JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s coronavirus rules allow for crowded kitchens and family rooms this holiday weekend: The executive orders of Gov. Tate Reeves say up to 20 people can attend an indoor gathering without social distancing.
Reeves’ rules say up to 50 people can be indoors together if they can somehow remain 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Outdoor events, meanwhile, are limited to 50 people without social distancing, or 100 with it. And thousands can attend events at stadiums, as long as they stay below 25% capacity.
Mississippi's health department said Friday that any holiday weekend gatherings should comply with orders 1492 and 1496, which were issued by the Republican governor in early June, before coronavirus infection rates soared again in Mississippi and many other states.
However, the top state health official pleaded with Mississippians to be much more cautious.
“Please be safe July 4 weekend! Recommend celebrating with household members ONLY!” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs tweeted on Thursday, showing a chart of Mississippi’s spiking coronavirus caseload. “Please avoid parties, gatherings. Things are getting worse very quickly."
On Friday, the state health department reported 914 new cases and 11 deaths, Mississippi’s second-highest day since the start of the pandemic.
The department also “strongly recommended” that people stay in their cars to see fireworks displays.
“Fireworks are the only thing you want spreading through the air this Fourth of July,” the department said on Facebook. “Keep groups small, stay a smart distance apart, and show others you care by wearing a mask.”
Many municipal displays are canceled or changing their format this year, but the city of Pearl will host its annual event Saturday at Trustmark Park, where the Mississippi Braves play. Only 2,000 will be allowed inside and social distancing will be enforced; the rest can watch from the parking lot.
People also were encouraged to watch from their cars in Tupelo, which canceled its annual picnic and live music but will shoot off its fireworks behind city hall.
Also canceled was the celebration at The Pearl River Resort, a casino in Philadelphia. COVID-19 has been particularly devastating to the Native American community in Mississippi. The casino is owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The Pearl River Resort remains closed, but many casinos are open Fourth of July weekend. There are more than 25 casinos in the state. The Mississippi Gaming Commission released new guidelines ahead of the weekend requiring all casino visitors wear masks while indoors on casino property.
More people are planning their own family or neighborhood fireworks displays for the holiday weekend in Mississippi instead of attending large municipal shows, the Daily Journal reported.
Carlos Montes, who runs the Orbit Fireworks stand on Highway 6 west of Tupelo, told the Journal that since he opened his stand June 24, he has seen “significant” traffic.
“They have already bought out a lot of the big things, the ones that go up high and have displays,” Montes said.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.