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Mississippi governor defends hosting parties amid virus

December 9, 2020 GMT
Gov. Tate Reeves responds to questions regarding the holiday social receptions his office planned at the Governor's Mansion, during his COVID-19 news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Gov. Tate Reeves responds to questions regarding the holiday social receptions his office planned at the Governor's Mansion, during his COVID-19 news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
1 of 4
Gov. Tate Reeves responds to questions regarding the holiday social receptions his office planned at the Governor's Mansion, during his COVID-19 news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday defended his decision to hold Christmas parties at the Governor’s Mansion, despite repeatedly warning residents to avoid social gatherings as coronavirus cases surge.

The Republican governor said he invited family, friends and state officials to the multiple parties, but he expects many will choose not to attend.

The front part of the Governor’s Mansion is a museum that is open by appointment only, and the Reeves family lives in a private portion in the back. Reeves compared the parties to tours that have been happening during the pandemic. No more than 10 people are allowed on each tour of the historic home, and masks are required.

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“What I think we are doing by offering the public the opportunity to, for instance, tour the Governor’s Mansion, is to offer a sense of normalcy,” Reeves said during a news conference.

Reeves, who became governor in January, said he canceled many social events for the year, including a 16th birthday party for his oldest daughter and an open house traditionally held the first Friday of December.

In a story first reported by Mississippi Today, elected officials said they were invited to a governor’s Christmas party happening Wednesday. The governor also invited lawmakers to separate parties next week.

Reeves has often told people not to host gatherings as the virus spreads. He issued a new executive order Wednesday that restricts social gatherings statewide to 10 people indoors and 50 outdoors when social distancing is not possible and has issued a mask mandate for all Mississippi schools and in 61 out of 82 counties in the state with the highest number of new coronavirus cases.

The new executive order additionally limits schools’ indoor sporting events to four spectators per student participant and a maximum of 250 spectators.

Mississippi reported more than 2,700 new confirmed cases of coronavirus Wednesday, the most ever in a single day. Before that, the record was 2,480, reported Dec. 4. Mississippi has also exceeded past records for the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus in recent days.

Reeves said he did not know how many people were invited to the Governor’s Mansion parties, and he did not specify how many he plans to host.

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At least 40 lawmakers and others in the state Capitol tested positive for the coronavirus during the summer, including the Republican presiding officers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. Some lawmakers were hospitalized. In the weeks before to the outbreak, some legislators worked shoulder to shoulder or rode on crowded elevators, and some went without masks.

After either receiving an invitation to the governor’s party or hearing about it, some lawmakers said they did not plan to attend because they were taking precautions with the virus.

Democrat Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he didn’t think he received an invitation, but he thinks the parties are “inappropriate.”

“It’s a time for all of us to be diligent and try to make sure that we’re setting good examples until we get this pandemic under control,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s fair to represent to the public that it’s OK to go about business as usual.”

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.