Mississippi Gov. Refuses Statewide Mask Mandate, Says Health Experts Are 'Completely Wrong' About Its Effectiveness

Mississippi Gov. Refuses Statewide Mask Mandate, Says Health
Experts Are 'Completely Wrong' About Its Effectiveness 1

Despite imposing stricter restrictions, including mask mandates, in more than half of Mississippi’s 81 counties, Governor Tate Reeves said he isn’t planning on a statewide mask mandate anytime soon. The Republican governor said that health experts and those urging such mandate are “completely wrong.”

Reeves’ remarks come after he announced that he was adding 19 more counties to the growing list of those with mask mandates, bringing the total to 41 as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations surge across the state.

Residents of those counties are required to wear masks inside businesses, schools or other public indoor spaces when 6 feet of social distancing isn’t possible. Reeves’ orders also limit outdoor gatherings to no more than 50 people and indoor gathering to no more than 10 when social distancing can’t be maintained.

However, Reeves remains firm in his position that a statewide mask mandate wouldn’t necessarily protect Mississippians from the skyrocketing cases.

“I don’t believe a statewide mask mandate that is left in place for months on months on end is the best policy,” Reeves said at a Tuesday press conference. “I believe that if you issue the mask mandate on a county-by-county basis—based on where the number of cases are the largest—then that is the best strategy to convince the most number of our fellow Mississippians to wear a mask.”

On Tuesday, four prominent Mississippi physicians—including University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor LouAnn Woodward and Mississippi State Medical Association Executive Director Claude Brunson—wrote a letter urging Reeves to reinstate a statewide mask order.

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“The COVID-19 crisis continues to plague our state,” the letter reads. “Sadly, Mississippi’s healthcare system is again overwhelmed by COVID-19, just as it was this summer. The data shows that the statewide mask mandate you instituted on August 4 worked well, and we are asking you to institute it again.”

The signees added that Mississippi’s “hospitals are at capacity, and our ICUs are full” and that some patients have been transferred out of the state to receive adequate care.

“The upcoming winter is going to be difficult for Mississippians,” wrote the physicians, which also include Anita Henderson, president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and James Griffin Jr., president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians.

“We know that wearing masks will help us continuously to grow our economy, allow kids to remain in school, parents to go to work, and most importantly, protect all Mississippians from this deadly virus. Physicians across Mississippi ask that you reinstitute a statewide mask mandate,” the letter said.

At a Monday news conference, Woodward, who also serves as dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, criticized the governor’s county-led approach to mask mandates.

“I think we have reasonable evidence to believe that the county-by-county approach is not working,” Woodward said. “It’s maybe helping, but it’s certainly not doing what we need it to do.”

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves speaks on coronavirus testing in the White House’s Rose Garden on September 28. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

When Mississippi Today reporter Bobby Harrison asked the governor about the letter, he doubled down on his stance that statewide mask mandates aren’t effective, highlighting the number of cases in neighboring states that have mandates.

“There’s no doubt I’ve been getting a lot of advice from the public domain, from a lot of different people, on what we as a state should do and what should work,” Reeves said. “Let me be clear: I believe that the more people who wear a mask, the less likely we’re going to see continued increases in numbers….The question then becomes, How do we encourage and find more and more people actually participating in the wearing of masks?”

He continued, “There are some that believe, and I believe they are completely wrong, that believe that the way in which to do that is for a statewide elected official to simply write on a piece of paper ‘statewide mask mandate’ and all is good. The problem is, Bobby, that the data does not support that.”

Reeves mentioned several neighboring states, like Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky, that have statewide mask mandates in place but are nonetheless seeing a rise in cases. However, the data shows that mask mandates are helpful in slowing the spread of the virus, and most health experts agree.

Reeves did impose a statewide mask mandate in August as the state saw a surge in virus cases, but he later lifted it at the end of September, just before the state once again saw an upward trend in infections. Meanwhile, a November analysis by Vox found that, of the 10 states that saw the highest increase in virus cases in October, only two, Wisconsin and Montana, had mask mandates. Of the 10 states that had the slowest growth in cases that month, only one, New Hampshire, didn’t have a mask mandate.

A study published last week by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, following a statewide mask mandate in Kansas, coronavirus infection rates significantly decreased in counties that enforced the mandate, compared with those that didn’t enforce it. In October, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s COVID-19 Forecasting Team projected that universal mask use could save as many as 130,000 lives by the end of February 2021.

Mississippi reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases in the past week, with a seven-day average of over 1,200 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Tuesday, the state reported 665 new cases, bringing the total to 144,544 confirmed cases.

Currently, 1,041 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Mississippi, overwhelming hospitals across the state as space becomes limited.

“My view is this notion of a mask mandate has really become a buzzword in this fight against COVID. It’s a buzzword not unlike the buzzwords that we started hearing back in March,” Reeves said. “In early March, it was all about ventilators, ventilators. And then it was ‘two weeks to slow the spread.’ And then it was about lockdowns. And lately all we’ve heard about is mask mandates statewide, statewide mask mandates.”

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