Mississippi officials offered a word of advice about the coronavirus on Monday: Take the short-term inconvenience of wearing a mask in public now to avoid the long-term pain of economic losses and the cancellation of public events and social gatherings in the future.

“If people can behave now we can do stuff later,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said Monday.

Reeves echoed that: “If we will do the little things to slow the spread in the community, it will allow us to do the bigger things later in the fall.”

The state reported 251 new cases and five new deaths on Monday, down from a  record-high 439 cases reported Saturday, along with 13 deaths. Saturday’s case count beat another record single-day high set days earlier.

The urging to wear masks and socially distance came as Gov. Tate Reeves’ “safer at home order” expired and was replaced Monday with a “safe return” order meant to reopen nearly every business in the state.

“On this day of reopening our economy, I want to make sure everyone hears me loud and clear: The threat of COVID-19 is as great as ever,” Reeves said.

The governor said his decision to reopen the economy shouldn’t be misinterpreted as an invitation to forget about the threat the virus poses.

“I know our actions to allow people to get back to work can be misinterpreted,” he said. “Coronavirus is deadly, it is contagious and it is spreading all over our state. We have worked closely with Dr. Dobbs and his team to make sure businesses can open safely. We are not back to normal.”

Reeves has enacted tighter restrictions on some counties with severe outbreaks and hoped to see Mississippians work together to avoid taking such actions in more areas.

“Please, I urge you. Do not put me in a position to where I have to do things I do not want to do,” he said.

As of Monday, Mississippi had 15,752 cases and 739 deaths.

Pike County’s case count rose by just one since Friday to 203, with 11 deaths and 15 nursing home outbreaks. Six of the deaths were from nursing home patients.

Lincoln County, the relative hotspot in the area, saw 16 new cases and two new deaths over the weekend. That county now stands at 266 cases and 29 deaths, 22 of which came from nursing homes, which have been hit hard, with 86 confirmed cases.

Dobbs said the state is seeing an uptick in cases that is starting to strain the health care system.

“We continue to see coronavirus activity. Much of is from community spread,” he said.  “We are seeing some increased strain on our health care system. Over the weekend we had the most ventilated patients than we’ve had this whole time.”

Dobbs said Jones County is reporting more cases than Hinds, the state’s most populous, and it’s all being traced back to community transmission and not nursing home outbreaks, as is the case in other hard-hit counties such as Wayne and Neshoba.

One recent outbreak occurred at a card game, Dobbs said.

He said health officials have tested 27,000 residents and staff at the state’s 211 long-term care facilities in 14 days.

“They stepped up. They showed the world what Mississippi can do. I am very proud of them. I am very proud that they could get that accomplished,” Reeves said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel said the agency has distributed 2.5 million masks throughout the state.

Reeves said tests are plentiful for anyone who may suspect they have been exposed to the virus.

“If you are in doubt, if you think you may have it, then please get a test,” Reeves said.

The Mississippi Department of Health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s mobile testing clinic is returning to the parking lot of the Pike County Health Department on Tuesday. To be tested, set up an appointment with the C Spire Health telehealth smartphone app from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. or call (601) 496-7200.

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