/Inside Gov Tate Reeves’ struggle to weigh health data versus politics in crucial coronavirus decision

Inside Gov Tate Reeves’ struggle to weigh health data versus politics in crucial coronavirus decision

According to a source who was directly familiar with the conversation, Birx expressed support for the plan as well as optimism about Mississippi’s pandemic outlook. Reeves declared that he would allow all retail establishments in Mississippi to reopen within a few hours, while hundreds of thousands of Mississippians listened and watched live. However, close-contact establishments like hair and nail salons and barbershops, fitness centers, gyms, and casinos will not be allowed. Reeves said that the new order “weighs very, very heavily” in a telephone interview with Mississippi Today on Thursday. We’re taking this cautiously and methodically. While I am committed to the safety and health of Mississippians, it is also my top priority to discuss whether or not to reopen our economy. It’s difficult to strike. In the days preceding Friday’s announcement, state officials considered the announcement to be an inflection point for the state’s response. The governor was prepared to reverse his decision to allow many Mississippians to return home. This included state agency heads as well as administrators at the University of Mississippi Health Center. Reeves, Dobbs, and others close to them spoke with Mississippi Today several times last week to give an insight into the deliberations that led to Reeves’ Friday announcement. Last week, the governor was focused on weighing the state’s health data and the newly issued reopening guidance by the White House against the political and economic consequences of relaxing or extending his shelter-in-place orders. Reeves’ and Dobbs’ Friday morning COVID-19 data, along with guidance from the White House on how states should reopen, indicated that it was too early to completely remove shelter-in-place restrictions. Mississippi Today reviewed the data that was available to them on Friday just before they made their decision. (Data have changed since then and some cases have seen spikes. Until the disease is eliminated, cases will not decrease or flatten. However, metrics like the number of cases, the time it takes to get sick, and the total tests performed can give a snapshot of the state’s progress towards flattening or plateauing its cases curve. The White House guidelines for April 16 suggest that states see three things in a two-week time frame before deciding to lift shelter-in place orders and reopen state economies. * The number of daily new cases should decline or be less than the total number of tests. Test volume, however, should increase or fall. * Hospitals can provide emergency care for patients, but also ensure that health care workers have access to tests. Mississippi hadn’t met the White House thresholds by Friday. While total tests taken have increased over time and outperformed most other states per capita in the past, weekly total tests and average daily tests have begun to fall. Looking back one week, the total weekly number of new cases increased by 25% and the total weekly tests fell by 27% as of Friday. The ability to track new cases and total cases depends on the testing. The more cases that are traced, identified and hopefully isolated, the better the tracking. Officials have stated that last week saw 300 and 281 new cases respectively. However, officials reiterated that reporting delays and testing delays can cause peaks and valleys in the number of cases reported each day. Officials from Mississippi have stated that the state has managed to avoid extreme projections and overcome capacity issues in the health system. This means Mississippi’s data meets the White House’s third guideline. However, although ventilator and intensive care unit usage are stable, there is an increase in patients being admitted with suspected COVID-19.
According to most metrics, Mississippi’s new case numbers have not declined or leveled off – and they appear to be on the rise. The average chronological number of cases in the past two weeks was 159 daily cases, 189 daily case one week ago and 234 daily cases Friday. The weekend saw 249 new cases, the highest number of daily cases in a single week. African Americans are disproportionately responsible for the burden of cases and death. Black Mississippians accounted for 53 percent of all cases and 61% of deaths as of Friday, despite representing less than 40% of the state’s population. This sentiment is not evident nationally, according to limited data. Although the COVID-19 data of the state did not meet all White House guidelines last week, Reeves was still weighing his options. Republican governors from other Southern states ignored these guidelines last week and loosely reversed previous shelter-in place restrictions. Georgia Governor. Reeves had been in touch with Brian Kemp, a Republican, over the past few days. He was sharply criticized by both sides of politics, including President Donald Trump, after he reversed his shelter-in-place order. Reeves was asked last week whether Trump’s suggestions played a part in his decision-making. He replied that Trump had said to him, “What (Trump), has told me is to open Mississippi as soon as it’s safely to do so.” Reeves and his advisers also became aware of the fact that the two central pillars to his 2019 gubernatorial victory — a stable state economy and positive trends for public education — were in decline. Reeves issued stay-at-home restrictions, but the virus is still spreading. Small businesses in the state are having trouble surviving or closing down, and there are record numbers of unemployment filings. Advocates for public education fear that the state’s gains in testing will be lost as many schools have closed since spring break, and students and districts are not able to access virtual learning. Jessica Cobb, a self-described conservative Republican from Gulfport, said that she voted last year for Governor Reeves. She now doubts his ability to lead. Cobb told Mississippi Today that she knows people who are in pain and wonder where their next meal will come from. Cobb is currently unemployed and searching for work. They aren’t getting the help that they promised. Because they were self-employed, they don’t qualify for unemployment. This is insane. This is a threat to people’s livelihoods. This state is a working-class state. These people are working-class people. Reeves needs to open the state.” Reeves spoke out in a phone interview on Thursday with Mississippi Today. He acknowledged that many Mississippians are dependent on small businesses and said that defining any business as essential doesn’t consider that all businesses are essential. “So many people have put everything into their small businesses and now they fear that they might lose everything that they worked so hard for. The government cannot cause this, and I’m doing all I can to ensure it doesn’t.” However, due to growing political pressures and criticisms by unemployed Mississippians as well as small business owners, Reeves has turned to Dobbs to be his closest advisor during the pandemic. This was confirmed by several people who know the leaders. Dobbs is an epidemiologist by training and heads the Mississippi State Department of Health. This state agency is independent of the governor. Dobbs reports directly to a Board of Health appointed by the governor, and not Reeves. Dobbs stepped up his cautionary rhetoric last Wednesday, admitting that the curve appears flattening, but going out of the way to use phrases like “still very very concerned about outbreaks places where people live close together,” and “big box stores still pretty crowded. It makes me very nervous.” Dobbs spoke on Tuesday by phone with Mississippi Today. He has a lot of things to balance, and I don’t envy the decisions he must make. Reeves is very attentive to the health consequences of this.” Reeves’ decision drew mixed reactions. Critics believe that any relaxation to the shelter-in place order is irresponsible. Proponents feel that the decision was reasonable and well-considered. Reeves clarified Friday that although his new order is state-wide, it does not prevent local governments from imposing stricter restrictions on residents. If a municipality wishes to close down restaurants, this option is available. Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams said that she respects Governor Reeves’ safer-at-home order and appreciated him slowing down the state’s economy rather than opening it wide. This is safer to stop the spread of COVID-19, and prevents a relapse in future. “Leflore County’s numbers don’t seem to be leveling off, but they are climbing,” said Carolyn McAdams, Greenwood Mayor. Bobby Harrison and Anna Wolfe contributed to this report. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to us today as part of the Spring Member Drive.