Gov. Tate Reeves adds seven counties to mask-wearing mandate for COVID-19

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves listens as state emergency management executive director Greg Michel speaks during his news briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Headquarters on Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday added seven more counties to a mask-wearing mandate because of COVID-19, bringing the total to 22 counties.

The mandate, which includes mask wearing and tighter restrictions on group gatherings, will run at least through Dec. 11.

The counties added Monday are: Hinds, Madison, Pontotoc, Tate, Winston, Itawamba and Montgomery. Counties that were already under the mandate: Benton, Carroll, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Humphreys, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Leflore, Lee, Marshall, Rankin, and Yalobusha.

Reeves, who remains in isolation along with his family after one of his daughters tested positive for COVID-19 last week, in a Facebook live address urged all Mississippians to wear masks in public, even if they are not in counties under his executive orders mandating them.

“It does make a difference,” Reeves said. “It does have an impact.”

Reeves said the pandemic “is not getting significantly better — in fact, it’s getting marginally worse.”

The average number of daily cases in Mississippi surpassed 1,000 on Friday and has continued to climb, nearing record numbers from during the peak in the summer.

Reeves on Sept. 30 lifted a statewide mask mandate — making Mississippi the first state to rescind such a mandate — that he had issued on Aug. 4, and he relaxed restrictions on social gatherings. Since then, cases have risen.

During the span of the statewide mask mandate, Mississippi cases plummeted, dropping by 54%.

Reeves had been hesitant to issue a statewide mask order in the summer, instead taking a county-by-county approach until state hospitals were becoming overloaded. He has said that a county-by-county approach to mask mandates and other restrictions as cases spike is better because people are more likely to pay attention and heed the orders. He has also said he dislikes using the “heavy hand of government” to order mask wearing and other mandates.

Calls for a reimplementation of a statewide mask mandate have increased in recent days, as top health officials in Mississippi continue to directly or indirectly pressure the governor to act.

“It’s time. We are tired. And worried,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, tweeted on Nov. 14. “Wearing a mask makes a difference. We all want to keep businesses and schools open. We don’t have to continue to watch the trainwreck. We can change the outcome. Please.”