JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves hasn’t ordered a statewide stay-at-home order even as the Health Department updated the state’s confirmed coronavirus caseload on Friday to at least 579 people and eight deaths.

The Republican leader did say it’s OK if cities and counties impose tighter restrictions than what he’s ordered in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Reeves issued an executive order Tuesday telling people to avoid gatherings of 10 or more and broadly defining which businesses are so “essential” that they can remain open. That order said restaurants can offer carry-out or delivery meals but must close their dining rooms unless they’re able to keep 10 or fewer people, including staff, at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Some cities went further, ordering all restaurant dining rooms closed. After hearing from the Mississippi Municipal League, Reeves issued a clarification to his executive order acknowledging they have the power to do that.

“Many of them are working very, very hard, and we want to allow them to do what’s best for their communities,” Reeves said Thursday during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion.

Because testing remains limited as the outbreak grows exponentially, many people moving around their communities may not know they’ve inhaled the virus until well after they’ve infected others. Places where people who aren’t isolating share the air with others pose a particular risk, since the highly contagious virus has been shown to live in the air for several hours.

Most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, but a fraction of people suffering more severe illnesses can require respirators to survive, and as as the caseload rapidly grows, hospitals are bracing for a coming wave of patients.

Reeves has been criticized by some lawmakers and mayors who say he hasn’t been aggressive enough.

Mississippi will begin investigations to find people who have been near those testing positive for the coronavirus and will tell those contacts to quarantine themselves, Reeves and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, announced Thursday.

Dobbs said the contact-tracing plan is based on programs that helped slow the spread of the virus in Singapore and South Korea. Those countries have had widespread testing, though, and that scale of testing is not yet available in the United States. It’s not clear whether the contact-tracing efforts in Mississippi are beginning too late to have much effect or whether the state Health Department and other agencies will have enough people to work on the program.

Dobbs said if health officials find a rapid growth of cases in a particular community, they could seek broad limitations on people’s movements.

Mississippi legislators left the state Capitol last week to curb the spread of the virus in a building that typically attracts hundreds of people a day. House and Senate leaders said Thursday that they are dropping the plan for legislators to return April 1, and the session remains on hold indefinitely.


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

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