By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS and LEAH WILLINGHAM
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Because of a recent surge in coronavirus cases, intensive care units in Mississippi hospitals are facing more pressure now than they did during a summer surge, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Thursday.
Dobbs said 26 hospitals in the state were diverting critically ill patients to other places.
“Expect more efforts soon to enhance access to care,” Dobbs wrote on Twitter.
The state Health Department reported Thursday that Mississippi had 2,283 new confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus as of Wednesday evening. The department also reported 42 new deaths Thursday, with 37 of them happening between Nov. 28 and Wednesday. The state has reported nearly 173,000 cases of the virus and 4,083 deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves issued an executive order Wednesday that sets a mask mandate for 61 of Mississippi’s 82 counties and restricts social gatherings statewide to 10 people indoors and 50 outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Reeves, though, is hosting Christmas parties for legislators and his own friends and relatives inside the Governor’s Mansion.
Those parties drew sharp criticism from Jacqueline Amos, a Mississippi member of the Democratic National Committee.
“From day one, Gov. Reeves has joined President Trump in wrongly assuming that the virus will magically disappear,” Amos said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, the rest of us in Mississippi do not have the luxury of living in the same reality-free cocoon as political elites like Gov. Reeves, planning holiday parties for legislators at the mansion and sacrificing the health and safety of Mississippians for the chance to demonstrate his obedience to soon-to-be former president Donald Trump.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Reeves defended the Governor’s Mansion parties. He said people will be expected to follow virus safety protocols, but he also said he did not know how many people had been invited.
Reeves also announced Wednesday that Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Gregory Michel had tested positive for COVID-19.
MEMA spokeswoman Kelly Richardson said Thursday that Michel is “self-isolating and is doing well.” The agency is fully operational and all employees who have been in direct contact with him were tested yesterday, Richardson said. Those results were all negative.
MEMA leads disaster relief efforts. Michel frequently appears at news conferences with Reeves to give information about the distribution of protective gear and other equipment for the pandemic response. Michel is a retired colonel in the Army National Guard and has directed MEMA since 2018.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.