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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on ventilator supplies and racial trends in COVID-19 data

In Mississippi, the coronavirus crisis has evolved on a very different timeline than in hot spots like New York and New Jersey. Mississippi was one of the last states in the country to record a known coronavirus case, and one of the most recent to adopt stay-at-home orders. Governor Tate Reeves joins Amna Nawaz to discuss critical medical supplies and troubling racial trends in COVID-19 data.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From the West Coast now to the Southeast.

    The coronavirus crisis has played out on a much different timeline in Mississippi than it has in current hot spots, like New York and New Jersey.

    Amna Nawaz explores why.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mississippi was one of the last states in the country to record a known coronavirus case, and one of the most recent to adopt stay-at-home or shelter-in-place policies statewide.

    With me now to discuss his state's response is Governor Tate Reeves.

    Governor, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thank you for making the time.

    You had your first confirmed case back on March 11. You didn't issue the statewide shelter-in-place order until April 1. In that time, there were over 1,000 additional cases, over 20 deaths.

    Why did you wait so long before taking the step?

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    Well, what I would tell you is that different states are at different points in their cycle. We know that.

    Obviously, where we find ourselves on the East Coast, compared to where we find ourselves in the South, is very different in terms of when the first cases were identified.

    I will tell you that we believe that shelter-in-place orders are a last resort. They are orders that obviously are critically important at the critical time in the cycle.

    But we don't believe that shelter-in-place orders make sense for weeks and weeks on end and ultimately months and months on end, because, when we have a public health crisis that is before us that we are trying to do everything in our power to deal with to make sure that our hospitals are not in a surge position, in which we run out of either ventilators or hospital beds or ICU beds, we also know that we have a looming economic crisis for almost 100,000 Mississippians over the last three weeks that have filed unemployment claims, many of whom have never utilized the system before.

    We have got to be aware of that as well. And so we're trying to look at both of those interests and make sure that we protect all Mississippians in this very, very unique time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned wanting to keep the hospitals at capacity or below capacity.

    How many ventilators does Mississippi have, and how many have you gotten from the National Stockpile?

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    Well, we haven't received any ventilators from the National Stockpile to — but what we have done is, we have gone out, and we have we have been very active on the open market.

    President Trump and Vice President Pence were very clear about this from the beginning. Everything from ventilators to PPE, to other supplies that we need, it was incredibly important that states and hospital systems and everyone in the system continue to utilize their existing supply chains, and not simply depend on the federal government for everything.

    We have worked with our partners on — in the federal level. We have worked with our traditional supply chains. And while no one is getting as much as they want, we have been able to meet the demands for our health care workers, for our emergency first responders with respect to PPE and other items.

    We have set a system in place where, much like our trauma system in our state, which is widely considered one of the best in the nation, and, by the way, one of the first in the nation to be put into place, we have worked with our hospitals, we have worked with our doctors, we have worked with everyone in our state to ensure that, not only do we have the capacity to meet the potential demand, but we have also put alternate care sites available in South Mississippi, in Central Mississippi, in North Mississippi.

    So, if there is, in fact, an overflow needed, which we do not currently anticipate, but, if there is, we are ready and able to deal with it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, Governor — I apologize for the interruption. I know your time is limited.

    What do you — I'm looking for a number here. What is — what do you have, when you say you have enough to meet the demand? How many ventilators do you have?

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    Well, we have approximately 400 ventilators that are available.

    Now, the latest models, particularly from IHME, actually are suggesting that we will need approximately 100 ventilators. But you have to understand that those 400 ventilators that are being reported do not include 500 additional ventilators that we have put into action in the last couple of weeks.

    We had portable ventilators that we used the ingenuity of Mississippi State University. Our research universities have been fantastic in working with us. We have taken those 500 ventilators that used to be battery-operated, and now they're both battery-operated, and they will plug into a wall.

    We actually had a doctor at the University Medical Center go and buy $50 worth of supplies at a couple of stores here in Mississippi and create his own ventilator.

    And so we feel confident that we're going to have adequate number of supplies to make sure that we don't overwhelm our health care system. And, honestly, that has been our goal from the get-go, and I think the goal of virtually every other state.

    Stopping the spread of the virus wasn't something that was a realistic goal. Ensuring that our hospital system is in such a position where anyone who could get better with quality care got that quality care was the number one goal.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Governor, let me ask you about some of the most vulnerable in your state.

    You have been seeing similar trends in Mississippi we have seen around the country, which is to say, African-Americans in Mississippi have been disproportionately hit. They make up under 40 percent of the state population, over 70 percent of all COVID deaths so far.

    I'm curious about another step you took, which was recently signing a proclamation naming April Confederate Heritage Month. I know you have said your predecessors have done the same thing.

    At this particular time, when this community is going through this, why did you feel it was appropriate to sign that proclamation?

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    Well, Mississippi has a state statute that names that a holiday in the state of Mississippi.

    It's the last Monday in April. And every governor that's come before me has signed exactly the same proclamation.

    With respect to the number of cases that we have in Mississippi, we have 2,260 cases today. We have 76 deaths that have been reported. And you're right. Over 70 percent of those cases of fatalities did come in African-Americans.

    And, by the way, Mississippi was one of the first 10 states in the nation to actually report deaths and cases based upon demographic data, based upon race and other areas. And I'm proud of the Mississippi State Department of Health of being proactive and being willing to step out and issue that data, when many states have not done so.

    The reality is that this particular virus is particularly cruel to those who have many underlying and chronic conditions, which happens to be the case for many of my residents, when you look at the fact that we are in the top five in terms of hypertension, in terms of obesity. We are in the top five of many states in other areas.

    We're number six across the nation in the number of smokers per capita in Mississippi. And so it's — not only do we have an older population, because this virus is very cruel to those that are 65 and older. It's also very cruel to those who have an underlying health condition.

    And, unfortunately, in our state, that is a larger percentage of the population than in other states. And that's just — that's the reality of the — where we find ourselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves joining us tonight.

    Thank you for your time, Governor. We wish you luck and safety in your state.

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    Thank you so much. You all stay safe and be careful.

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