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Public schools closed statewide into April

Area superintendents and administrators met at Brookhaven High School Thursday to develop an area response for school closures as Gov. Tate Reeves directed all Mississippi public schools to remain closed until April 17 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

The Brookhaven School District is already offering free grab-and-go meals as part of area educators’ response to the pandemic.

Beginning Monday, for any child age 18 and younger, lunches will be distributed in a drive-thru line at Lipsey Middle School and Mullins School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Children do not have to be enrolled in the Brookhaven School District and are not required to be qualified to receive free or reduced lunches during the regular school year. However, children receiving the bagged lunch must be present in the vehicle.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday schools will continue to receive state money and teachers will continue to be paid. He said he wants students to continue learning.

“This is not a time to take a vacation,” Reeves said in a Facebook live presentation from the governor’s mansion.

Reeves said that will give authorities four weeks to evaluate further the effect of this particular virus.

“I will tell you this is not a decision that I take lightly,” he said. “In fact, in my nearly 17 years of serving the public, this is perhaps the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. The reason it’s such a hard decision is because I know it is difficult for Mississippi families when schools are shut down and also know that if we have our kids in our classrooms we’re more likely to get more learning accomplished.”

Reeves encouraged students to continue their education at home during this break.

“I have talked to education officials around our state and they are already being innovative in finding ways to ensure that our kids are continuing to learn during the school closure, everything from online learning to distance learning to delivering supplies to our students around the state.”

The state Board of Education voted Thursday to waive the requirement of 180 days of instruction for the current academic year. It also voted to suspend all state accountability measurements and all state testing for the current year. The state board will also ask the U.S. Department of Education to waive all federal assessments for this school year.

Mississippi reported 50 confirmed cases of the virus as of Thursday, up from 34 Wednesday. The state Health Department said 602 people had been tested in Mississippi by Thursday. MSDH reported that a Hancock County man in his early 60s who had tested positive for COVID-19 died Thursday in a Louisiana Hospital. He also had other underlying health issues.

The vast majority of people infected with this novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization — particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

Reeves urged all Mississippians to stay calm.

“This is not a time for us to panic, it is a time for us to recognize that we are in unprecedented, unchartered waters, but we will get through it we will get through it because we are Mississippians. We will get through it because we are resilient. We will get through it because we are all dedicated and committed in our classroom though the next several months,” he said.

Both of the U.S. attorneys in Mississippi said they are appointing assistant federal prosecutors to coordinate investigations against people who try to take advantage of others during the pandemic.

Some communities in Mississippi are temporarily shutting down bars and telling restaurants to close their dining rooms to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is working to develop its own coronavirus test amid high demand for test kits nationwide, and it is increasing its telehealth capacity to screen patients remotely.

The medical center’s head of emergency medicine, Dr. Alan Jones, said it’s “very important” that people not go to an emergency room if they think they have symptoms. Instead, they should first use a telephone or telehealth service to get advice on what to do.

“We are ramping up all of our contingency planning to prepare for a tidal wave of patients that we know is about to hit us,” Jones said Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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