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COVID-19

Lawsuit seeks to make absentee voting more accessible during COVID-19 crisis

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The Mississippi Center for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to ensure that absentee voting is more accessible to Mississippians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most states allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Mississippi, however, has long required voters to choose from a list of “excuses” to do so. One of the allowable reasons is for a “temporary or permanent physical disability.”

The Legislature recently amended the law to state that a “temporary physical disability” includes any voter who is “under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020 or is caring for a dependent who is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.”

The groups are seeking a ruling from the court clarifying that all voters who are following public health guidance to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 may invoke the “temporary physical disability” reason to vote absentee.

“Over the last month, Mississippi has proven to be a consistent COVID-19 hot spot with the numbers of infections and deaths increasing, not decreasing,” said Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, in a statement. “Any requirement that citizens gather in polling places to cast their ballots would show a callous disregard for the health of our communities that would likely chill the voting process resulting in constructive disenfranchisement of thousands.”

The lawsuit notes that “the legislative history of this expansion makes it clear that a ‘physician-imposed quarantine’ does not require a doctor’s guidance given individually to the voter, but would also include guidance from the Mississippi Department of Health (MDH), whose director is a physician, and other public health officials and experts who are physicians.”

It also explains that the state health department advises all Mississippi residents to “avoid large social gatherings and community events,” including indoor gatherings of more than 10 people, which would include most polling places during much of the time on Election Day. According to the lawsuit, Mississippians “have a right to follow that guidance without surrendering the right to vote.”

The case was filed on behalf of several Mississippians who are following public health guidance and who want to vote but are fearful of contracting COVID-19 if they ignore that guidance and vote in person on Election Day.

Read the lawsuit.

COVID-19

Warren County reports 55th COVID-19 death

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The Mississippi State Department of Health reported six new COVID-19 cases Tuesday in Warren County and one new death, a resident in one of the county’s long-term health facilities. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,527, and the county’s death toll is 55.

Statewide, MSDH reported 730 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 111,322. The seven-day average of new cases is 769, higher by 270 cases from a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recently, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Tuesday that 31 additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,202. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.9%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 31 deaths MSDH reported Tuesday, 22 occurred between Aug. 6 and Oct. 18 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Tuesday
Attala 1
Bolivar 1
Chickasaw 1
Clarke 1
Grenada 1
Harrison 2
Hinds 1
Jackson 3
Jasper 1
Leflore 1
Lincoln 1
Noxubee 1
Panola 1
Pearl River 2
Pike 1
Tippah 1
Tishomingo 1
Warren 1

Nine COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Sept. 18 and Oct. 10 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths reported on death certificate reports
Adams 1
Bolivar 1
De Soto 1
Greene 1
Hinds 1
Lauderdale 1
Leake 1
Madison 1
Simpson 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They dropped again through Oct. 3; however, hospitalizations have been showing a rise since then.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, is 653, more than half of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 541 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 112 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 151 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 70 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 97,675 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 87.7% of the cumulative 111,322 cases reported Tuesday, Oct. 20.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Tuesday, Sept. 29, was 1,415, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,360, or about 89.1% of the 1,527 cumulative cases reported as of Tuesday, Oct. 20. The county has an estimated 112 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Thursday, Oct. 15, is 900,479 or about 30.3% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 17.7% Monday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.3%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 127 Tuesday. About 40.3%, or 1,289, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Oct. 4.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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COVID-19

Watch: Governor announces additional COVID-19 measures

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Gov. Tate Reeves during a news conference Oct. 19, 2020. (photo via video screen grab)

In the wake of a recent spike of new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves announced additional measures Monday to slow the spread of the virus.

A new executive order places a 10% capacity requirement on health care facilities across the state. If hospitals cannot maintain 10% of their capacity for COVID-19 patients, they must delay elective procedures. This was a vital part of the effort to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed during the summer wave. Mississippi’s COVID-19 cases have increased over the past few weeks—part of a global and national trend of increasing cases.

The governor also announced additional targeted measures for counties that meet the standards established during the summer wave. In these counties, indoor social gatherings should be limited to groups of 10. Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to groups of 50. Face coverings are required while indoors and interacting with the public without social distancing.

“We’ve seen this before,” Reeves said during a live news conference streamed Monday on Facebook. “We know what can happen if we allow this to get out of control, and so we want to be proactive to prevent that from happening. None of these elements are silver bullets. None of them will totally eliminate the virus. We have to allow for life to go on in the meantime. As we wait for a vaccine, our mission is the same as it ever was: to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. That has to be the focus.”

Counties must meet the following criteria for additional measures: more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents over a designated two-week period or more than 200 cases total over the designated two-week period (with more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents).

The counties that currently meet the criteria for additional COVID-19 safety measures are Chickasaw, Claiborne, DeSoto, Forrest, Itawamba, Jackson, Lamar, Lee and Neshoba.

View a copy of the executive order here.

“You’re smart. You know what you need to do to keep safe,” Reeves wrote in a Facebook post Monday. “We’ll keep trying to set policies that mitigate rampant spread while respecting everyone’s individual rights.

“Please stay watchful and be careful. We can get through this together.”

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COVID-19

Speculation growing over whether Reeves will reinstate a mask mandate

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(Photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Mississippi, speculation about whether Gov. Tate Reeves will reinstate a mask mandate has also grown.

Monday, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson tweeted that the state should reconsider implementing a mandate once again.

After a surge in July and August put the state’s hospitals in danger of being overwhelmed, the governor allowed the statewide mandate to expire Sept. 30 after cases in Mississippi fell throughout most of September. The Magnolia State was the only state to drop its mandate. Cases in Mississippi leveled off toward the end of the month.

Cases began rising again in October. Last week’s seven-day averages reached a high of nearly 800 cases with two days, Thursday and Friday, reporting more than 1,000 cases each. During the same time frame in September, seven-day averages were generally under 500.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said last week that he expects the governor to announce measures to curb COVID-19 cases, possibly mandating masks on a county-by-county basis instead of statewide. He admitted, though, that he did not know Reeves’ plan of action.

Thursday in a social media post, Reeves said he wanted to be “cautious and limited in using executive action.”

Dobbs has expressed increasing concern over the number of rising cases.

“I do think we are on the front end of something that could be bad,” he said in a Zoom meeting Oct. 12 before the week’s worst numbers came in.

“The last time we saw that was before the summer surge. That doesn’t mean we can’t turn that around. It’s not that hard,” he added.

The governor will hold a live news conference Monday at 2:30 p.m.

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