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Mississippi limits dine-in at restaurants to slow virus

March 21, 2020 GMT
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State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaks to reporters about the development of a free testing site in downtown Jackson to attend to those who need help as coronavirus cases in the region rise, Friday, March 20, 2020, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss. The testing facility erected at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds is not open to the general public, officials said, and residents must first go through a screening process before scheduling an appointment. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaks to reporters about the development of a free testing site in downtown Jackson to attend to those who need help as coronavirus cases in the region rise, Friday, March 20, 2020, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss. The testing facility erected at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds is not open to the general public, officials said, and residents must first go through a screening process before scheduling an appointment. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi State Department of Health recommended on Friday that all restaurants and bars immediately stop dine-in services and that people not attend weddings, funerals, church services or other gatherings of 10 or more people, all to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus

Health officials also said a drive-through testing center for the virus will open Tuesday on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson.

Separately, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced that it will work with the state Health Department and the National Guard, starting Saturday, to distribute medical workers’ personal protective equipment. Some of it will come from gear already held in reserve by the state and some from a national stockpile.

And, Gov. Tate Reeves said, federal loans are available for small businesses affected by a downturn in commerce because of the virus.

“Small businesses and their employees are struggling to stay afloat during this trying time, but we will get through this together,” Reeves said Friday in announcing that the Small Business Administration is making loans of up to $2 million.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said bars and restaurants may still provide carry-out food. He said the recommendation to close dining rooms “will in no way affect gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores or food marts.”

The drive-through testing center opening Tuesday on the fairgrounds will see patients by appointment only. People will need to answer questions to be screened for an appointment. Other drive-through centers are already operating in some parts of the state, including Tupelo, Philadelphia and Batesville.

The testing site in Jackson will be operated by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi State Department of Health. Up to 128 appointments a day will be available for people who show symptoms of the virus, including fever.

To get an appointment, people must answer questions either by telephone or by using a health app created by C Spire, a Mississippi-based wireless provider.

“If you do not do that and you just show up at the testing site, you will not be tested,” said Dr. Alan Jones, head of emergency medicine at UMMC.

Screening by phone call or app begins Monday, and appointments begin Tuesday. Officials said the testing site could be closed during thunderstorms or other dangerous weather.

Mississippi reported 80 cases of the new coronavirus as of Friday, up from 50 Thursday. The state Health Department said 775 people had been tested in Mississippi by Friday.

A Mississippi man died of the new coronavirus in a Louisiana hospital, the Mississippi State Department of Health said Thursday. The department said the Hancock County resident was between 60 and 65 years old and had an underlying medical condition.

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A growing number of Mississippi cities are closing bars and telling restaurants to either limit or temporarily stop dine-in options because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Casinos in the state are closed, and auto manufacturing plants will shut down temporarily.

The vast majority of people infected with this novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization. Particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

The Mississippi state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that some people who have sought testing so far are the “worried well.” He urged people to practice social distancing and to wash their hands to slow the spread of the virus.

“It’s going to be a hard few weeks, for sure ... but the main thing right now is to cut this epidemic off,” Dobbs said.

The mayor of Jackson issued an order banning gatherings of 10 or more people. The co-owner of three Jackson-area restaurants said he and his partner made the difficult decision to close all three outlets until the virus threat passes. Jeff E. Good said they first tried to limit service to carry-out orders.

“We just didn’t see how we could still prepare food and deliver it to you curbside, since by definition we were not practicing any social distancing and had many folks involved in the make, bake and take process,” Good wrote on Facebook.

Reeves said Thursday that public schools will be closed until at least April 17 to curb the spread of the virus.

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