Mississippi's GOP governor halts abortions over coronavirus but bans cities from closing gun stores

"He is legally blocking towns from doing a better job than he is at keeping you alive," MSNBC's Rachel Maddow says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 26, 2020 1:37PM (EDT)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves leads a prayer service about the coronavirus on Sunday, March 22, 2020, on Facebook live. (Office of the Mississippi Governor via AP)
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves leads a prayer service about the coronavirus on Sunday, March 22, 2020, on Facebook live. (Office of the Mississippi Governor via AP)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order Tuesday that effectively overruled cities who shuttered non-essential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Reeves, a Republican, signed an order that labels businesses such as gun stores, department stores and real estate offices as both "essential" and "critical."

The governor closed public schools last week and declared a state of emergency. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 377 in the state this week.

The executive order requires people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people but "does not apply" to the list of essential businesses, which also includes banks, home repair services and restaurants.

The order "seems to declare that most types of businesses in Mississippi are 'essential,'" the Jackson Free Press reported. "As of press time, the Jackson Free Press has received reports from businesses in the Jackson area that have, as of today's executive order, scuttled plans for work-from-home and ordered their employees back to work on-site."

"Any order, rule, regulation or action by any governing body, agency or political subdivision of the state that imposes any additional freedom of movement or social distancing limitations on Essential Business or Operation, restricts scope of services or hours of operation of any Essential Business or Operation, or which will or might in any way conflict with or impede the purpose of this Executive Order is suspended and unenforceable during this COVID-19 State of Emergency," the order declared.

It came days after the state's health department advised all restaurants to end dine-in service, which prompted numerous cities to legally require establishments to shutter their dining areas. Reeves' order will allow restaurants to serve dine-in customers, so long as restaurants restrict capacity to 10 patrons and follow social distancing guidelines.

Reeves' order may also override curfews established by several cities if they interfere with "essential" businesses such as Lyft and Uber.

It remains unclear if the order could also force Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba to reopen civic buildings closed earlier this month, according to the Jackson Free Press.

Despite ordering cities to reopen shuttered businesses, Reeves vowed to take action against the state's lone remaining abortion clinic if it provided abortions during the outbreak.

"We'll take whatever action we need to to protect not only the lives of unborn children but also the lives of anyone who may contract this particular virus," Reeves said earlier this week. "[I] don't know any specifics, so I'm not saying they are currently operating. I just simply don't know . . . We'll take whatever necessary actions."

Reeves said during a Facebook Live speech Monday that he did not plan to order a statewide shutdown despite numerous surrounding states implementing severe restrictions. Mississippi saw the largest increase in cases yet Tuesday.

A resident asked Reeves during the address why the state was not following guidelines like those in China, where the number of new cases has plummeted after the nation imposed a strict lockdown on impacted regions.

"Mississippi's never going to be China," Reeves said. "Mississippi's never going to be North Korea."

Reeves came under fire from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Wednesday for overruling officials who imposed restrictions while "refusing to act statewide."

"You should know that your government is breaking new ground when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic," Maddow warned the state's residents. "The governor of your state today has pioneered a whole new kind of response to the coronavirus pandemic, in which he is legally blocking towns and cities in your state from doing a better job than he is at keeping you alive. He is undoing public health measures and insisting that the state will not have them."

Reeves called Maddow's warning a "dangerous lie."

"Because we pray and reject dictatorship models like China they say we are 'untroubled,' undermining our warnings and pleas to stay home," he tweeted. "We're following our experts and I've spent many sleepless nights praying for wisdom in this unprecedented time."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Mississippi Politics Republicans Tate Reees