With Mississippi hospitals under ‘extreme stress,’ Gov. Tate Reeves rejects idea of lockdown

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Gov. Tate Reeves and Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs speak to the media about the coronavirus during a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson on March 26, 2020.

Two days after announcing his daughter tested positive for COVID-19 and postponing a press conference, Gov. Tate Reeves went live on Facebook Thursday to share his thoughts on the rising COVID-19 case numbers in Mississippi.

As of Thursday, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi reached 968, a 23% increase in the last two weeks. On Wednesday, the average surpassed 1,000 for the first time since Aug. 5.

In a virtual town hall on Thursday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned that the state’s hospital system is under “extreme stress.”

Intensive Care Units are 88% full statewide, and seven of the highest level COVID-care centers have zero beds: Baptist Memorial Hospital in Southaven, Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Baptist Medical Center, St. Dominic, and Merit Health Central in Jackson, and Merit Health Wesley in Hattiesburg.

In the last two weeks, total hospitalizations are up 6%, patients in the ICU are up 15%, and patients on ventilators are up 23%.

“Our fall surge is going in very much the wrong direction over the last week or so,” Dobbs said on Thursday. “We’re seeing near record high case numbers, and the consistency is pretty astounding.”

Meanwhile, Reeves, who is currently quarantining because of possible exposure by his daughter, focused time during his Thursday social media appearance on presidential politics.

After an adviser to President-Elect Joe Biden mentioned the idea of a six-week lockdown, Reeves called the proposal “totally and completely beyond reasonableness.”

“What I would tell you is, even based upon some of the things I’ve heard from his campaign, I don’t think much of anything’s going to change with respect to the virus,” Reeves said. “The fact is, we’re going to try to work with whomever the president is, but we’re not going to participate in a nationwide lockdown.

“While I don’t believe that there’s any constitutional or statutory authority for any president to shut down Mississippi’s economy, we will certainly fight that if it becomes necessary.”

The governor also addressed questions around the criteria for county mask mandates. Currently, the following 15 counties are under mask mandates: Benton, Carroll, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Humphreys, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Leflore, Lee, Marshall, Rankin and Yalobusha.

Reeves said the criteria for issuing county mask mandates has not changed since his office began issuing them.

Previously, he had said counties would be under a mask mandate if they either: had over 200 total cases in the last two weeks, or if they had over 500 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.

“There is no fudging of the data, there is no fudging of the numbers,” he said. “It is what it is.”

However, the counties in the chart below meet the second criteria but aren’t under a mask mandate:

Erica Hensley contributed to this report.