The coronavirus outbreak is just getting started in Mississippi, warned State Health Official Dr. Thomas Dobbs during a press conference with Gov. Tate Reeves and others today.

Dobbs, who has spearheaded the Magnolia State’s efforts to collect data and slow the spread of the virus, spoke along with Reeves outside the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson Thursday afternoon.

The press conference came just hours after the Mississippi State Department of Health announced 108 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, which brought the state-wide total of those infected to 435.

Mississippi also reported its sixth death related to the pandemic Thursday.

Dobbs said he was optimistic, but advised Mississippians to remain vigilant and stay home.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Dobbs said. “The social distancing has slowed things down, but we don’t need to kid ourselves that that is going to be enough. We are going to have to do more.”

Reeves announced at the same press conference a three-point plan to “go on the offensive” to contain the spread.

His aim, he said, is to aggressively ramp up testing, investigate localized outbreaks and organize community outbreak responses in Mississippi’s hardest-hit towns and cities.

“We are not close to the end,” Reeves said. “My advice to Mississippians is to be smart, practice exercise and good hygiene and protect yourself and your neighbors. Those individuals who have been able to work from home, they need to continue to work from home.”

The first-year governor turned the microphone over to Dobbs, who announced the introduction of a mobile testing site that will be set up first in DeSoto and Coahoma counties and then moved around the state as needed. Dobbs said a pop-up site will drastically increase the number of daily tests in a given area, which should have the double-effect of containing spread and providing healthcare experts with more data.

He said investigative teams will be tracking outbreaks among people who have visited nursing homes or attended funerals — or anywhere senior citizens may have become infected, and urged Mississippians to adhere to the CDC guidelines of staying in groups of fewer than 10 people.

Both Reeves and Dobbs referred to the need for localized responses. Reeves said he’s monitoring the situation across the state’s southern border in Louisiana, which has more than 2,300 cases as of Thursday afternoon and is experiencing the fastest growth in new cases in the world.

“People leaving Louisiana will likely come to a place like Pearl River County on the coast,” Reeves said. “That may dictate a more aggressive response than we would need in somewhere like Issaqueena County (in the Delta).”

Dobbs said identifying hot spots for COVID-19 is essential to appropriately distributing resources and manpower.

“If there’s a county that has uncontrolled transmission beyond what’s manageable with social distancing and other preventative measures,” he said, “we will go in there with full force and implement aggressive testing for up to a week and determine if we need to implement more aggressive measures, like mandatory shelter-in-place, while we get our team on site so we can control that localized outbreak.”

DeSoto, where the mobile testing site is headed first, had the most confirmed cases of any county in the state as of Thursday afternoon, with 49. Hinds County had 43.

Reeves also used Thursday’s press conference as an opportunity to clarify a misunderstanding over the executive order he signed earlier this week, saying he never intended to override the authority of Mississippi’s mayors when he mandated new rules pertaining to gatherings of 10 or more people and effectively closed restaurant’s dining rooms across the state.

The governor drew national criticism Wednesday night after a local Jackson news outlet reported that Reeves’ executive order went as far as to cancel any COVID-19 related safeguards put in place by mostly Democratic mayors across the state.

“That was never my intent,” Reeves said, adding that he had spent most of the day Wednesday reassuring those same mayors they could take additional steps to protect citizens, but not fewer than he had outlined in the order.

In a supplement to Executive Order No. 1463, Reeves provides clarity to ensure uniform statewide parameters to slow the spread of COVID-19, including:

• No measures can be adopted that are less restrictive than the executive order.
• Any existing local measures can remain in effect under the executive order, as long as they provide the same minimum standards established in the executive order and do not impose restrictions that would prevent essential services from operating.

Reeves also said he would consider taking more aggressive steps at the state level if advised by medical experts or Washington, D.C. to do so.

“So far, nobody at the state level has advised me that a shelter-in-place order is necessary,” Reeves said. “And nobody in (President Donald Trump’s) cabinet has advised me that it is necessary. But rest assured, when and if it is in Mississippi’s best interest, I will be willing and able to implement it.”