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After mandate repeal, masks required again in nine counties

October 19, 2020 GMT
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, speaks during an event with President Donald Trump about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, speaks during an event with President Donald Trump about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday that he is imposing a mask mandate for public indoor spaces and other restrictions in nine counties to curb the spread of coronavirus amid weeks of steadily rising case numbers.

“Here in Mississippi, we have seen this before,” Reeves said, referencing a spike in cases the state saw in the summer. “We know what can happen if we allow this to get out of control, so want to be proactive to prevent that from happening.”

Reeves said explicitly that he does not think what is happening in Mississippi qualifies as a spike.

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“We’ve seen a relatively slow, slight increase over the last six weeks, which has really been exacerbated over the last 10 or 11 days,” he said.

In the past week, Mississippi had two days when the number of new cases reported in one day reached more than 1,000, something the Department of Health hadn’t reported since mid-August. The seven-day rolling average of daily new confirmed cases in Mississippi has risen from 518 per day on Oct. 4 to 725 cases on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins data analyzed by The Associated Press.

Reeves’ method of imposing restrictions for counties by case count is similar to how he approached restrictions at the start of the pandemic. The Republican governor first resisted imposing a statewide mask mandate, focusing instead on individual counties with high cases, until cases were spiking throughout the state in early August. Reeves’ statewide mask mandate went into effect on Aug. 4 and was repealed on Sept. 30.

He said the new restrictions will be imposed in counties that have 200 recent confirmed cases of coronavirus or 500 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. Exceptions to that rule are counties with 200 recent cases that have fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 residents.

The counties where restrictions will be imposed are DeSoto, Jackson, Lee, Forrest, Lamar, Itawamba, Neshoba, Claiborne and Chickasaw.

In those nine counties, masks will be required indoors in public when social distancing is not possible. Social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 50 outdoors.

Additionally, Reeves said he is requiring that hospitals statewide reserve 10% of total space for COVID-19 patients. If hospitals fail to comply with this order, they will not be allowed to perform non-urgent elective procedures.

Reeves said no single “silver bullet” solution exists to bring case numbers down.

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“I know a lot of y’all will say, ‘Why don’t you just throw that statewide mask mandate back on and everything will be fine.’ Go look at the data in Arkansas. Go look at the data in Alabama. Never have taken their statewide mask mandates off, and their curve looks much worse than ours,” he said.

Reeves said his primary concern is making sure Mississippi’s health care system is able and prepared to care for both coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients.

“Our goal in Mississippi has never been to completely eradicate the virus. It has never been to completely eliminate the virus, because we do not believe — or at least I don’t — that that’s a realistic goal,” he said. “Our goal has always been to protect the integrity of our healthcare system.”

The state Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 110,500 confirmed cases and at least 3,171 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 586 confirmed cases and zero deaths from numbers reported over the weekend.

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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.