Members of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors - along with other supervisors from around Mississippi - teleconferenced Thursday with Gov. Tate Reeves to get updates and clarifications on the COVID-19 situation in Mississippi and the recent shelter-in-place gubernatorial executive order that began 5 p.m. April 3 and will last until 8 a.m. April 20.
Reeves said that decision was made based upon data regarding the number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state, as well as on the advice of the state health officer. Nothing in the governor's order limits or alters local governmental bodies' authority from adopting stricter additional regulations or restrictions, so long as those measures are not in direct conflict with Reeves's order.
"We also delegated authority to the Mississippi Department of Health to issue and enforce isolation and quarantine orders," Reeves told supervisors. "This is something that they do regularly, working with your local court systems on things like tuberculosis and other things, so that will be the case.
"And on enforcements, we have granted that all state, county and local law enforcement - as well as governmental entities - have the ability to enforce this where it makes sense. Again, this is a decision that is not taken lightly at all."
Reeves said on March 31 alone, Louisiana reported 1,212 cases of COVID-19 and 68 deaths, making him concerned about the proximity of that state - and especially New Orleans - to Mississippi.
"Not only for those in south Mississippi, but there are people throughout our state that spend time - and that have spent time - down there over the last several months," he said.
David Hogan, president of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, also expressed his concern about COVID-19 cases coming to Mississippi from Louisiana.
"What's going on in New Orleans and Louisiana right now is bad," Hogan said. "A major outbreak is going on, and you can believe that I-59 is bringing coronavirus to the state of Mississippi, in particular to the Pine Belt."
On April 1, the number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi rose by approximately 100, which Reeves said was lower than he expected.
"I thought we'd be seeing several hundred new cases a day throughout this week - that has not yet materialized," he said. "That tells me that hopefully our social distancing and the orders that we have put in place are having some impact and some effect, positively."
Currently, there are more than 150 COVID-19 testing sites throughout Mississippi, including mobile testing. Officials from the Mississippi State Department of Health, University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi National Guard are working to help facilitate those sites.
Reeves said he believes Mississippi is ahead of several other states in terms of total tests that have been performed, as well as where the state finds itself in the cycle.
"Many people talk about the South Korean model and the fact that they were very robust in their testing," he said. "They said that they had tested, at a certain point in time, 5,200 per 1 million residents there in South Korea.
"At this point, I can report to you that we have actually tested a greater number per 1 million than South Korea did. I'm very confident that that is going to help us, because our overall strategy here remains the same, and that is to continue to test more, to identify those to have the virus, and then isolate both those who have the virus and those who have come in close contact with those who have the virus."
The Mississippi State Department of Health now has nine regional teams, which are handling case management throughout the state. Officials also are looking at opening additional facilities in the possible event of a patient overload, and are placing daily orders for additional personal protective equipment - such as gloves and masks - as well as ventilators for patients.
"It is unbelievable how expensive everything has gotten as we, as a world, compete for resources," Reeves said. "But I feel comfortable that we are headed in the right direction in continuing to increase supplies for us at the state level, so we can distribute it to you at the local level."
Glen Moore, director of the Forrest County Emergency Management Agency, said the total number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi continues to rise.
Moore's office so far has spent approximately $70,000 attempting to secure personal protective equipment and supplies such as hand sanitizer.
"We've got our fingers crossed; we've got a couple of orders in," Moore said. "What we've run into is, you place your order, you think you're in good shape, and then six or 12 hours later they call you back and tell you that your order has been canceled.
"The state had a large, multi-million dollar order that they were receiving from China, that the Chinese government seized. So that's put the state back in trying to find some more resources."
Moore described some of the mark-up on certain products as "insane," with N95 masks that usually sell for less than $1 each now going for $5 to $7 on the market.
"Surgical masks, which used to be 10 cents a piece, now we're paying $1.40 a piece," he said. "Hand sanitizer, at one point in time, it was going for $250 a gallon. Luckily, those prices have dropped down, but the prices have definitely skyrocketed."
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