Mississippi employees off work to be paid amid pandemic

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center said Wednesday that physicians and researchers there are working to develop a test for the new coronavirus amid high demand for test kits nationwide.

Many Mississippi government agencies, meanwhile, are limiting activities because of the global pandemic.

The state reported 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday, up from 21 Tuesday. The state Health Department said 513 people had been tested in Mississippi by Wednesday.

Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said it will likely be a couple of weeks before teams there develop test kits.

UMMC’s top executive, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, said the medical center is working to increase telehealth capacity to screen patients remotely.

The head of emergency medicine, Dr. Alan Jones, said it’s “very important” that people not go to an emergency room if they think they have symptoms. Instead, they should first use a telephone or telehealth service to get advice on what to do.

For most people, the new virus strain causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission announced Wednesday that it is banning utility companies from cutting off water, sewer, natural gas or electricity service for 60 days for customers who are unable to pay. The commission said that includes city-run utilities not normally under its jurisdiction.

Among the government services curtailed are driver’s license offices, which are closed for most functions. Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that the Highway Patrol will not issue tickets to people driving with expired licenses.

The state Health Department said distribution centers for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program remain open, but only two clients at a time can go into a warehouse to pick up food. The secretary of state and the auditor have employees working remotely.

Mississippi legislators are suspending their work until at least April 1, largely to prevent interaction among thousands of people who converge on the Capitol during most days of legislative sessions.

“This virus doesn’t discriminate,” Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville said Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Democrat or Republican, young or old.”

Before leaving, senators passed a bill Wednesday to ensure that teachers and employees of city and county governments in Mississippi would be paid even if workers are told to stay home because of the pandemic.

The bill passed the House Tuesday, and it now goes to Reeves, who requested it. The measure would give city and county governments and school boards the power to pay hourly employees who are not working during a disaster, including the current pandemic. State law already authorizes Mississippi state government to pay its hourly employees in such circumstances. The legislation would not affect private businesses.

Mississippi’s 26 state-regulated casinos were ordered to close at midnight Monday, leaving empty parking lots in places that are often bustling. Schools are closed, and some grocery stores shelves have been picked clean of toilet paper and cleaning products.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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

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