Gov. Tate Reeves extended a mask mandate that covers most of the state in efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, he announced Friday afternoon.

The mandate, which requires the wearing of masks in public areas and has been in effect for weeks as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has surged, has been extended until Feb. 3. The order covers 73 of the state’s 82 counties, including all of Mississippi’s major population areas. In recent weeks the mandate has covered most of the state, but Reeves has resisted calls to issue a statewide order.

READ MORE: See all of Mississippi’s COVID-19 data here.

The areas not covered by the mandate are primarily rural counties on the western side of the state: Adams, Claiborne, Issaquena, Jefferson, Lawrence, Quitman, Sharkey, Tunica and Wilkinson.

“It is important that we continue to take this virus seriously,” Reeves said in a statement. “We are working on getting Mississippi vaccinated, but continue to social distance, keep gatherings small and wear your mask.”

On Friday, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 2,342 new coronavirus cases, 55 deaths and 220 outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Hospitals across the state have been stressed in recent weeks because of the surge in cases. In total, Mississippi has experienced 248,189 cases and 5,411 deaths from the coronavirus.

The governor also extended the requirement that masks be worn statewide on school grounds. The executive order also limits crowd sizes at various gatherings.

READ MORE: Mississippi health officer says January will likely be state’s worst month for COVID-19 deaths.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.