The other day, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was trying to explain why he has resisted mandating that masks be worn statewide, even while he and state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs have been urging everyone to wear them for weeks.

Reeves said he believes that a state mandate — as opposed to singling out 29 counties, as he has done so far — could backfire in trying to slow the explosive spread of COVID-19, producing less compliance with mask wearing, not more.

“If you live in Tishomingo County and there’s a statewide mask mandate, you can’t help but say, ‘Well, that’s probably for those folks in Hancock County.’ If you put a statewide mandate, the folks in Hancock County are going to say, ‘That’s for the folks up in Tishomingo County, they can’t possibly be talking about me.’”

Actually, Reeves’ targeted approach has produced this exact effect. Unless you are in one of the 29 counties where the mandate has been ordered, or in one of those other locales, such as Greenwood and Leflore County, where local governments have not waited on the governor to act, you think it’s OK to go maskless in indoor public spaces.

Not only is Reeves’ explanation illogical, it ignores the data showing that there are no “cool spots” in this state right now. All of Mississippi, which is experiencing the third-highest surge rate in the nation, is a hot spot. Just some parts are hotter than others.

The Harvard Global Health Institute tracks contemporaneously the progress of the COVID-19 outbreak, county by county. It has assigned the highest risk rating to 74 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. As for the other eight, they are just one level of risk below.

If Reeves were to follow the Harvard tracker’s recommendations, he would shut down the entire state again. We don’t endorse that, as it’s already proven to create long-term economic misery for short-term public health gain. But if Reeves truly believes what he has been repeatedly preaching — namely that facial masks are an essential piece to fighting this pandemic — then it makes no sense, other than political temerity, not to force the issue statewide.

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