Governor declares state of emergency, DeSoto County Schools closed through March 20

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Sarah Claire Miller

As people self-isolate to stop the spread of the coronavirus, shoppers have hoarded toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Jacob Black, a junior, said the pandemic has created an inconvenience. “People bought all the toilet paper at Kroger,” he said. Empty shelves from Dollar General on 178 in Olive Branch are pictured here.

Sarah Claire Miller, Staff Writer

Because of the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency Saturday. The action cleared the way for local school districts, many of which were just finishing Spring Break, to cancel school for a week. Now the earliest DeSoto County Schools students will return to the classroom is March 23.

“I am asking all of our schools to extend spring break by at least one week,” Reeves said in a pre-recorded speech released on social media. “We know that can be a burden on working families and we are working hard to minimize that struggle. Mississippians look after one another, and we will work hard to take care of you during that time.”

With six positive cases of the coronavirus in the state, Reeves urged Mississippians to be careful during the global pandemic, cautioning them to avoid large gatherings and asking churches not to hold in-person worship services Sunday. The global death toll has topped 5,000, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 2,000-plus cases of the respiratory disease with more than 50 deaths.

In a message posted to the DCS website and emailed to parents Saturday, Superintendent Cory Uselton explained the timeline and factors that led to the district’s decision, which originally lengthened Spring Break by one day. As of Thursday, “DeSoto County Schools did not fit the criteria for school closure,” Uselton said, noting that on Friday the Mississippi State Department of Health’s chief health officer “announced again that he was not recommending to close schools.”

Uselton also said he appreciates the flexibility that the governor’s declaration allowed to school districts, which must follow state health department guidelines in pandemic situations, and assured parents that the safety of students and staff is his priority.

“As the parent of two DeSoto County Schools students, I have the same concerns that all other parents have during these challenging times,” he said. “There is no blueprint on how to handle this type of situation, but we will all continue to work together in these upcoming weeks to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.”

Center Hill students are handling the pandemic and extra vacation in different ways.

“I am a little nervous because I am the type to get sick a lot, but that just means I gotta be extra careful,” senior Ashley Jenkins said. “It hasn’t been disruptive because I was still able to go on my choir trip. I’m just constantly washing my hands and not touching my face.”

Alex Feild, a junior, said “since the corona outburst” he has practiced social distancing by staying at home writing songs. 

Precautions he said people should take to not get sick include “keeping hands out of your mouth – which should already be a thing,” Feild said. “Stick to elbow-bumping each other, and not going outside as much since the virus is traveling outside.”

Preston Walden, a sophomore, said her Spring Break was not ruined by the coronavirus because she didn’t have any trips planned.

“As of right now, I’m not scared for myself about the coronavirus, but I am scared for my mom because she already has health problems and a weak immune system,” she said, adding that with the longer vacation, “I plan to just chill for this extra week off and complete PSAT assignments that the teachers are giving me for this week.”

Jacob Black, a junior, said the pandemic has created an inconvenience.

“People bought all the toilet paper at Kroger,” he said. “My new job at Snowden Grove was postponed.”

To prevent getting sick, “I wash my hands regularly and everyone should also wash their hands,” Black said.

Nate Gatewood, a sophomore, said he feels safe from the coronavirus.

“I’m not taking any precautions, other than washing my hands and taking showers,” he said. “Anything else would be going out of my way to prevent something that I have no worries about getting.” 

Gatewood said the panic purchases of toilet paper across the country aren’t necessary.

“Many people are preparing for an apocalypse because of a viral outbreak with a 3% fatality rate,” he said, adding that he sees no reason to be afraid of COVID-19 because the “majority of people who get infected in the U.S. get quarantined. It has a lower fatality rate than other viral outbreaks in the last decade.”

Co-editor Nadia Sumlar contributed to this story.