Mississippi governor hints he may restrict bars to slow coronavirus spread

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he might set restrictions on bars to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, but he was vague about when that might happen and whether they would be statewide.

On a day that the Alabama governor issued a statewide order for people to wear masks in public, fellow Republican Reeves continued defending his own decision to have mask mandates only in a few Mississippi counties that are showing the biggest problems with COVID-19.

Reeves showed frustration with reporters who persist in asking about a statewide mask order.

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“The words on the page do not matter,” Reeves said during a news conference. “I can write all kind of laws down on the page, sign it as an executive order and say, ‘Woo hoo, look at what I’ve done. I’ve done great stuff.’ If people don’t comply, it doesn’t matter.”

Mask orders and other restrictions went into place Monday in 13 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. Reeves said he has heard that mask usage is increasing in those place.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said “it’s absolutely maddening” that some people balk at wearing masks because evidence shows they can slow the spread of the virus.

“We are trying as hard as we can to implement the tools — the masking, the social distancing, the group situation — without being overly coercive,” Dobbs said.

Reeves said Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House coronavirus task force was in Mississippi on Wednesday, meeting with him and others at the Governor’s Mansion. Reeves said Birx was “very pleased” with Mississippi’s mask mandate counties, but she expressed concerns that people might be spreading the virus in bars, even if they don’t show symptoms.

“Particularly young people who are going to bars and hanging out all night — for whatever reason, they tend to veer away from wearing masks while in bars and veer away from socially distancing,” Reeves said. “And that is not a good recipe for success.”

Mississippi reported record high numbers Wednesday for people hospitalized with COVID-19. And, for the third time, the state reported a single-day increase of more than 1,000 cases of the highly contagious virus.

Mississippi has a population of about 3 million. The Health Department said Wednesday that the state has had at least 38,567 confirmed cases and at least 1,290 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening. That was an increase of 1,025 cases and 18 deaths from numbers reported the day before; the death numbers include seven that occurred between July 2 and 7 and were reported when information arrived from death certificates.

The department said Wednesday that 1,099 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. That is up from 664 on June 22.

At least 3,054 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 622 virus-related deaths in those facilities, the department said.

The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.