but allows more movement by others.
Reeves said people are still banned from gathering in groups of 10 or more, and they are still required to maintain distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from one another.
Stores in Mississippi are supposed to allow no more than 50% of their capacity of customers at a time, under the new order. And not all business are being allowed to reopen. Gyms, barber shops, hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors are among those remaining closed, the governor said.
Dentists and physicians can again start offering elective medical procedures. Public school buildings are closed for the rest of the spring semester, but Reeves has said he wants students and teachers to continue with distance learning efforts.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said Monday that people need to do a better job of wearing masks in public. He said that testing could become more readily available to include asymptomatic people who believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Until now, tests have been limited to people showing symptoms such as a high temperature.
Reeves and other governors had a conference call Monday with President Donald Trump.
“I assured the president that while some in the national media may not appreciate or respect the incredible job that he has done with respect to this virus, the people of Mississippi certainly recognize his work on it and we thank him,” Reeves said.
The state Health Department said Monday that Mississippi had at least 6,094 confirmed cases and 229 deaths from the coronavirus as of Sunday evening. That was an increase of 183 cases and two deaths from the previous day. The state’s population is about 3 million.
The number of 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. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Monday at least 679 coronavirus cases had been confirmed by Sunday at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. It also said at least 63,462 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Sunday.