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Mississippi working to expand hospital capacity for virus

April 7, 2020 GMT
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves discusses how the state is responding to COVID-19 coronavirus as the numbers of deaths and of those people who have tested positive with the disease continues to rise, during his news conference in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves discusses how the state is responding to COVID-19 coronavirus as the numbers of deaths and of those people who have tested positive with the disease continues to rise, during his news conference in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves discusses how the state is responding to COVID-19 coronavirus as the numbers of deaths and of those people who have tested positive with the disease continues to rise, during his news conference in Jackson, Miss., Monday, April 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that hospitals in the state have about 3,000 beds, and projections show that almost 400 more beds will be needed when the state reaches is peak of the coronavirus outbreak in the next few weeks.

He said officials are working on a system to send the sickest patients to larger, better equipped hospitals. He said smaller, rural hospitals could care for patients who have either not yet reached the most severe part of the illness or are past the most severe part and are recovering.

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Reeves also said a military base in south Mississippi, Camp Shelby, has 200 beds that can be used for less severe patients, and officials are close to finding a site in north Mississippi that could also be set up with a 200-bed capacity.

“There will be more Mississippians who die from this virus,” Reeves said Monday. “It is serious, it is contagious and it can be fatal.”

The Mississippi Health Department said Monday that as of Sunday evening, the state had 1,738 positive tests for the virus and 51 deaths. The state has about 3 million residents.

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.

Mississippi has high rates of heart disease, diabetes and asthma. Reeves said Monday that many people in the state have “unique risks.”

The Health Department has not released statistics showing the race of people who have tested positive or died from COVID-19. Jim Craig, the department’s senior deputy and director of the Office of Health Protection, said in response to a question Monday that he thinks African Americans have been disproportionately affected.

Mississippi on Sunday became the latest U.S. state declared a major disaster area by President Donald Trump, giving it access to more federal assistance to confront the pandemic. Reeves announced Friday that he had asked Trump to issue the declaration.

Reeves issued a stay-at-home order that took effect Friday evening and remains in place until the morning of April 20. It bans gatherings of 10 or more people.

Reeves has said people should limit their outings to essential errands like grocery shopping. He said law enforcement officers will break up big groups of people who are out socializing. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed essential will remain open.

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Republican Reeves has said he does not think government has the power to shut down churches, and he urged people to worship through online services rather than in person.

A church in southwest Mississippi held a Palm Sunday service with about 250 people attending, the Natchez Democrat reported. The service at New Hope the Vision Center Missionary Baptist Church in Adams County was carried live on Facebook. Its pastor, the Rev. Stanley Searcy, told the newspaper that people who attended were seated far from each other in a sanctuary that can hold 1,800.

One member of the church is Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten, who tested positive for the coronavirus several days ago. Patten told the newspaper that he has not been to church since March 17. The sheriff said he received several calls from people wanting to know why the church was holding an in-person service.

Searcy said he believes having 250 people inside the church does not violate the governor’s order. The sheriff disagreed, but said he is not going to shut down services as they are happening.

“I’m not coming to anybody’s pulpit and snatching them off of holy ground,” Patten told the newspaper. ”Whatever happens will happen outside of the church, and we will deal with it.”

Asked about that church service on Monday, Reeves said: “People do not need to be going to large gatherings of churches of more than 10 people. It is not smart to do that, and I do believe that it is in violation of the order of keeping folks from being in groups of larger than 10 people.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Mississippi is projected to need nearly 400 additional hospital beds, not 100.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.