Virus concern closes Mississippi schools until mid-April

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's governor said Thursday that public schools will be closed until at least April 17 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, but he and state education leaders urged parents to make sure children continue to learn.

“This is not a time to take a vacation,” Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Facebook live presentation from the Governor's Mansion.

Mississippi reported 50 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Thursday, up from 34 Wednesday. The state Health Department said 602 people had been tested in Mississippi by Thursday.

A Mississippi man died of the coronavirus in a Louisiana hospital, the Mississippi State Department of Health said Thursday. The department said the Hancock County resident was between 60 and 65 years old and had an underlying medical condition.

The vast majority of people infected with this novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization. Particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

A mobile hospital trailer and two large tents were being set up Thursday on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson as part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's response to the coronavirus outbreak, said university spokesman Marc Rolph. He said several agencies, including the state Health Department and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, were involved.

“This is a big project with many moving parts, which are not ready to be communicated fully," Rolph said Thursday. ”More information about this project will be shared tomorrow."

After announcing that schools would remain closed four more weeks, Reeves said they would continue to receive state money and teachers would continue to be paid. He said he wanted students to continue learning.

The state Board of Education voted Thursday to waive the requirement of 180 days of instruction for the current academic year. It also voted to suspend all state accountability measurements and all state testing for the current year. The state board will also ask the U.S. Department of Education to waive all federal assessments for this school year.

State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said the state is urging districts to find ways to continue learning at home, either by computer or by delivering paper handouts for students who might be younger or might lack online access at home.

“School is not over, it’s just going to be different for a while,” said Jason Dean, the state Board of Education president.

All eight of Mississippi's public universities have postponed commencement ceremonies that had been scheduled for May.

The Mississippi Health Department said Thursday that all elective medical procedures and nonessential medical visits in the state must be postponed indefinitely. That includes dental services.

Reeves said the Mississippi Division of Medicaid will increase the use of telehealth services through at least April 30, with patients using cellphones or other devices to connect to nurses or physicians.

Both of the U.S. attorneys in Mississippi said they were appointing assistant federal prosecutors to investigate anyone who tries to take advantage of others during the pandemic.

Some communities in Mississippi were temporarily shutting down bars and telling restaurants to close their dining rooms to slow the spread of the virus.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba issued an order prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, in line with federal recommendations.

"The city of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the coronavirus pandemic," the order says.

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Associated Press reporter Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

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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.

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


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