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COVID hits more legislators amid rapid spread in Mississippi

At least 26 legislators and 10 others who work at Mississippi's Capitol have tested positive for the coronavirus, a public health official said Wednesday, as the governor implored residents to take precautions amid a rapid rise in confirmed cases statewide.

The 174-member Legislature ended its annual session July 1, and many people in the Capitol did not wear masks or maintain distance between themselves and others during the last few weeks. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn are among those who publicly acknowledge testing positive for COVID-19. They are now quarantined at home.

The number of people infected at the Capitol could actually be higher. The reported number only reflects those who were tested recently in Jackson, said the state's top public health official, Dr. Thomas Dobbs. Some legislators have also been tested since returning to their hometowns.

Gov. Tate Reeves, right, answers questions at his coronavirus news briefing while Stephen McRaney, deputy director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, background, listens, in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves — who has tested negative — said he will not issue a statewide order for people to wear masks, as some other governors have done. But, he hinted that he could restore some restrictions on bars or other places if people don't stop congregating in large groups.

Reeves said some hospitals are at or near capacity for intensive care beds. The state is limiting elective surgeries in a few counties to keep hospital beds open for COVID-19 patients.

“The situation that we have feared is upon us,” Reeves said Wednesday during a news conference with Dobbs. “Please protect yourself. Please protect your loved ones. Please wear masks. Please try to stay home as much as possible.”

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs secures his face mask during Gov. Tate Reeves' coronavirus news briefing in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — has had at least 32,888 confirmed cases and 1,188 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 674 confirmed cases and 30 deaths from numbers reported a day earlier.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs expresses concern at the public's lack of wearing face masks at Gov. Tate Reeves' COVID-19 press briefing in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. State officials provided reporters an update on the coronavirus and the state's ongoing strategy to limit transmission. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

Gov. Tate Reeves stresses the need for personal responsibility in wearing face masks during his opening statement at a coronavirus news briefing, Wednesday, July 8, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, right, expresses his concern about the growing number of positive COVID-19 tests and the lack of public face masking, while Gov. Tate Reeves, center, and Stephen McRaney, deputy director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, left, listen, the governor's COVID-19 press briefing, in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 8, 2020. The three public officials provided reporters with an update on the coronavirus and the state's ongoing strategy to limit transmission. (AP PhotoRogelio V. Solis)