Coronavirus Outbreak Hits Mississippi Legislature As Cases Surge Across State

July 7, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Mississippi State Capitol, Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Ken Lund, via Wikipedia Commons)

Health officials are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak in Mississippi’s state legislature after several lawmakers tested positive for coronavirus last week.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, announced on Sunday that he had contracted the virus after coming into contact with another member of the state’s lower chamber.

“Last week I was in close proximity to an individual, one of our House members who has tested positive, so I felt like I needed to go get myself tested just because I had been near that person and this morning was informed that I too have tested positive for COVID,” said Gunn in a video posted on Facebook.

Gunn said he was experiencing mild symptoms and would self-quarantine for the required amount of time. “I feel fine,” Gunn said. “I feel like I am one of the fortunate ones.”

He encouraged Mississipians to keep following state health guidelines and to self isolate after testing positive. “This is not only for your benefit but for the benefit of all Mississippians.”

According to reports from local media, House Reps. Trey Lamar, a Republican, and Bo Brown, a Democrat, have also confirmed they were infected by the virus, and a staffer from the state senate is under quarantine. 

The total number of infections is still under investigation, according to a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Health, but Rep. Robert Johnson, the House Democratic leader, said that around five House lawmakers have tested positive so far.

The outbreak in the state legislature comes amid a statewide surge in cases and less than a week after lawmakers took a contentious vote to remove the symbol of the Confederacy from Mississippi’s century-old state flag.

The Mississippi Department of Health on Monday reported the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations to date with 647 confirmed infections on July 3. Less than two weeks ago, health officials had reported a record 1,092 cases in a single day, the biggest uptick since the outbreak started.

Before the Fourth of July weekend, Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s state health officer and lead epidemiologist, sounded the alarm that Mississippi’s coronavirus outbreak could get out of hand if residents didn’t abide by social distancing guidelines. 

“Please be safe on the 4th of July weekend!” Dobbs said in a tweet. “Recommend celebrating with household members ONLY! Please avoid parties, gatherings. Things are getting worse very quickly.”

The state’s Republican Governor Tate Reeves said on Monday he was waiting to get results from a COVID-19 test after interacting with a lawmaker who tested positive. “It appears numerous members of the Mississippi House are confirmed to have contracted the virus last week—only one of whom I was briefly in contact with,” Reeves said on Twitter.

Reeves took a jab at the local press on Monday, accusing members of the “liberal media” of pinning the recent surge in coronavirus cases on family get-togethers.

“Liberal media is trying to claim the increase of coronavirus was just caused by family BBQ’s on Memorial Day,” he said on Twitter. “They completely ignore the fact that our uptick (and other states) began within days of massive protests all over—which they celebrated.”

The governor reopened all Mississippi businesses by executive order on June 1, though he said he would re-evaluate his decision based on health data. “While we have never seen a spike of serious cases in Mississippi, we have seen economic catastrophe,” Reeves said at the time. “We have to address both.”

As of July 5, more than 31,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Mississippi, with a total 1,096 confirmed deaths.

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