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Mississippi governor declares emergency to fight coronavirus

March 14, 2020 GMT
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A Jackson, Miss., public transit bus driver dons a face mask as he drives his route Friday, March 13, 2020. The city has established a protocol for dealing with COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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A Jackson, Miss., public transit bus driver dons a face mask as he drives his route Friday, March 13, 2020. The city has established a protocol for dealing with COVID-19. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi’s governor declared a state of emergency to help fight coronavirus in the state and said he will work from home for two weeks after returning Friday from a family trip to Spain.

“I urge all Mississippians to use caution,” Tate Reeves said in a video released Saturday. “This is not a time to panic. We are acting calmly and steadily.”

The Republican governor, only two months into his first term, said the state of emergency would give health officials and other administrators the tools they need to fight the disease.

Of 90 people tested through Friday in Mississippi, six came up positive, including three in Forrest County, and one each in Copiah, Pearl River and Leflore counties. Three women older than 65 were in hospitals, the state Health Department said.

For most people, the new 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. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Reeves spoke from the governor’s mansion. He returned Friday from Spain, where he had traveled with his family to watch one of his daughters play soccer. The country has been hard-hit by the virus, with more than 6,000 infections and nearly 200 deaths as of Saturday.

Reeves said everyone in his family is “healthy and strong” but said he was trying to set an example.

“I’ll be voluntarily working from home for 14 days out of an abundance of caution and care for those around us,” he said.

Reeves also asked schools to close for at least a week. Most Mississippi public schools were on spring break last week. A number had extended that break by two or three days into next week, but had not gone any farther because state law would require them to make up missed days unless an emergency was declared by the governor or or president.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, about 40 school districts statewide had announced additional closure plans. Most announced only one week, as Reeves asked for in his address, but a few announced two weeks, including Madison County and Rankin County, two of Mississippi’s five largest school districts.

Reeves urged state employees to work from home if possible and said the state would close driver’s license offices to avert possible spread there.

Reeves also called on churches not to hold in-person services on Sunday.

“You can worship from home,” Reeves said.

Mississippi’s eight public universities announced they were extending their spring breaks through March 23 and then would begin online classes. Most of the state’s 15 community colleges have said they will cancel classes next week. Some colleges said they plan to resume on-campus instruction for at least some students on March 23.

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