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Unemployment remains high in Mississippi and the U.S.



(Image from Mississippi Department of Employment Security)

The number of new unemployment claims continues to decline in Mississippi, even as continued claims remain high.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was verified in the state March 11, more than 350,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment benefits. For the week ending June 13, new claims numbered 18,013, which was down more 3,000 claims from the previous week. The four-week average for new claims is 21,792.

In the first few weeks in April at the peak of the unemployment crisis in the state, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security was seeing more than 45,000 new claims every week.

Continued claims, where a person filed for unemployment benefits in the weeks following their initial claim, ticked up for the week of June 6 by more than 6,000 claims to 155,349.

In addition, at least 27,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA. That program provides benefits to individuals not covered by state programs, including people who are self-employed, work as independent contractors or as gig workers.

The data provided for the PUA program is incomplete. Mississippi began providing PUA benefits at the end of April but did not report those numbers to the U.S. Department of Labor until the end of May. Continued claims in Mississippi for PUA benefits numbered 47,450 the week ending May 30, which was down by nearly 8,000 claims from the previous week.

Combining the numbers of continued claims under the Mississippi unemployment program and the federal PUA program shows that nearly 203,000 Mississippians were unemployed at the end of May.

In April, the size of the civilian labor force in Mississippi was 1,190,900 people. Nearly 203,000 unemployed represents a 17% unemployment rate. The official unemployment rate for April 2020 in Mississippi was 15.4% which was 10% higher than the rate for April 2019.

Mississippi’s unemployment figures for May will be released June 23.

Unemployment claims in Mississippi since the first COVID-19 case in the state
Week ending New claims Continued claims PUA claims PUA continued claims
3/14/2020 1,147 7,098
3/21/2020 5,519 6,667
3/28/2020 32,015 9,581
4/4/2020 45,852 29,373
4/11/2020 45,748 60,737
4/18/2020 36,913 93,005
4/25/2020 29,906 135,722 ?
5/2/2020 25,745 208,270 ? ?
5/9/2020 23,618 189,886 ? ?
5/16/2020 24,242 184,150 ? 59,060
5/23/2020 23,856 174,808 ? 55,413
5/30/2020 24,014 148,902 10,784 47,450
6/6/2020 21,283 155,349 8,403
6/13/2020 18,013 8,203
Total 357,871 27,390

On the national level, 1.5 million Americans filed new unemployment claims during the week ending June 13, continuing historically high numbers of unemployed people in the U.S. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the record number of new claims in one month was 695,000 in October 1982.

More than 45 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment benefits in the past three months. For the week ending June 6, more than 20.5 million Americans were unemployed, and the national unemployment rate was 14.1%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The numbers of new claims have been falling for several weeks in most U.S. states. The exceptions are states that have seen sharp rises in COVID-19 cases, such as Arizona, which has seen a rise in cases and unemployment for two weeks.

Job losses have been most severe for people with low incomes, minorities and women, according to Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve. Last week, Powell warned that the nation’s economy faces “significant uncertainty” in the weeks and months ahead.

“Much of that economic uncertainty comes from uncertainty about the path of the disease and the effects of measures to contain it,” Powell said in his testimony before the Senate Banking committee Tuesday. “Until the public is confident that the disease is contained, a full recovery is unlikely.”


Watch: Governor announces additional COVID-19 measures



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 Monday streamed 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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Speculation growing over whether Reeves will reinstate a mask mandate



(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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No new COVID-19 deaths reported Monday in Mississippi



The Mississippi State Department of Health did not provide any COVID-19 updates Sunday, and did not provide a reason. The agency reported combined statistics for Sunday’s and Monday’s new cases and deaths Monday. As expected, case counts dropped over the weekend with fewer labs reporting results. No new deaths in the state were reported for either day.

MSDH reported three new COVID-19 cases Sunday and Monday in Warren County and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,521, and the county’s death toll is 54.

Statewide, MSDH reported 586 new COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 110,592. The seven-day average of new cases is 766, higher by 271 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 Monday that no additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide Sunday. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,171. 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.

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and Sunday, Oct. 18. 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. Friday, Oct. 16, is 609, about half of the late July peak of more than 1,200. The number includes 501 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 108 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 140 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 69 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 94,165 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 85.2% of the cumulative 110,592 cases reported Monday, Oct. 19.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Monday, Sept. 28, was 1,409, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,355, or about 89.1% of the 1,521 cumulative cases reported as of Monday, Oct. 19. 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 16.9% Sunday 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 Monday. About 40.4%, or 1,280, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 25 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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