Gov. Tate Reeves answers questions during a press conference concerning the coronavirus pandemic.

As Mississippi saw yet another daily record in confirmed new COVID-19 cases, Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Friday that gyms and salons can reopen, meaning most businesses in the state are no longer subject to mandatory statewide closures.

Reeves on Friday announced he was extending the statewide “Safer at Home” order until May 25.  He also announced a new executive order which will allow hair salons, barbershops and gyms to open on May 11 at 8 a.m. under strict guidelines. Earlier this week Reeves announced restaurants could begin serving in-house meals under strict guidelines.

“I know that these reactions to reopen certain industries will draw harsh criticism. I’m not worried about that,” Reeves said. “I cannot ask Mississippians to burn down their life’s work and put their family at risk of starvation because I’m afraid of some national media or because I’m afraid of my reputation.”

The move to reopen the businesses comes as Mississippi health officials announced 404 new confirmed cases, the highest number of new daily cases to date, and 13 new deaths.

Reeves on Friday cited a decrease in hospital demands and an increase in testing. Tuesday marked the first day that all COVID-19 hospitalization statistics — confirmed and suspected hospitalized, intensive care unit use and ventilator use — all started to decline when analyzed by a rolling seven-day average.

When asked if other businesses like nail salons are included in this order, Reeves said: “I think if you are a salon you meet the guidance.” The executive order says “salons, barber shops and other personal care and personal grooming facilities” will be allowed to operate.

As of Thursday, more than 400 Mississippians have died from COVID-19. Over the last week alone, more than 70 people have died — accounting for 20 percent of all deaths since the outbreak began almost two months ago. Of the last week’s deaths, however, long-term care facility residents accounted for a disproportionate share at nearly 60 percent of the deaths.

A Tupelo barber who uses the moniker E-Baby Clipper Hands

These businesses that Reeves announced could reopen will be subject to guidelines under Reeves’ executive order: They must sanitize and disinfect their stores before they reopen, and hand sanitizer must be placed at the entrances. Employees are required to be screened daily for symptoms and must wear face coverings and disposable gloves. Salon employees must replace the gloves and masks in between customers, and gym employees must wipe down equipment after each use.

In salons and barbershops, only one customer per employee is allowed in the business at a time, according to the order. Customers must wait in their car before their appointment.

Gyms must have at least one employee at the business wiping down equipment “after each use” and cannot operate at more than 30 percent capacity. They can offer classes and group exercises so long as social distancing is possible. Gyms must close to the public by 10 p.m. daily, according to the release.

“I am convinced the industries we are reopening are going to do a better job of monitoring themselves than any government agency ever will,” Reeves said on Friday.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

Erica Hensley, a native of Atlanta, has been working as an investigative reporter focusing on public health for Mississippi Today since May 2018. She is a Knight Foundation fellow for our newsroom’s collaboration with local TV station WLBT and curates The Inform[H]er, our monthly women and girls’ newsletter. She is the 2019 recipient of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. Erica received a bachelor’s in print journalism and political science from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a master’s in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia Grady College for Journalism and Mass Communication.