As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are again beginning to trend upward in Mississippi, health experts are doing everything they can to spread a message: get the vaccine.
Some politicians, meanwhile, continue to craft their own expedient messaging, trying to instill the obvious importance of the vaccine while hedging to appease their more right-wing supporters. Put more directly, they’re trying to score cheap political points at the expense of sharing critical public health warnings.
In a single tweet on Monday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves showed he is among the chief subscribers of this strategy.
The last sentence of the tweet is perhaps the exact tone health officials wish politicians with tens of thousands of ardent followers would take: “Take the vaccine and this will all be behind us.” That advice couldn’t be more important in Mississippi, which ranks last in the nation in residents receiving at least one vaccine dose and in the bottom five states in residents completely inoculated.
But the message was overshadowed by some careful political framing from Reeves. In the tweet, the Republican governor managed to pander to several different camps on several different issues — and even a couple issues that put him at odds with health experts.
First, he highlighted political tension between conservatives and Major League Baseball, which recently moved its All Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia lawmakers passed legislation that makes it more difficult to vote in that state.
Reeves used that MLB decision as the framing to compare Mississippi State’s record weekend baseball game attendance with weekend attendance at Yankee Stadium. Never mind that the Yankees have the worst record in the American League this year and their fanbase is fuming, the state of New York has continued imposing a 10% stadium capacity as COVID-19 continues to spread there.
New York has the third-highest average weekly cases in the nation. New York City, home of Yankee Stadium, has seen an average of 10,743 cases per 100,000 people the past week.
Mississippi, meanwhile, has no stadium capacity restrictions after Reeves rescinded them in March. Mississippi State hosted Ole Miss in Starkville this weekend, and the New Dude was packed. Few people were wearing masks, which has some health officials worried.
After a brutal winter spike, Mississippi currently has a lower rate of COVID-19 spread than New York and many other states. But Mississippi’s confirmed cases and hospitalizations are currently trending up, prompting health officials to reiterate that mask wearing and social distancing guidelines should be followed until people have been vaccinated.
Reeves also didn’t miss the chance to get a shot in at Democratic President Joe Biden, who several weeks ago said Reeves and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott exhibited “Neanderthal thinking” for rescinding their states’ COVID-19 precautions. Reeves spun the president’s comments to suggest Biden called all Mississippians “Neanderthals,” and he has hardly skipped an opportunity to perpetuate that moment in the national political spotlight.
Reeves also conveniently omitted the fact that he, too, locked down his state as the first wave of COVID-19 infected and killed thousands of Mississippians. Even after that first wave, he imposed business restrictions and ordered residents to wear masks in public. Those decisions continue to draw him scorn from even the most conservative Mississippians who Reeves is attempting to appease.
“The only reason Mississippi is fully open is because you resisted the bad ‘public health’ policy decisions from our Governor,” Robert Foster, a conservative Republican who ran against Reeves in 2019, wrote on Facebook the same day of Reeves’ tweet. “Make no mistake, if the resistance had not been so strong we would still be partially locked down and with a statewide mask mandate like other states.
“(Reeves) is a career politician, he squirms at the thought of losing votes and goes whichever way the wind blows the strongest,” Foster continued. “Make him feel it, put it to him.”
There were more than 91,000 vaccine appointments available in the University of Mississippi Medical Center portal as of Tuesday at noon. As Reeves continues fighting political battles at the expense of public health messaging, health experts are fighting to avoid a deadly fourth wave.
“Fighting the COVID pandemic hasn’t been easy this whole time… we’ve got a little ways to go on this, so keep fighting,” Dobbs said on April 13.