Mississippi governor adds seven counties to mask mandate

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, speaks during an event with President Donald Trump about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington.

Gov. Tate Reeves added Leflore County to his mask-wearing mandate.

Carroll County, which was first added on Oct. 26, remains on the list of 15 counties

Reeves made the announcement Wednesday morning to extend the previous mandate for a select group of counties identified as areas of higher transmission, which was set to expire at 8 a.m.

The order will remain in effect until Dec. 11.

“I know that we are all tired and ready to move on. But the virus is still here,” said Reeves in a press release. “It’s still working to infect and kill. We’ve gotten far better at dealing with it, and allowing for life to go on. But we’re not all the way there yet. Keep fighting and protecting the most vulnerable in your life. No matter where you are, please do your best to social distance and wear a mask.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported Wednesday that Leflore County, which was already under a countywide mask mandate, has had 1,854 cases and 88 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Carroll County has had 669 cases and 13 deaths.

Carroll County has the highest infection rate of Mississippi’s 82 counties. For the week ending Monday, the county averaged 5.89 new cases daily of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents, according to data tracked by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Brown School of Public Health. That’s more than double the state average of 2.73. Mississippi has the nation’s 30th-highest rate of infection. Leflore, which has the 24th-highest infection rate in the state, has an average of 2.94 new cases daily of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents.

As of Wednesday morning, six patients were being treated for COVID-19 at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, according to Christine Hemphill, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Two of the patients were on ventilators to help them breathe.

Even as Carroll County’s infection rate remains high, the county’s two public schools — J.Z. George High School and Marshall Elementary — returned to in-person classes Wednesday after two weeks of distance learning. The schools moved to remote learning because of an unspecified outbreak of the virus.

According to data from the Health Department released late last month, 53 students in the school district, or approximately 6% of its student population, had quarantined due to exposure to the coronavirus.

This number has now dropped to zero, according to the numbers released by the Health Department Wednesday, which shows data collected from the previous week.

Meanwhile in Leflore County, Pillow Academy has added one to five students to the list of those who have tested positive. As per Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines, when case numbers are between one and five, the exact case number is suppressed to protect personal identity. Pillow’s number of students in quarantine dropped from eight to five last week, with one teacher in quarantine from exposure.

Delta Streets Academy and Carroll Academy again did not report their numbers to the Health Department.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, issued an order in August mandating the weekly reporting of COVID-19 data by all elementary and secondary schools, public and private. Failure to comply, according to Department of Health officials, is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

This is the seventh time both schools have not been listed.

The governor also extended Wednesday the Safe Recovery Order, which was set to expire at 5 p.m. The Safe Recovery order, which is also in effect until Dec. 11, replaced the Safe Return order on Sept. 30, easing some the state’s social-distancing restrictions including ending a statewide mask mandate.

The order, among other things, limits attendance at outdoor K-12 extracurricular events to 50% of seating capacity, limits group gatherings when social distancing is not possible and requires masks for schools and close-contact businesses, such as salons.

The extension of the orders comes after the Health Department reported that the state had 1,256 new cases and 17 new deaths of the coronavirus and Reeves’ Tuesday announcement on social media that his youngest daughter, Maddie, had tested positive for the virus.

Along with Leflore and Carroll, the following counties are also on the state’s mask mandate list: Benton, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Humphreys, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lee, Marshall, Rankin and Yalobusha.

• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or abakst@gwcommonwealth.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW

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