Over the course of the pandemic, Mississippi’s response has proven below average at best and abysmal at worst. As of publication, Mississippi is 45th in testing and 35th in vaccinations. Adjusted for population, Mississippi remains 15th in cases and 5th in deaths.
On March 2, forty-three Mississippians died of coronavirus. The same day, Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order that rolled back the bulk of Mississippi’s coronavirus protocols, and the Board of Aldermen voted to lift Oxford’s mask mandate, which had been in place for almost a year. In a matter of hours, the state and the city forfeited their stakes in public health and passed that responsibility to individuals and businesses.
The reasons for these decisions haven’t been all that reasonable. Officials — including Reeves and Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill — have argued that we don’t need mask mandates because vaccines are available. Still, a vaccine doesn’t affect transmission until it’s in someone’s arm. Just over 9% of Mississippians have been fully vaccinated.
The same officials have argued that we don’t need mask mandates because the rate of hospitalization is lower than it has been, but a low rate of hospitalization is dependent on public health measures, like mask mandates.
After signing Executive Order 1549, Reeves told the press: “The governor’s office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.” If Reeves’s business isn’t to tell people what they can and cannot do, then I’m not entirely sure what his business is.
Do not mistake this dereliction of duty for libertarianism. Even the smallest of small governments have mandates to limit one person’s freedom when it endangers another person’s freedom. My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. My right to spew virus-laden spittle should end at the supermarket’s sliding doors.
Of course, Gov. Reeves, Mayor Tannehill and the rest would prefer that I don’t make a hot zone of the produce section. Indeed, they request that I show some restraint. After all, they’re sensible policymakers. They just feel uncomfortable with the burden of making sensible policy.
It’s not too surprising that Mississippi or Oxford loosened coronavirus protocols. If we know anything about America, it’s that Americans have a high tolerance for preventable death. It’s shocking, however, that our leaders dropped these protocols so totally and so suddenly.
They could have raised capacity limits without removing the mask mandate. They could have removed the mask mandate in non-essential businesses without removing the mask mandate in essential businesses. They could have, in any number of ways, protected people from disease and death at the low cost of some foggy eyeglasses and a few itchy noses. Nonetheless, they were either unable or unwilling to act with so much as a taste of nuance.
This nation has always asked its citizens to make great sacrifices. We expect that someone will rush into our burning homes. We hope that someone will teach our children what we cannot. We have handed people ration books and draft cards. To these people, we are rightly grateful.
Through all this, Americans have wondered if our capacity for sacrifice is limitless. What hardship is too great for us to endure? At long last, it seems we have found an answer: facemasks and plexiglass.
With those few common-sense rules in place, there were things we could not do. We could not gather in large crowds. We could not go out with our faces bare. Even with people following these protocols, thousands of people died from the virus.
Now, those rules are gone, and we have our freedom back. Now, we can pack ourselves into a bar. Now, we can breathe freely in a convenience store. People will die, but not only from the virus. They will die from our own petulance. Now, after much delay, we get to kill each other.
John Hydrisko is a senior English, philosophy and history major from Philadelphia, Penn..