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Mississippi could alter legislative session amid pandemic

December 30, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, Mississippi legislators, staff and Capitol employees take advantage of a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center on the Capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi is seeing the largest outbreak of COVID-19 among legislators in any state. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
FILE - In this July 6, 2020, file photo, Mississippi legislators, staff and Capitol employees take advantage of a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center on the Capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi is seeing the largest outbreak of COVID-19 among legislators in any state. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators should consider delaying much of their 2021 session by several weeks to prevent the state Capitol from again becoming a super spreader for the coronavirus, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Tuesday.

The session begins at noon Jan. 5. Under the current schedule, it is supposed to end April 4.

Hosemann said he thinks legislators should handle a few pressing matters next week, then leave the Capitol until March.

“If somebody catches COVID here, as I had it last July, and it spreads from Pearl River to Alcorn — it goes all over just because we’re in contact with each other here — I don’t know how that will work out,” Hosemann said. “I still am very concerned about our post-Christmas COVID here.”

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Mississippi legislators were in the middle of their 2020 session when the first cases of the new coronavirus were found in the state. They left the Capitol in mid-March, then returned in June.

Dozens of Mississippi legislators, including Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn, tested positive for the coronavirus during the summer.

Since the start of the pandemic, people entering the Mississippi Capitol have had their temperature taken and have been asked virus screening questions. Many people have worn masks inside the Capitol, but several consistently had their faces uncovered when legislators met during the summer. Some people ignored public health recommendations to keep distance from others. People had face-to-face conversations and rode in crowded elevators.

Coronavirus numbers in Mississippi and across the U.S. are significantly higher now than they were during the summer. The Mississippi Legislature has 174 members. Even after the pandemic started, the Capitol still attracted dozens of other people each work day. Most legislators travel home at least once a week, and some hold meetings with constituents.

Changing the legislative schedule would require approval of the House and Senate.

House Speaker Philip Gunn told reporters on Dec. 7 that he did not plan to change the schedule of the 2021 session.

“Things can change, obviously,” Gunn said then.

Gunn did not immediately respond to a phone message left for him Tuesday by The Associated Press.

House Rules Committee Chairman Jerry Terry, a Republican from Baldwyn, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Tuesday that some House members want to shorten the session rather than delay it.

“We have lots of dead time down there that we feel like we could save the taxpayers money by coming on home,” Turner said.

The state Health Department reported Tuesday that Mississippi had 1,943 new confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus as of Monday evening. The department also reported 85 new deaths, saying that they occurred between Dec. 15 and Monday. The state has reported 210,032 cases of the virus and 4,719 deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.

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