JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - COVID-19 is still front and center of conversations at the State Capitol just two weeks into the 2021 session.
A vaccine clinic was set up in the bottom floor of the State Capitol Tuesday for legislators 65 and older and those with pre-existing conditions.
But other members took a budget hearing as the chance to ask the state health officer when vaccines may be opened up to other members. The question was framed as a more urgent topic as news started to spread of possible cases among lawmakers.
“Two that had to leave this week,” said Sen. Philip Moran. “And when you start getting some key chairmen who have to leave and go and a third one who had to go. It could throw a real quagmire into things.”
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs confirmed cases but didn’t offer any specifics.
“I don’t know exactly,” said Dobbs. “I know they’ve had a couple of cases and we’re working with them.”
Dobbs notes that the chances of COVID-19 spreading within the Capitol are low if all the safety measures are being followed.
“I’m hoping it won’t be as impactful as it was over the summer,” Dobbs explained. “That was really kind of bad.”
“We have been notified that a Senator has tested positive for COVID,” Leah Rupp Smith, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “We immediately contacted Dr. Dobbs, and are following his protocol.”
Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s Deputy Chief of Staff confirmed that another Senator tested positive bringing the total to two confirmed positive cases.
We also asked Dobbs about any concerns about the impact of the new COVID-19 strain being reported in other parts of the country now.
“It is more contagious,” he said. “So, unless we do a lot to control it now with a combination of vaccination and prevention, there’s a good chance it would become the predominant strand. And it would be the bad stuff we see every day, the cases, the deaths, the hospitalizations is going to be 50 to 70 percent worse.”
You may be surprised to know that none of the Department of Health’s budget presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee was COVID-related. Ninety-percent of their budget is federal. But the legislature puts a ceiling on how much federal money they can access.
“In able to be able to do the good work that we do, we have to have the permission to spend the money, even if it’s federal money,” Dobbs said.
Thus far, Dobbs says the state has received adequate funding for the COVID response.
“I mean, the challenge has been with the vaccine piece, we got late funding,” added Dobbs. “There was only some planning money put out there. And now we’ll be pulling down some money from the recent legislation up in Washington.”