January 18, 2021

New virus orders: Half of Mississippi counties now under mask orders

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that he is expanding his mask mandate to cover half of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

Reeves had previously placed under the mandate 22 counties with the highest number of new cases of coronavirus in the state.

“It’s clear we are in the middle of our second surge,” Reeves said during a briefing with news media where he announced he was adding 19 counties to that list.

The new counties are: Alcorn, Attala, Bolivar, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lincoln, Lowndes, Neshoba, Panola, Perry, Prentiss, Stone, Tippah, Tishomingo and Union.

The announcement comes a day after Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Medicine, called on the governor to reinstitute a statewide mask mandate to prevent further spread of the virus. Woodward said last week that no intensive care unit beds were available at the hospital, Mississippi’s only level-one trauma center.

“I think we have reasonable evidence to believe that the county-by-county approach is not working,” she said during a Monday news briefing.

Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 144,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,729 deaths from COVID-19.

Hospitalizations are rising, with 946 people hospitalized in Mississippi with coronavirus Monday, compared with 560 on Nov. 4, according to the state Department of Health.

Reeves said Tuesday that he is holding off on a statewide mandate for now. He said that mask mandate has become a “buzzword in this fight against COVID” which he compared to calls for closing bars, lockdowns and sheltering in place.

“Lately all we’ve heard is ‘statewide mask mandate’ and the fact of the matter is that none of those actions taken by themselves is a panacea, none of them are a silver bullet,” Reeves said.

Meanwhile, Mississippi’s top health official said this week he is exhausted trying to convince people in the state to take the coronavirus seriously and follow public health guidelines.

“It’s just going nowhere,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s state health officer, said Monday during a meeting with members of the Mississippi Senate.

As state health officer, Dobbs has been running the state’s effort to track the virus, put preventative measures in place and test residents.

He has also been the face of the state’s coronavirus response, speaking at many of Reeves’ televised coronavirus press briefings and online forums with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state Department of Health and the Mississippi State Medical Association. Throughout the pandemic, he has repeated the same message: masking, social distancing and avoiding large social gatherings will prevent the spread of the virus.

Speaking to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Monday, he said there is no “collective will” among the public to prevent the spead of the virus by following safety protocols.

He said church and school outbreaks are rising throughout the state. Schools, in particular, have become a major problem — in general, schools have been unwilling to cut back on extracurriculars and social activities, Dobbs said.

“We have chosen, very clearly, to prioritize social events over disease transmission,” he said.

The Mississippi State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 665 new confirmed cases of coronavirus and new 53 deaths. Thirty-one deaths occurred between Nov. 13 and Nov. 23 and were identified later using death certificates.

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.