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COVID-19 hits dozens of lawmakers; state leaders beg Mississippians to protect themselves as virus rapidly spreads

Mississippi’s governor and top public health official implored people Wednesday to help slow the spread of COVID-19 during a rapid rise in diagnosed cases — including at the state Capitol, where at least 26 legislators and 10 others who work in the building have tested positive.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said the Capitol numbers are just for people who have been tested in recent days in Jackson. Numbers could be higher because some legislators have been tested for the virus since returning to their hometowns.

The 174-member Legislature ended its annual session July 1, and many people in the Capitol did not wear masks or maintain distance between themselves and others during the last few weeks. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn are among those who publicly acknowledge testing positive for COVID-19. They are now quarantined at home.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves — who has tested negative — said he will not issue a statewide order for people to wear masks, as some other governors have done. But, he hinted that he could restore some restrictions on bars or other places if people don’t stop congregating in large groups.

Reeves said some hospitals are at or near capacity for intensive care beds. The state is limiting elective surgeries in a few counties to keep hospital beds open for COVID-19 patients.

“The situation that we have feared is upon us,” Reeves said Wednesday during a news conference with Dobbs. “Please protect yourself. Please protect your loved ones. Please wear masks. Please try to stay home as much as possible.”

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — has had at least 32,888 confirmed cases and 1,188 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 674 confirmed cases and 30 deaths from 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.

Reeves said he is “pleading” with people to take safety precautions.

“Government ought not be able to tell you not to do something stupid to yourself,” Reeves said. “I’m with you.”

But he said people who are showing no symptoms can easily pass the coronavirus to others.

“It’s likely you’re going to spread it to someone else,” Reeves said. “And that’s where the line changes.”