State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, center next to Chief Cyrus Ben, visited the Choctaw Health Center on Wednesday in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases here soar.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, center next to Chief Cyrus Ben, visited the Choctaw Health Center on Wednesday in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases here soar.

With the seventh-highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, Neshoba and some surrounding counties may remain under tighter lockdown to get the spread under control, Gov. Tate Reeves said on Friday.

A sharp rise in the number of cases earlier this week alarmed officials enough to call the region a hotspot and send the State Health Official leading the state’s efforts here Wednesday.

Neshoba follows Hinds Madison, Lauderdale, DeSoto, Forrest, and Scott counties with most of those in metro regions with far more people causing much of the alarm over the more rural areas.

"We have witnessed in Scott, Leake, Attala, Neshoba, Newton, Lauderdale and Kemper counties a huge proportion of the new cases over the past week or two," State Health Official Thomas Dobbs on his visit.

"There really is a hot spot of disease transmission happening here. We have been trying to dig in and find out what is going on.”

Dobbs went out of his way to commend Philadelphia Mayor James Young for the orders he put in place requiring masks for employees and customers entering stores and citywide curfews. He added that those types of restrictions could be expanded to the rest of the East Central Mississippi region until the number of cases here begin to decline.

Dabbs met with representatives of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which has been hit particularly hard with the sickness and death.

The total number of coronavirus cases in Neshoba County has grown by 43 since Tuesday, when region was mentioned as a troubled area. At that time, cases had doubled in a two-week span.

As of Friday, Neshoba had 287 confirmed cases — including 28 in long-term care facilities — and 12 deaths related to the virus.

Statewide, the total number of confirmed cases grew by 404 Friday to a total of 9,090.

Although the 404 new cases was the highest single-day total since the crisis began, Dobbs said the number of hospitalizations, patients in intensive care units and those requiring ventilators is trending downward. Mississippi currently has 435 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, 123 in ICU beds and 58 on ventilators.

Reeves announced Friday he was extending his statewide “safer at home” order for another two weeks, but would allow barbershops, salons and gyms to reopen with enhanced protective guidelines starting at 8 a.m. on Monday, May 11.

But that doesn't mean Neshoba County will be included immediately, officials said.

Asked directly why he would allow such businesses to reopen in areas of the state that have experienced exponential growth in cases, specifically in Neshoba County, Reeves said discussions were ongoing on what to do with "hot-spots" and said restrictions in some areas of the state will likely have to be more strict than they have been previously.

"That's something we're looking at," Reeves said. "Remember that the order does not go into effect until 8 a.m. Monday. My advice to you would be to stay tuned."

Reeves' decision to allow roughly 95 percent of Mississippi's industries to reopen under restrictions comes after the latest jobs report revealed that nearly 200,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment security benefits in the past seven weeks. The percentage that 200,000 represents in Mississippi — a state of nearly 3 million — tracks with trends in states across the country.

"The human cost of another Great Depression is greater than that of the broad orders to close everything and stay at home," Reeves said. "Do not mistake my efforts to protect people from this Great Depression threat for saying the public health threat is not real. The strategy of identifying and isolating those with the virus will continue. Testing will continue. But our strategy of making it illegal for many small businesses to operate is not sustainable."

Reeves enacted his first Coronavirus-related executive order on April 4, declaring a statewide emergency, requiring Mississippians who work in industries deemed non-essential to stay home and banning all gatherings of 10 or more. That original order was set to expire on April 20.

After extending that order an additional week, Reeves replaced it with his “safer at home” order, which allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen under strict guidelines on April 27.

His revised “safer at home” order is set to go into effect at 8 a.m. on Monday, May 11.

Reeves urged Mississippians to continue to be smart and vigilant while protecting themselves, their families and their neighbors.

"Please, I beg you," Reeves said. "Do not listen to the voices in your life that are telling you there is no danger. There is danger for all of us, particularly for those of us over the age of 65 or with pre-existing conditions.

"We are not (relieving restrictions) because there is no risk. There's risk every time you leave your home. There will be risks if you go to any of these businesses that are reopening. I'm doing this because I can't afford to let these businesses be destroyed simply by government order. You have to make decisions about what's best for you and your family."