Gov. Tate Reeves is adding Leflore and Carroll counties to those parts of Mississippi where he is ordering people to wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
For Leflore County, the mandate brings little change.
“The people are not going to see 2 inches of difference,” said Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams, whose city has been under its own mask order since July 9.
Leflore County adopted an identical mask order a few days later.
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Reeves announced Thursday that he was adding eight counties to his mask mandate. When it takes effect Monday, 37 of the state’s 82 counties will be under an executive order to wear facial coverings in most indoor public spaces and at public gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors, although religious services are exempted.
Mississippi has the third-fastest-growing outbreak of COVID-19 in the nation, trailing only Florida and Louisiana, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. On Thursday, the state reported a record 1,745 new cases of the virus, as well as 48 additional deaths. Twenty-three of those deaths, including two in Leflore County, occurred between July 10 and July 27, and were subsequently identified through death certificate reports as related to the respiratory disease.
Leflore County has experienced 59 deaths in all. Forty-two of them, or 71%, have involved residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Reeves has resisted calls for a mask mandate statewide, including from the Mississippi State Medical Association. Instead he has been using a formula to decide which counties, based on their recent COVID-19 case counts, merit additional measures to deal with the virus.
“We’ve finally hit that,” said McAdams of the formula threshold.
According to the Harvard researchers, Leflore County’s daily rate of new COVID-19 cases has been steadily rising of late. For the week ending Tuesday, the rate was 5.27 per 10,000 residents, the 22nd highest in Mississippi and above the state average of 4.21.
One of the state’s major concerns with the surge is that hospitals will be overwhelmed and run out of space to treat those suffering the most severely from the disease. As of Thursday morning, Greenwood Leflore Hospital has not reached its capacity. It was treating 10 patients in its 14-bed COVID-19 unit, according to Christine Hemphill, a hospital spokeswoman. Three of those patients were on ventilators to help them breathe.
In Carroll County, the numbers have not been nearly as dramatic. Its average daily rate of new cases is 1.72 per 10,000, or the second lowest in the state. It is one of only nine Mississippi counties not rated “red,” the highest risk category, by the Harvard group.
Nevertheless, Ken Strachan, North Carrollton’s mayor who also serves as the county’s emergency management director, said he was not surprised that the governor included Carroll County.
“I felt it was coming,” he said.
Initially, according to Strachan, the outbreak in Carroll County was concentrated at its lone nursing home, Vaiden Community Living Center, which accounted for nine of the county’s 11 deaths. More recently, he said, the virus is showing up in households all over the county.
The only municipality in Carroll County with a mask ordinance has been Vaiden. It has been requiring since May that facial coverings be worn inside businesses. The town of North Carrollton recommended the wearing of masks but had not ordered it.
In Greenwood, compliance with the mask order, according to McAdams, has been better than it was for an earlier strategy the city tried — a nightly curfew
Police patrol cars have each been equipped with 50 or so masks to distribute to anyone officers come across who should be wearing one.
“If we see someone without a mask, instead of pulling them over and giving them a ticket, we’re offering them a mask, asking them to use a mask,” the mayor said.
Although the governor’s order, as long as it’s in effect, will supersede the city’s, McAdams said she does not think the city will be lifting its own mask mandate or other restrictions anytime soon.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think we are going to see that until there’s a vaccine” against COVID-19.
“It’s just the most contagious thing I have heard of,” she said.
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