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Mississippi restaurants ease into reopening amid pandemic

(AP) — Some Mississippi restaurants were cautiously reopening their dining rooms and patios Thursday as Gov. Tate Reeves eased restrictions he imposed weeks ago to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Other restaurants stuck to carry-out or delivery service, or remained closed altogether. In some cases, restaurant owners were waiting for hand sanitizer and other required supplies or were making other adjustments before restarting table service.
Burgers & Blues, a locally owned restaurant in the Jackson suburb of Ridgeland, will reopen its dine-in areas Monday, said Samantha Gatlin, a team leader.
“We just kind of wanted to ease into it and give our staff some additional training,” Gatlin said Thursday.
Like other restaurants, Burgers & Blues will be limited to 50% customer capacity and will check customers’ temperatures and provide hand sanitizer. Servers must wear masks.
Mississippi legislators also returned to the Capitol on Thursday for the second time in less than a week. Senators were set to hold a hearing about people’s problems filing claims for temporary unemployment benefits during the pandemic. The state Department of Employment Security has expanded its hours and brought in extra workers to process claims, but some applicants are still facing frustratingly long waits for service.
The Republican-led Legislature and the Republican governor also remain locked in a dispute over who has the power to spend $1.25 billion the federal government is sending Mississippi as part of a massive coronavirus relief package.
Legislators met Friday for the first time since mid-March and voted nearly unanimously to pass a bill that puts most of the money into funds that they control, citing the Mississippi Constitution’s provisions that say lawmakers have the power to spend money. Reeves says a 40-year-old state law gives the governor some spending authority during emergencies. If Reeves vetoes the bill, an override would take two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.
The state Health Department said Thursday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 8,686 confirmed cases and 396 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. That was an increase of 262 cases and 22 deaths reported the previous day.
The number of coronavirus 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. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Thursday that more than 80,600 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi as of Wednesday. The department said at least 1,037 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 169 deaths from it in those facilities.
Mississippi remains under Reeves’s “safer at home” order until Monday morning. It requires medically vulnerable people to stay home and suggests that people work from their homes if possible.
Under the governor’s new rules for restaurants that started Thursday, both indoor and outdoor seating areas must have wide spaces between tables.
Reeves’ new rules for outdoor gatherings, such as youth sports practices, also took effect Thursday. Up to 20 people may gather in one place, an increase from the previous limit of 10.
The governor has said cities and counties are allowed to set tighter local restrictions that do not directly conflict with the statewide standards. Jackson is among the cities still limiting restaurants to carry-out or delivery.