Would Mississippi school mask mandate have prevented latest reported child COVID-19 death? Medical experts suggest so, Mississippi governor says locals know best

Published 10:07 am Sunday, August 15, 2021

Just one day after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves suggested that most Mississippi children who are infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus only get the “sniffles” a fifth child in the state has reportedly died very soon after showing symptoms and testing positive for the virus.

An eighth-grade girl who attended Raleigh Junior High School reportedly attended school on Wednesday, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday and died Saturday en route to a hospital after having trouble breathing. The school’s band director announced the death on social media. The circumstances and cause of her death have not been independently verified yet.

“It is with great sadness, and a broken heart, that I announce the passing of one of my 8th-grade band students,” school officials wrote.

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The Smith County School District of which the Raleigh school belongs started classes on August 6 without any mask requirements, but after several outbreaks, they quickly instituted a mask mandate several days later. The school district’s online COVID case tracker shows 76 students and staff were positive on the last update on Thursday. The district reported 435 students and staff were quarantined due to exposure.

The student’s death came weeks after the school’s former band director and his wife also died of COVID-19.

On Friday, Gov. Reeves held a press conference in which he continued to suggest that local school officials and parents, not medical experts, need to decide which virus mitigation measures schools need to follow. The subject of mask usage has become politically divisive lately.

Last school year, Reeves mandated that all school students and staff wear face masks all year long while indoors. Public health experts suggest that along with other mitigation measures helped Mississippi schools return to in-person instruction with very few outbreaks of COVID-19.

This year the vast majority of medical experts have recommended all students and staff wear masks inside schools because the delta variant of COVID-19 has been proven far more contagious than previous versions of the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Mississippi State Department of Health, among others, have recommended that school districts require masks in schools. But in Mississippi only the governor can issue a statewide requirement that they do so.

A recently released study of North Carolina’s school virus mitigation from last year in collaboration with Duke University showed proper face mask usage was effective at preventing the spread of the virus and more important than social distancing measures.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has said the delta variant is a like a completely new virus in some ways because of how quickly it can spread.

“Delta is different,” he wrote on social media Sunday morning. “Delta is deadly.”

When pressed upon the issue, Friday Reeves first struggled to remember how many children had died so far in Mississippi during the pandemic. If the Raleigh student’s death is confirmed to be from COVID-19, her death will be the fifth since the pandemic began and the second this summer.

Hattiesburg pediatrician Dr. Anita Henderson, who serves as the president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, expressed her frustration over Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ decision to not insist on statewide virus mitigation measures and his downplaying of COVID’s threat to children.

“Today another child died,” Henderson wrote on social media on Saturday. “Yesterday when asked by (an Associated Press reporter) about mask mandates in schools (Tate Reeves) said COVID in kids rarely causes more than ‘the sniffles’ and said each (school district) could decide. School boards need more support to #PutKidsFirst.”

The University of Mississippi Medical Center – which includes the state’s only children’s hospital – reported Sunday morning they were treating 18 children with COVID-19. State health officials suggest that number does not represent all COVID-19 cases among Mississippi children as often children’s hospitals in neighboring states like Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana are often closer options for sick children.