The Mississippi State Department of Health announced Saturday it would begin creating drive-up COVID-19 testing sites across the state next week.

"Expanded COVID-19 testing is coming soon," according to an MSDH statement. "Later next week MSDH will be setting up six drive-up testing sites across the state with assistance from the National Guard and the Mississippi Highway Patrol. The sites are aimed at those with COVID-19 symptoms such as fever of 100.4 or greater and severe cough or chest pain. We'll be checking temperatures, taking samples, and getting the samples to the state Public Health Lab for testing. It's all part of a larger effort to get wide-scale testing under way for those who need it most."

Unemployment benefits available for impacted workers

Also on Saturday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced efforts to provide unemployment benefits to help Mississippi workers and their families impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Reeves signed an executive order (below) instructing the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) to expedite payments to unemployed Mississippians and relax collection requirements on employers.

Reeves is waiving the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits for all claims filed from March 8 to June 27 and suspending all work search requirements that normally must be met to receive benefits.

In fact, those displaced can call Sunday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. if they have questions.

The agency has modified its existing unemployment compensation rules to also allow workers to file a claim for unemployment benefits if they are/have been:

-- Quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency

-- Laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employers due to COVID-19 concerns

-- Diagnosed with COVID-19

-- Caring for an immediate family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19

To file an Unemployment Claim, visit the MDES website at or call the MDES Contact Center at 1-888-844-3577.

The Contact Center will be open Sunday to take calls between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Beginning Monday, the contact center hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

SBA ramping up efforts to assist small businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Saturday it is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Mississippi small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza announced today. SBA acted under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, to declare a disaster following a request received from Gov. Tate Reeves on March 18, 2020.

The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in the entire state of Mississippi.

“SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist Mississippi small businesses with federal disaster loans. We will be swift in our efforts to help these small businesses recover from the financial impacts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19),” said Administrator Carranza.

SBA Customer Service Representatives will be available to answer questions about SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and explain the application process.

“Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred,” said Carranza.

“These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing,” Carranza added.

Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses. The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent. SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years and are available to entities without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.

Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 21, 2020.

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