Tate Reeves speaks to media after voting during Election Day at Liberty Baptist Church in Flowood, Miss., Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs, tasked by Gov. Tate Reeves to head a steering committee formed to address the coronavirus, said Wednesday that people in Mississippi have been tested and there are no confirmed cases in the state of the respiratory illness that has been spreading in the nation.

Still, to ensure the state is prepared if COVID-19 is detected in Mississippi, Reeves said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference he was forming a multi-agency state task force.

“There is no higher priority than ensuring the health and safety of all who call Mississippi home,” said Reeves. “And we are taking this coronavirus threat seriously. We are taking action now—ahead of any confirmed cases—to make sure that we are ready for any scenario. Bringing together our state’s leaders and experts puts Mississippi in the best possible position to prepare and improve our response plan and activities.”

Dobbs said the coronavirus had the potential to be “the pandemic scenario of our generation,” but said the state Department of Health is prepared to deal with the disease if it does reach Mississippi. He said the Department of Health has a 450-page pandemic response plan that “we will go ahead and get ramped up based on the triggers we have.”

Dobbs said he believes Mississippi will have the test kits needed to check to see if people with symptoms might have the coronavirus. In the coming weeks, Dobbs said the tests kits should be available commercially so doctors would not have to go through the Department of Health for test kits.

He said thus far less than 10 people had been tested, but that the number being tested would continue to grow. Dobbs said the steering committee “allows us to bring all the resources of state government together to meet the needs of Mississippians.”

Dr. Jonathan Wilson, University of Mississippi Medical Center’s chief administrative officer

Officials at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, based in Jackson, the state’s only academic medical center, said it also has been working with the Department of Health.

“We have been working closely with the state Department of Health from Day One to prepare the Medical Center to identify, screen and potentially care for patients that present at any of our locations across the state found to be positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jonathan Wilson, UMMC’s chief administrative officer, in an emailed response. “Just about every acute care hospital in Mississippi has the facilities to care for a novel coronavirus patient. The isolation and treatment methods necessary do not require the highest level of care we provide, so we are collaborating with MSDH on a coordinated effort to ready all Mississippi hospitals that may be presented with one of these cases.”

According to LiveScience, there have been more than 94,000 cases worldwide, including 3,200 deaths, with about 130 cases in the United States as of Wednesday afternoon.

For more information on how to combat the coronavirus visit the Department of Health web page at www.msdh.ms.gov. Information may be obtained by phoning 877-978-6453 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.