• 64°

Mississippi license offices to reopen with virus precautions

(AP) — Mississippi driver’s license offices will reopen Monday after being closed for about two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday.
The Department of Public Safety is setting guidelines to try to minimize wait times as officials acknowledge a backlog in the demand for new licenses and license renewals.
The 31 offices have been plagued for years with long lines that often require people to take entire days off work just to get a license. Because of short staffing, some license offices have closed on short notice, forcing people to drive long distances to other offices or to return on other days.
“Let’s be honest — they were not the most efficiently run operation in the history of the world before COVID-19,” Reeves said Wednesday. “The pent-up demand created by this pandemic is only going to make the existing challenges even worse. We believe that we have a plan to make it run as safely and smoothly as possible, but we also know that there’s a lot of structural work we’ve got to do for a real fix.”
Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said that as offices reopen, people will generally only be able to access services on one day of the week depending on the first letter of their last names: A through E on Monday, F through L on Tuesday, M through S on Thursday and T through Z on Friday. On “walk-in Wednesday,” anybody can go in.
Tindell said he urges people to renew licenses online, even those that have been expired up to 18 months.
Mississippi requires people to show government-issued photo identification to vote, and a person who doesn’t have a driver’s license can use an ID card issued by the Department of Public Safety. People who need to renew an identification card or get a duplicate of one should do that online because those services will not be offered at driver’s license stations, Reeves said.
The Department of Public Safety will still require teenagers to take a written test to get a learner’s permit. But the department is temporarily waiving the road test for all non-commercial driver’s licenses. People younger than 18 must submit a sworn statement by a parent or guardian to show completion of at least 50 hours of supervised driving time.
Reeves said concealed-carry permits for guns are valid for the rest of the year because the state is automatically extending the expiration date.
Social distancing will be required at license stations, and the offices will be cleaned each night, Tindell said.
The Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — has had at least 16,322 cases and 782 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 302 cases and 15 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier.
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 without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said at least 1,993 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 406 virus-related deaths in those facilities.
The department also said Wednesday that 192,300 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Tuesday. More than 8,000 of those were blood tests that detect whether a person has antibodies that usually show up after an infection is resolved.