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Reeves says health officer is top adviser on virus

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that he will listen to the state’s top public health official more than all other advisers as he considers how to gradually reopen the state’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reeves’s statewide stay-at-home order has been in place since April 3 and is set to expire Monday morning. The Republican governor said he will announce Friday what changes people should expect to see next week, after he consults with Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who is the current state health officer and a former state epidemiologist.

“Dr. Dobbs will not only have a seat a the table. He will have the most important seat at the table,” Reeves said.

During a news conference Thursday, Reeves thanked Mississippi businesses that have switched to making items needed during the pandemic — cloth face masks instead of blue jeans, hand sanitizer instead of beer or vodka. He also thanked universities and others that are using 3-D printers to make sturdy plastic face coverings for medical professionals.

“When we stand united, we emerge stronger as a people — even if we have to stand 6 feet apart while doing it,” Reeves said.

Mississippi processed nearly 165,000 claims for unemployment benefits between March 14 and the week that ended Saturday, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration. Nearly 36,000 of those claims were made during the most recent week of the reporting period. While that’s nearly a 22% decrease from the previous week, it is still dramatically higher than normal. Reeves has said Mississippi typically receives fewer than 1,000 unemployment claims a week. The U.S. overall is seeing its highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression.

The state Health Department said Thursday that Mississippi had at least 5,153 confirmed cases and 201 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. That was an increase of 259 cases and eight 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 Thursday at least 515 coronavirus cases had been confirmed by Wednesday at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. It also said nearly 55,400 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Wednesday.