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Stay-home order in effect in Mississippi

JACKSON (AP) — A statewide stay-at-home order was taking effect Friday evening in Mississippi to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus as the state’s caseload continues to grow.

Hours before the order began, a judge in north Mississippi directed landlords to restore utility services they had cut off, so tenants can continue living in their rented homes.

The Mississippi Center for Justice sued on behalf of Lee County residents living in homes where the landlord pays for utilities. The lawsuit called the landlords’ utility cut-offs a form of eviction “undertaken in bad faith.” The state Public Service Commission has temporarily banned utility companies from turning off service for nonpayment of bills. And evictions are banned under Gov. Tate Reeves’s stay-home order, which remains in place until April 20.

“Landlords may not subvert the intent of the orderof the Governor and the Public Service Commission by engaging in these tactics during this time of crisis in this nation,” Chancery Judge Michael Malski wrote.

The center filed suit at the request of northern district Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.

“It’s a shame and a disgrace that we’ve got to spend time during a pandemic seeking temporary restraining orders from chancery judges,” Presley told The Associated Press on Friday. He said utilities were restored for the people who sued, and he does not know how widespread such problems are in the state.

The state Health Department on Friday said Mississippi’s has at least 1,358 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths. The state has about 3 million residents.

Many people moving around their communities may not know they have contracted the virus until well after they’ve infected others. Most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, but a fraction suffering more severe illnesses can require ventilators to survive, and as the caseload rapidly grows, hospitals are bracing for a wave of patients.

The Health Department said Friday that the virus has been found in at least 28 nursing homes, but it is not releasing the names of the homes. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, has said people who work in the homes or have loved ones there are being notified.

Reeves announced Friday that he has asked President Donald Trump to issue a major disaster declaration for Mississippi because of the coronavirus, which would make additional aid available. Declarations have already been issued for some states and are expected to be issued for all.

Reeves announced Wednesday that he is ordering people statewide to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus. Reeves said the order is designed to prevent Mississippi’s health care system from becoming overwhelmed.

The governor said Thursday that gun stores are considered essential businesses and will be allowed to remain open during his stay-home order. He said law enforcement officers have been told to break up groups of 10 or more people gathering in public spaces such as beaches. But Reeves also said people may still go fishing if they can maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from people who don’t live in their homes.

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