Mississippi employees off work to be paid amid pandemic

Published 12:14 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2020

JACKSON — Teachers and employees of city and county governments in Mississippi would be paid even if workers are told to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, under a bill the state Senate passed Wednesday.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, who requested it. The measure would give city and county governments and school boards the power to pay hourly employees who are not working during a disaster, including the current pandemic. State law already authorizes Mississippi state government to pay its hourly employees in such circumstances. The legislation would not affect private businesses.

House members passed the bill and left the Capitol on Tuesday, but senators had to return briefly and pass it Wednesday because a House member blocked it from immediately going to the Senate.

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Mississippi reported 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday, up from 21 Tuesday. The state Health Department said 513 people had been tested in Mississippi by Wednesday.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.

Mississippi legislators are suspending their work until at least April 1, largely to prevent interaction among thousands of people who converge on the Capitol during most days of legislative sessions.

“This virus doesn’t discriminate,” Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville said Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Democrat or Republican, young or old.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn will decide whether lawmakers will return April 1 or on a later date.

Hosemann said Tuesday that many in Mississippi live paycheck-to-paycheck, and he knows times could be tough as people are asked to isolate themselves from others to curb the spread of the virus.

Mississippi’s 26 state-regulated casinos were ordered to close at midnight Monday, leaving empty parking lots in places that are often bustling. Schools are closed, and some grocery store shelves have been picked clean of toilet paper and cleaning products.