As infection rates climb since Gov. Tate Reeves lifted Mississippi’s mask mandate, the governor shelters in place, rejecting the concept of his daily coronavirus press briefings over the past two weeks.
Reeves’ last live appearance was at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 8. During the meeting, he briefly mentioned the pandemic but his main topic of discussion was the imminent threat of Hurricane Delta.
Since Reeves allowed the mask order to expire on Sept. 30 — the day of his last virus press briefing — infection rates have increased, leading State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs to tell reporters during an Oct. 12 Zoom conference that virus indicators are going in an “unwanted direction.” That direction includes mid-week highs for new daily virus cases in the 800 or 900s and a recent high as much as 1,300. This is compared to the daily highs of 600 to 800s in September.
Mississippi was the first state in the country to lift its statewide mask mandate, while the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas chose to extend their states’ mask mandate. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were among the few states to never adopt a mandate.
Reeves’ lifting of the mask mandate came with poor timing. Two days earlier, he attended a Sept. 28 White House Rose Garden press conference to announce a shipment of 150 million rapid COVID-19 tests across the country.
That followed President Donald Trump’s Sept. 26 announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee in a mostly unmasked Rose Garden gathering that ended up being a super-spreader event. Trump himself announced that he tested positive for the virus on Oct. 1, and the next day, Reeves made a Facebook post reporting he tested negative.
Since then, the governor has practically hidden himself away from the public, finally breaking the silence in a social media post on Thursday, the first time the virus broke over 1,000 cases in a single day in two months.
“Important to remember that COVID-19 is not gone! We’ve seen numbers increase over the past few weeks,” the post read. “Please stay watchful and protect yourself. We want to be cautious and limited in using executive action — we’re counting on the people of Mississippi to be wise and careful!”
When a reporter recently asked Reeves if he would consider reimposing restrictions, the governor said, “If the question that anybody in the press or otherwise begins ‘are you concerned about ...’ the answer is yes.”
Reeves mentioned the state’s progress in curtailing the virus and said wearing a mask should be a matter of personal responsibility and not a government mandate. But with those gains already slipping, it seems not enough people are taking personal responsibility.
Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis of Johns Hopkins University said that despite declining numbers, the United States is still in the first wave of the pandemic, likening it to a “patchwork quilt” rather than a wave. “The COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is affecting different areas throughout the country in different ways at different times,” she wrote in August, when the decline started for much of the Southern states.
Be it the second wave or the third peak, the real issue is that more Mississippians are coming down with the virus and some of them will needlessly die. There seems to be no answer from the government.
But there is a solution: Wear a mask.
It is sad that a flimsy mandate was all that stood in the way of cases going down and rising.
If Reeves continues to stand by his decision to revoke the mandate, he should at least step into the press briefing room every once in a while and explain his actions.