‘Worst time that we’ve had to deal with’ – Mississippi extends face mask requirement to more counties

Published 4:53 pm Thursday, July 30, 2020

Mississippi is continuing to see a sharp increase in reported cases of the new coronavirus, and Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that he will put eight more counties under restrictions that include mandatory masks in public.

“We are in the middle of the worst time that we’ve had to deal with,” Reeves said, speaking of Mississippi’s rising caseload during the pandemic.

Republican Reeves has resisted ordering a statewide mask mandate, saying he thinks targeted restrictions are more effective.

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The restrictions are already in place in 29 of the 82 counties, covering more than half of the state’s population. Those are being extended until Aug. 17. The eight counties that will be added Monday are Carroll, Coahoma, Jones, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Noxubee and Pontotoc.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, said Thursday that Mississippi has “astoundingly high” numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We’re at a point now … where we need to act as if every single person that we come in contact with has COVID,” Byers said during a news conference with the governor.

School districts face a Friday deadline to submit plans showing how they intend to operate during the academic year that begins soon in most parts of the state. They can have classes in person, online or a combination of the two. Reeves said Thursday that he will spend the weekend reviewing the plans.

Mississippi has a population of about 3 million. The Health Department said Thursday that the state has had at least 57,579 confirmed cases and at least 1,611 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening. That’s an increase of 1,775 confirmed cases and 48 deaths from numbers reported the day before; those numbers included 23 deaths that occurred from July 10 to July 27, with information arriving later on death certificates.

At least 3,537 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 721 virus-related deaths in those facilities, the Health 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.

More than half of all inmates at a regional jail in south Mississippi have tested positive for the new coronavirus, a warden said Thursday. George County Regional Correctional Facility in Lucedale has the largest COVID-19 outbreak at any prison or jail in the state, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The warden at the George County facility, Bobby Fairley, told the Clarion Ledger that 229 inmates and three staff members there have been confirmed with COVID-19. He said some test results are still pending, but did not know how many.

The jail has 32 staff members and usually holds about 420 inmates. Some inmates are awaiting trial, and others have been convicted and are being housed there by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

George County Sheriff Keith Havard told the Sun Herald that two people with the virus were taken to George County Regional Medical Center. They were treated and returned to the jail.

“The good thing is the symptoms have been mostly a very light fever and body aches,” Havard said. “It started out really scary, but I do believe we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The jail is being deep-cleaned daily and Havard is working with emergency management officials to get additional personal protective gear for inmates and staff.

Inmates with the virus are under quarantine in the same area of the jail, he said. Unless hospitalization is needed, inmates with the virus are being treated by the jail’s nurse, Havard said.