Mississippi seeing big virus outbreak in state legislature

Mississippi seeing big virus outbreak in state legislature

Mississippi seeing big virus outbreak in state legislature

JACKSON, Miss. — Packed elevators and crowded committee rooms. Legislators sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the House and Senate floor. People standing close to each other and talking, sometimes leaning in to whisper, without a mask in sight.

Those were common scenes at the Mississippi Capitol in June — a month that saw a historic vote to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag — and now at least 26 lawmakers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the biggest known outbreak in any state legislature in the nation.

That works out to about 1 in 7 Mississippi legislators.

Among those testing positive in the heavily Republican body are the GOP presiding officers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.

None of the lawmakers has been hospitalized, according to state officials.

President Donald Trump has resisted wearing a mask, and many other Republicans around the country have cast face coverings and social distancing as an infringement on their freedom.

But around the Mississippi Capitol, not wearing a mask — or wearing one pushed below the chin — was a bipartisan activity in recent weeks. At the same time, plenty of other lawmakers from both parties covered their faces and took other precautions.

Mississippi has seen a rapid rise in confirmed cases in the past two weeks, with the total hitting nearly 33,600 by Wednesday, including at least 1,200 deaths.

In addition to the legislators, at least 10 people who work in the Capitol have been diagnosed with the virus, the state health officer said Wednesday. And the numbers could well be higher: The figures are based only on Health Department testing done in Jackson, including drive-thru testing Monday at the Capitol. Some members were tested after returning to their hometowns beginning July 1.

“If you have been in contact with anyone in the Legislature, or if you have been in contact with any staff person that works at the Legislature, you need to get tested,” warned Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who has tested negative.

Reeves has urged people to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but he has not always done those things himself. He went bare-faced at the funeral of a deputy sheriff and while signing a bill to change the flag.

Republican Sen. Chad McMahan, who has tested negative, said Thursday that he washed his hands often and did his best to keep his distance from others at the Capitol. But he skipped wearing a mask because “it’s quite uncomfortable.”

Mississippi legislators — there were 172 most of this session — were supposed to meet from January through April but went home in mid-March because of the outbreak. They returned briefly in May during a feud with the governor over spending coronavirus relief money from the federal government.

From the start of the crisis, people entering the Capitol had to undergo a screening each day, with a temperature check and a few questions. Chairs in committee rooms were spaced apart, hand sanitizer was widely available and signs told people to take precautions.

When legislators met in May, they took social distancing seriously. Only a few people at a time were allowed on the House floor, with voting conducted in small groups, and senators had to sit far from each other in their chamber.

They returned in June, facing a July 1 deadline to write a state budget and handle other business. The longer they were together, the more the safety precautions slipped.

Legislators were soon pulled into the flag debate, and the Capitol became crowded in late June with ministers, college coaches and others urging legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner. After the final votes, spectators cheered and hugged in the galleries, and legislators embraced and posed for photos.

A count by The Associated Press shows at least 73 lawmakers in 27 states have tested positive for the coronavirus since the outbreak began. Three lawmakers have died, in Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota.

In Mississippi, Democratic Rep. Tom Miles tested negative in recent days. His 60-year-old mother, who was an emergency room nurse, died of the virus May 1. Miles said he wore a mask at the Capitol.

“When you get in a fishbowl of people, you’re at risk,” Miles said.

Rep. John Faulkner, a Democrat, consistently wore a mask at the Capitol — one marked “8:46” to remember George Floyd, the African American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Faulkner posted a video to Facebook saying he tested positive and has had mild symptoms akin to a sinus infection with an occasional cough.

“Even if you do all that you can do, there’s still a possibility that you can be infected with this,” he said. “If you’re not practicing, following the guidelines from the CDC, then we’re basically playing Russian roulette with our health and our lives and the lives of our friends and families.”

____

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

File Photo
Blackfalds RCMP seeking suspects in traffic collision

RCMP are asking the public for help identifing two suspects wanted for multiple offences

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday 12, 2020.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Most Read