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‘Mississippi’s Never Going to Be China’: These Southern Governors Are in No Rush to Close Their States Over Coronavirus

The governors of some Southern states aren’t quite ready to issue blanket shelter-in-place orders to shut down most businesses and keep people inside — the kind issued by governors of states decimated by the coronavirus.

“Y’all, we are not Louisiana,” Alabama’s GOP Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday, defending her decision not to issue a stay-at-home order. “Right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.”

But Ivey’s lieutenant governor, Will Ainsworth, was sounding an alarm earlier this week. Ainsworth wrote Wednesday that the state’s COVID-19 task force and the state itself “are not taking a realistic view of the numbers or adequately preparing for what awaits us,” according to a letter obtained by Alabama Political Reporter.

By May 1, Ainsworth said, the state could be looking at nearly a quarter-million coronavirus cases and more than 30,000 hospitalizations. “Assuming the May 1 projections shared above are correct, we will have double the number of hospitalizations than beds available in Alabama,” he wrote.

By Friday, Ivey still hadn’t issued a shelter-in-place order, but she did relent to some of the pressure with an executive order shutting down some businesses classified as nonessential until April 17, including entertainment venues, athletic facilities, “close-contact service providers” such as salons and barbershops, and some retailers. Ivey also closed restaurants and bars except for takeout beginning tonight at 5 p.m.

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So far, 23 states have issued shelter-in-place orders in lieu of a federal order to stay at home. Though the exact details vary by state by state and order to order, most shelter-in-place orders generally prohibit nonessential businesses from opening and gatherings from taking place.

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In some places where there’s no statewide order, some local governments have taken it upon themselves to order residents to shelter in place. In Mississippi, however, Gov. Tate Reeves quickly issued an executive order superseding the right of local governments to do that, saying that most businesses are essential businesses.

“Mississippi’s never going to be China,” Reeves, a Republican, said earlier this week. So far, Mississippi has had seen at least 485 cases of coronavirus with six deaths, while Alabama has had at least 531 cases along with one death, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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In neighboring Louisiana, however, COVID-19 cases are growing at an alarming rate. The state Department of Health reported more than 500 new cases and 18 deaths between Wednesday and Thursday alone, and warned that the New Orleans area could run out of available ventilators by as early as next week.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, issued a stay at home order for Louisianans last weekend.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has increased restrictions in recent days such as extending schools closures, but has yet to issue a statewide order, saying at a Thursday night town hall that he has “arrows in his quiver” if things get worse. Georgia has seen over 1,600 confirmed cases so far, according to Johns Hopkins, along with 56 deaths.

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In North Carolina, nearly 800 cases have been confirmed and several of the state’s largest counties have issued shutdowns. But although the state has received a federal disaster declaration, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has yet to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, though previous actions have ordered restaurants and bars closed except for takeout, as well as a ban on gatherings over 50 people.

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A Cooper spokesperson told the Raleigh News and Observer on Thursday that he was reviewing his options, and that “decisions must be made deliberately on the advice of state health officials and medical experts.”

At least one medical executive thinks it’s time. “I think we are at that point [for a statewide order],” the president and CEO of WakeMed, one of the largest hospitals in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, told the News and Observer on Thursday. “Maybe a couple days past.”

Cover: Gov. Tate Reeves speaks to reporters clarifying his earlier issued executive order regarding COVID-19 issues, during a news conference outside the Governor’s Mansion, Thursday, March 26, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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