An empty parking lot at the Dogwood Festival Market in Flowood, Miss. Businesses have been closed in the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Retailers will be allowed to reopen on Monday.

Gov. Tate Reeves, touting that the state is making progress in battling COVID-19, announced Friday afternoon he is allowing most retail businesses to reopen, but not such establishments as hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, gyms, casinos and entertainment venues.

He said the close personal contact those businesses demand makes it unsafe to reopen them at this point.

Reeves called his new executive order “a safer-at-home order,” replacing a shelter-in-place order that has been in effect for the past three weeks.

Gov. Tate Reeves speaks to media during a press conference Friday, April 24, 2020, at the Woolfolk State Office Building in Jackson, Miss. Gov. Reeves signed a new executive order establishing a statewide safer-at-home order to move toward reopening the economy.

“A safer-at-home order is not a return to normal,” he said. “I wish it was.”

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs, who was in attendance at the Friday afternoon news conference in the Woolfolk State Office Building where Reeves announced the order, endorsed the governor’s action.

“This is a measured, appropriate step at this time after careful consideration,” Dobbs said.

Under the order, which begins Monday morning and runs until May 11, gatherings of 10 and more people still will be banned. Retail stores will be mandated to limit entrance into their stores to no more than 50 percent of capacity.

Restaurants still will be limited to offering pickup and delivery services.

The order is statewide, but Reeves said it will not preclude local governments from going further. For instance, if a municipality wants to close restaurants, that option would be available.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba recently said on social media “We still have ground to gain in this fight. Our current stay-at-home order is extended until April 30. This is not a time to scale back.”

Dobbs said during the past four or five days that the increase in the number of coronavirus cases appears to have stabilized. Still, on Thursday, the Department of Health reported 281 new cases, the second highest total for a single day, and eight new deaths. As of Thursday, the state had reported 5,434 total cases and 209 deaths.

“We are winning this fight, but the fight is not over,” Reeves said.

The new executive order will allow health care providers to resume performing some elected medical procedures. There still will be some limitations, such as reserving 25 percent of capacity for coronavirus cases.

Dobbs said some elective medical procedures can be resumed because Mississippi’s health care providers have not been overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases as once was feared.

Reeves said his order instructed the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions and those with weakened immune systems to continue to shelter in place and for other people to limit travel.

Reeves, who has been providing updates most days for the past month, continued to bemoan the impact the coronavirus is having not only on the state’s health but also on the state’s economy, especially on lower and middle income Mississippians.

“We are starting to reopen our economy,” he said. “It’s not a light switch that only goes on and off. It’s a dimmer. We can take measured steps to make life better.”

Last week Reeves allowed retail stores that previously were closed to start providing curbside services and he opened beaches and lakes, such as the Ross Barnett Reservoir. He said the new executive order could be amended before it ends in two weeks.

Reeves continued to maintain he does not have the constitutional authority to prohibit church services, but said he urges pastors to not conduct in-person services.

Vincent Creel, a spokesman for Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said of Reeves’ actions, “’Stay the course’  is the message  we heard. Right now, the mayor is focused on continuing to watch the numbers, especially locally, and crafting guidelines that will be in line with a responsible recovery, when the time is right. The most important thing is to make sure everyone is aware it will not be business as usual. But it will be business when the time is right.”

Bobby Harrison

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.