Apr 2, 2020
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 2: Issues Statewide Shelter-in-Place Order
Tate Reeves: (00:00)
Today, there were 6.6 million unemployment claims. To put that in perspective in our state two weeks ago, a typical week in Mississippi, we had slightly less or approximately 1000 unemployment claims. Last week, we had approximately 5,500 unemployment claims, five and a half times what we had the week before. This week, we had approximately 30, 000 unemployment claims. That’s 30 times the number of claims from two weeks ago. Make no mistake. This is not only a public health disaster. This is also an economic disaster in Mississippi and in this nation. What I want you to know is that we understand that with the workload at the department of employment security being 30X compared to what it was two weeks ago, I just asked you to be patient. Put yourself in those employees shoes if when you are at work, if someone came to you and said, “I need you to do 30 times what you’re doing today, tomorrow for us to be able to handle the volume”, 30X up, that much.
Tate Reeves: (01:29)
The reality is we are implementing measures to hire more people, to hire temp staff to increase the number of folks. For instance, we’ve gone from a call center that was open from eight to five, five days a week, to a call center that is now open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM, seven days a week. We have allowed our WIN Job Centers for the first time to accept applications even though they are closed to the public. They can accept unemployment insurance applications online and then you can be helped in that regard. But remember, no matter when we are able to process your claim, I want you to know you are entitled to benefits based upon the first day that you were laid off and that you will be paid based upon the date at which you are laid off, not the date at which you actually get your claim approved and filed by our state.
Tate Reeves: (02:31)
We are putting in more measures to hire additional people to deal with the significant uptick in claims and we’re going to make sure that you are able to get through. We’re going to make sure that you get what you were entitled to because it’s not your fault that COVID-19 has led to this economic challenge and we’re going to stay stand with you as a state. Now, as we continue to work to protect the people in Mississippi, we’re continuing to do long-term strategy planning to deal with the possible scenarios that exist and so at this time, I want to turn it over to Dr. Dobbs and just give him an opportunity to address you as well.
Dr. Dobbs: (03:18)
Thank you governor. And thank you for sharing the lab data that we have to make it available today. We will look forward to sharing more regularly the total lab volume for the state of Mississippi. Our state public health lab and private partners have done a fantastic job making testing available to everyone who appropriately needs it. We have a network of over 126 private clinics that have designated themselves as locations for specific COVID testing. Now any doctor’s office can do COVID testing and a lot of them do, but we have on our website a list of all these locations across the state where you can go if you think you need COVID testing. In addition, we have our mobile test sites which we have activated across the state and going into areas that are either hotspots or have maybe specific geographic need.
Dr. Dobbs: (04:11)
Also, we have other fantastic partners like UMC which has set up their drive-thru clinic here. So we have pretty good availability of testing, but expect to see more. We really want to ramp this up so that we can diagnose every single case if possible and make sure we take those public health actions needed to stop this thing. We have a total of 1,177 cases thus far today with a 26 deaths. This morning we reported 104 new cases. Now, although that is significantly lower than the number of new cases reported yesterday, I would not be lulled into a sense of complacency. There’s been a lot of variability in that and we expect we’ll continue to see more and more cases as the weeks go on.
Dr. Dobbs: (04:59)
Certainly we do not have any confidence that we’ve peaked out at all, expect to see a lot more cases and a lot more deaths and then the more sobering number that we have seen, 22 long-term care facilities that have been impacted by COVID and that’s something that’s going to take a lot of our resources and a lot of our attention to make sure we protect those who are most vulnerable. If we look at those who’ve died in Mississippi, the vast majority are over 60. 17 of them are over 70 and five are between 60 and 69. So it’s really going to be these older folks like we talked about who are going to be most susceptible to the severe outcomes and death and we have a relatively high hospitalization rate at 30.6% of all of our diagnose cases today. That’s really all I had to share today and thank you governor.
Tate Reeves: (05:52)
Thank you, Dr. Dobbs. Director Michel and his team had been leading the effort to improve the amount of equipment and supplies that we’re getting into the state. We have received small shipments from the national stockpile several weeks ago, but nowhere near what we have requested. And so we have done what Mississippians do. We have taken it upon ourselves to go out and work very hard to place orders to get supplies in and I’m going to turn it over to the director Michelle to talk about that.
Thank you governor Reeves. I’m pleased to report that we are starting to receive the PPE shipment and we hope to steady receive these throughout the rest of the weekend and going into next week. So just to give you a report and update and what we’ve gotten in the last 24 hours, 18,000 surgical masks, those are masks that we were able to get from Mississippi companies. There’re 25,095 masks, 10,000 Tyvek suits for our healthcare workers, 2,500 bottles of hand sanitizer. These would be bottles that we would be able to place with our first emergency responders and then 15,000 test tubes to assist with the lab supplies to assist Dr. Dobbs and his team in testing. So we are starting to get supplies in and we’re anticipating those shipments to come in regularly from this point forward now.
Tate Reeves: (07:19)
Thank you Director Michel. I’ll just point out Dr Dobbs mentioned the number of cases in Mississippi today which were a little bit less than yesterday and that’s obviously encouraging news, but one day does not a trend make and we don’t expect that is the trend and the direction that we’re headed in. Just for your perspective, understand that yesterday, the state of Louisiana had said that they had 1,212 new cases. Today, they are reporting 2,726 new cases, so they are now fifth overall amongst all 50 States in total number of cases. And for all intents and purposes, they’ve got 9,150 total cases and they’re up about 4,000 in the last two days alone.
Tate Reeves: (08:21)
Now, as I’ve said repeatedly, total number of tests per state at this relatively early stage for many is more a function of how many tests you’re doing than it is necessarily where you were headed. But there is no doubt that the city of New Orleans and Orleans Parish is a hotspot in America. It’s the reason they have received significant federal resources. We certainly pray for our friends and our neighbors to the West, but we also understand how this virus can spread and spread very quickly, particularly if individuals are not practicing social distancing or not staying at home, if at all-
Tate Reeves: (09:03)
… possible and only getting out for essential travel or for essential work in operations. So with that, thank you all for being here. I appreciate these two gentlemen for being here as well, and I will open the floor to any easy questions that y’all have. Courtney Ann.
Courtney : (09:23)
I know that you talked about speaking with mayors and they’re going to do what they can to enforce these measures at the local level. We’ve had a lot of questions, just folks at home who maybe haven’t read through executive orders in the past that are trying to figure out, “Well, why is my local municipality issuing an order that seems very much the same as the governors?” Those are just intended as reinforcements or what do you want to tell those people at home who may be are seeing what feels like a duplicate at the local level?
Tate Reeves: (09:51)
Well, for those of you who have never read an executive order with respect to a pandemic in Mississippi, I will tell you that none of us have ever actually written an executive order dealing with a pandemic in Mississippi. And so we are all in unchartered waters and uncharted territory. What I would tell you is many of the local orders that are being put in place are very similar to the executive order that I signed yesterday with my shelter in place order. Some are a little bit different and look different municipalities and different counties have different means and different needs and it is certainly perfectly acceptable for them to do that. It is okay for them to go a little bit further, or try to take additional steps, or be more specific in their order if that’s what they think their citizens need.
Tate Reeves: (10:47)
What they can’t do at the local level is they can’t conflict with the executive order that we signed yesterday. So in other words, when we say that you are an essential operation, most of which are defined by the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Committee, those are essential operations that must stay open. But look, we had great conversations with our mayors, with our supervisors today. I will tell you I’ve been extremely pleased with all of them, Republicans and Democrats alike are trying to pull together now and work to protect our fellow Mississippians.
Tate Reeves: (11:29)
So again, the simple answer is if you have to think about you ought to do something or not as an individual, the answer is probably no, you probably shouldn’t do it. But there’s nothing wrong with getting outside your house by yourself working in your garden, or working in your flower bed, or walking around the neighborhood by yourself or with your spouse or your kids as long as they’re five or six feet away from you. For mental health reasons, we need to get out and enjoy this beautiful April weather, but we need to do it by ourselves.
Speaker 1: (12:07)
You mentioned Governor, that some waterways are going to be closed down with Ross Barnett reservoir being the largest inland body of water, and it borders the Natchez Trace, whose jurisdiction, because yesterday there were lots of folks were partying alongside the Trace adjacent to the water. Whose jurisdiction is it to cover and take care of that?
Tate Reeves: (12:34)
Well, what I would tell you is depending upon exactly where you are, we certainly allow reservoir police has jurisdiction for instance, on the east side of the reservoir. When you’re on the waterway, typically it’s Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks oversees that. We’ve got federal law enforcement officers when it’s along the Natchez Trace that are involved. And what we are willing and able to do is if locals would like help with enforcement, if you go through your local emergency management team, they can then reach out to the state, to the Mississippi Emergency Management team, and we are prepared and able to deploy additional state resources to help in this effort.
Tate Reeves: (13:28)
Now look, if there’s a group of 11 people that are gathered up in at the reservoir, first of all I’d say, don’t do that. Please do not do that. You’re putting yourself in your friends and family at risk. But if there are, what I hope will happen is that local law enforcement or state law enforcement goes and breaks up that group and tells them to go home. I don’t think we’re going to see significant arrests initially unless you ignore what doing what you’re supposed to do. Gerald.
You touted the number of testing and I guess it’s of course with Dr. Dobbs, can you project, at what point can we begin to do random testing and sampling or open the testing availability? Is that something you’re able to project at this point?
Dr. Dobbs: (14:20)
Certainly we want to expand testing as much as can be done, and there’ll be different modalities of testing like antibody testing, which will have a different role. So there’ll be more and more testing out there except for certain very specific circumstances. There’s really no use in checking asymptomatic people. It’s just a wasted effort. But certainly, we have recognized that the degree of symptoms is highly variable, and so we really are and have been lowering the threshold of who should be tested. And so absolutely yes, we will lower the threshold, test as many people as we can, especially in longterm care where older folks maybe don’t manifest a fever. We want to essentially test all of those people if there is an outbreak going on. So yes, absolutely.
Tate Reeves: (15:07)
Speaker 2: (15:08)
Along those lines, have you considered asking the state medical board to loosen restrictions on telemedicine or having out of state doctors help out just to kind of relieve pressure on the medical system here?
Tate Reeves: (15:19)
Yes, we’ve been in conversations with individuals at the state medical board regarding a lot of different measures that we can potentially take to relieve pressure on the system here. Dr. Dobbs and I had a conversation about this earlier today. Do you want to talk about just the role of sort of where physicians are today in the practice of medicine in Mississippi?
Dr. Dobbs: (15:49)
So most physicians in Mississippi are underused right now. The clinics are empty and they’re not busy. My wife’s a physician and she’s the way slower than she normally would be because we’ve decompressed the system. So what I would say first and foremost is your local doctor is available almost certainly for your normal medical needs. Certainly telehealth options or at least starting with a phone is going to be the best way to start. But we do have adequate healthcare capacity within our state and with our local doctors and providers to provide the care that’s needed. We just would prefer it be through a telehealth option when possible, but sometimes it’s not possible. Sometimes you need to go to the clinic or see your doctor and that’s perfectly acceptable because we know people are going to need that kind of care at times.
Tate Reeves: (16:36)
And the other thing that I have been advised of in talking to our medical professionals and our experts, and Dr. Dobbs and his team and others, is the individuals that ended up being hospitalized for COVID-19, and particularly those that are in need of a ventilator, that is a group of patients that require extensive medical help and it takes a significant amount of time per individual. And so we’re looking at ways to expand with capabilities should things continue to get worse. Everything from additional hospital beds to finding ways in which to take existing physicians who maybe aren’t working as much. We’ve got those in the surgical centers that maybe aren’t working as much now and taking even those nurses and others that have maybe chosen not to work for a period of time that may want to come back and help in this national emergency Ross.
Okay. I know that grocery stores are considered essential businesses, but every day I seem to notice grocery store parking lots are filled to the brim. Do they need to be doing something to limit the number of customers inside…
Speaker 3: (18:03)
… their businesses at one time to try to minimize the spread of the virus?
Tate Reeves: (18:07)
Well, I think that we certainly have to keep our grocery stores open. The supply chain in America is working. We need to go into the grocery store and get the things we need and then get out and go home. We have encouraged repeatedly and a lot of them are doing this, things like at the checkout line, for instance, if you could just go in and put tape every six feet so that people are staying, are not bunching up on each other. I think that would be very helpful and I think that in terms of limiting the number of people in the place, it just depends on the size of the facility and how many people we’re talking.
Tate Reeves: (18:51)
But yeah, people do not need to be within six feet of one another. There was actually a conversation that I saw with the coronavirus task force, the President, the Vice President, about the potential of even changing CDC guidelines and encouraging everyone to wear a mask. That’s, to my knowledge, they have not done that yet. They have not told me if they have made that determination, but that just tells you the severity of the situation that we’re in. And it also tells you how contagious this virus is. When we start talking about doing things like that. Courtney Anne.
Courtney Anne: (19:31)
I saw a note that the cruise ships docked in Gulfport were being directed to depart from the port of Gulfport by the close of business Friday. What risk do we believe they may have posed or is that something related to the executive order that I didn’t notice?
Tate Reeves: (19:48)
Well, we didn’t address it in the executive order. Obviously, cruise ships around the country and we were hearing early around the globe, and we were hearing this weeks and weeks ago are an area in which there are a number of people that have contracted the virus. There’s a lot of people in really tight quarters and so I think they’re potentially at risk. I was having a difficult time getting accurate information from the various cruise lines that wanted to utilize the port of Gulfport. These are lines that have never utilized the port in the past. And I was concerned about that. I’m not sure how much testing they were doing, but my commitment is to ensure that we can help protect every Mississippian that gets this virus. And that’s what we’re working to do. Joe.
Some experts are predicting a major southern swing of this coronavirus. And 20% of deaths in Louisiana were of younger people, 43 in Georgia, percent, and 49 to 43 in Louisiana. How can you impress upon younger folks to take this serious and not gather together, do things that could harm themselves?
Tate Reeves: (21:19)
That’s a great question. It’s one of the things that we have been urging all Mississippians to do. If you are, no matter how old you are, we want you to not gather in groups of 10 or more. We want you to not leave the home, in fact, if you can avoid it. We think that’s very, very important. When we talk about vulnerable, we’re talking about those that not only are 65 and older, but also those that have a compromised immune system. In Mississippi, that’s a higher percentage of our residents than it is in a lot of other states. That’s why I wanted to specifically mention our levels of obesity, of diabetes, of hypertension, of the number of people who smoke in our state, all of those various groups have a higher risk of the virus being very, very dangerous and having a very bad outcome. And so if you are a younger, even if you’re a younger person, you don’t think you have any of those.
Tate Reeves: (22:22)
You may have underlying medical conditions that just hadn’t been diagnosed yet. The other issue is if you’re a younger person and you think you don’t have any of those areas and therefore you’re not that vulnerable, ask yourself, do I know anybody that fits that criteria? And I promise you everybody in our state would answer that question, yes, we know somebody that fits one of these criteria or is over the age of 65. And so I urge Mississippians to not only stay at home, but to protect themselves because if they’ll do that, they’ll protect their neighbors and their loved ones as well. Yes, sir.
Speaker 4: (23:01)
Yeah. I couldn’t help but mention Mississippi seems to have a higher rate of hospitalization for coronavirus patients. Why do you guys think that is?
Dr. Dobbs: (23:09)
It’s not entirely clear at this time. I think one of the reasons may be that we do a lot of hospital tests. And so certainly 100% of hospitalized patients are hospitalized, so that could be part of it, but certainly we do have a lot of comorbidities that may be driving that as well. I wouldn’t say that we have a clear explanation for that, but we certainly will be looking into that closer.
Tate Reeves: (23:35)
Yeah. The one thing I will say is I think particularly with the Department of Health testing, they have been, and with UMC as well, they have been very adamant that they at least initially started primarily with testing being done on those who had some of the worst symptoms. And so I think that could just be at this point in time, could just be the nature of the numbers, but I think when all is said and done there’s a very good chance that our numbers as a percentage of those who test positive, both in terms of hospitalizations and ultimately deaths, sadly could be higher than some other states.
Tate Reeves: (24:27)
Much like the stat that I utilized earlier when I said that the death rate right now amongst Louisiana residents when compared to New York residents is significantly higher. Part of that is demographics. And part of it is these numbers that I mentioned earlier. And that’s why it is so important that Mississippians heed the call to stay indoors, to stay away from their neighbors, allow us to slow the spread of this disease through very smart measures that put everyone in a better chance of success. Ross.
Dr. Dobbs, can you talk about the outbreaks of the longterm care facilities? And that graph from the website that you guys put out, is that one, when you have a number one, that’s one …
Dr. Dobbs: (25:21)
One nursing home. Right. That’s one nursing home. So we’ve had 22. And we consider an outbreak, a single case or a single employee, because we know how deadly it can be. And so whenever that happens, we launch our normal sort of response in that situation.
And you said you guys were taking extra resources to deal with that. Can you talk about that?
Dr. Dobbs: (25:42)
Yeah. So whenever we have an outbreak in a nursing home setting, there’s a whole … and this is not something new to coronavirus, but when we’ve had flu outbreaks or other respiratory viruses, because that can be really devastating for a vulnerable population. There’s a whole sequence of steps we take as far as like enhance isolation guidelines, quality control measures that we share with them and we’ll monitor to make sure they’re doing them. So, it’s mostly that sort of resource. But also we are resourcing them with protective equipment too. So that’s one of our priority areas is if someone has an outbreak in a nursing home, then we’re then sending them more protective equipment.
Speaker 5: (26:24)
I had a woman reach out to me this afternoon that said that her mom was in a nursing home with dementia, and that she’d only been able to get in contact with the nurse about once a week. And she wanted to know why Mississippi can’t, like Louisiana is doing, release the specific names of the nursing homes where there is an outbreak?
Dr. Dobbs: (26:38)
That’s come up a couple of times. I know that it’s something we’ve never done for nursing home outbreaks. We want to protect the anonymity of the people who are ill. And we also want to protect the … and not stigmatize the nursing home facility. It’s not something we’ve ever done and haven’t considered doing it, but if there were a compelling reason to do it, we might reconsider.
Speaker 5: (27:02)
Someone who’s hospitalized-
Speaker 6: (27:03)
Someone who’s hospitalized that don’t have insurance because of COVID-19, how are they expected to pay for the coverage? I know that the cost ranges from thousands of dollars. How are they expected to pay for it, and will the state assist in paying for it?
Tate Reeves: (27:24)
Well, what I would tell you is the hospital administrators that I’ve spoken to, and I have spoken to many, many, many around the state, they’re not turning people away. They are taking in every patient, every Mississippian that needs care, and they are caring for them.
Tate Reeves: (27:46)
There was a recognition by the US Congress that this is a situation that is very difficult. Because of that, in the most recent bill that passed the Congress that was signed by the President Friday night, there was $150 billion for states and cities and local governments, but there’s also $130 billion in that bill specifically for hospitals.
Tate Reeves: (28:13)
Now, my team has advised me much more on the provisions that deal with the state governments and the monies that we are going to receive. I’m sure my team has looked at the provisions for hospitals and been working with individual hospitals on that, but I’ll have to get back as to exactly how that’s laid out.
Tate Reeves: (28:34)
For instance, on the state monies, there’s $150 billion. $11 billion of that is reserved for Indian tribes and the District of Columbia. Of the remaining $139 billion, it is allocated 55% for states, 45% for cities who have a population over 500,000. Every state is guaranteed a floor of how much money they will get, but I don’t know exactly what that breakdown is on hospitals. I’ll get my team to brief me on that and hopefully be able to answer that question later as to exactly what else. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 7: (29:09)
With the stimulus package, are there any portions of those federal funds that you anticipate that you won’t accept? Maybe because the city doesn’t need it or there’s some part of it that doesn’t apply to us.
Tate Reeves: (29:19)
I don’t think that is going to be an issue based upon our analysis at this time. Yes, sir.
Speaker 8: (29:31)
[inaudible 00:29:31] Director Michell, do you know if any of those supplies that you guys are getting, are they going directly to nursing homes at all? Any of the PPE?
Director Michell: (29:39)
Again, on the distribution of the PPE, the priority on that is to the Tier 1. Nursing homes that are treating COVID patients all fall into the Tier 1 category. So they will continue to get the priority, a lion’s share of that PPE. Then the difference in that would be then pushed down to the counties and facilitate the Tier 3, which would be your first responders and folks who’d be out working and doing public service type work.
Tate Reeves: (30:04)
Let me just mention something about supplies and PPE equipment. I say this because I’ve heard from the President and the Vice President repeatedly that everyone should continue to work their supply chain. If you are a large hospital system in Mississippi, every single day you are purchasing PPE and other things, the supply chain right now and the constraints are very tight. I understand that. But the reality is, if I am a purchaser of PPEs every day of every week, every year, and I have contracts in place with suppliers, I have significantly more leverage to get supplied than do the State of Mississippi.
Tate Reeves: (30:54)
Now admittedly, we maybe have more resources and things such as that, and we are putting those resources at play. We are literally working day and night. I’m having calls with Director Michell and his team at 10:00, 10:30, 11:00 at night as they sit over at our headquarters working supplies all around the globe. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we receive the supplies that are needed for our entire state.
Tate Reeves: (31:26)
But if you are a hospital facility, you have leverage with those folks who supply you. Six months from now, I’m probably not going to be in the business of buying PPEs from the state’s perspective. But six months from now, every single hospital facility is going to be in the market for buying PPEs, as hopefully by that time we’re returning back to normal, and we’re back to doing surgeries and things such as that.
Tate Reeves: (31:51)
So this has got to be a team effort. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that we have the necessary supplies available, but we need everyone trying to do the same thing and trying to leverage whatever contacts, whatever resources you have to fill this need.
Tate Reeves: (32:13)
The federal government is in the very early stage of the next phase of the stimulus. Is there anything you would like to see in that that was not in the previous stimulus?
Tate Reeves: (32:26)
Oh, we’re working on that. We were actively engaged in the previous bill. Obviously, we had the occasion of working very closely with our delegation, and I want to thank our federal partners, all of whom were working in concert to help the State of Mississippi.
Tate Reeves: (32:49)
We do have some understanding in Mississippi about what is needed in times of natural disasters, having gone through Katrina, having gone through the BP oil spill. Either fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, we’ve got experience in Mississippi that many other states have not ever had to deal with. So we’ve been working with the Congress where it made sense and certainly working with our delegation, and some in the leadership as well, and we will continue to do that.
Tate Reeves: (33:22)
I don’t have a specific ask at this point. Let’s not forget that the bill that just passed had $2.2 trillion in direct financial impact and another $4 trillion in allowances for the Fed and other governmental entities to provide liquidity and other things to the system. Pretty unprecedented in American history. The President signed the bill on Friday around 7:00 or so, and some of my colleagues were starting to put together their wishlist by 7:15 for the next stimulus. We’re focused on other things right now, but-
Tate Reeves: (34:00)