Over four months after the first coronavirus death in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves announced a statewide mask mandate for all gatherings, including shopping, on Aug. 4.
In addition to the mandate, Reeves ordered that hot-spot counties — or counties that have high reporting numbers of coronavirus cases — delay public-school start dates until Aug. 17. The included counties are Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower and Washington. Odd grades in the Oxford School District will start on Aug. 10, even grades will attend on Aug. 11 and all grades will attend classes together on Aug. 12.
Reeves’s mask mandate will not affect Oxford’s already-standing requirement for masks, which has been in effect since April 25. However, the executive order does enforce self-isolation for those who test positive, which Reeves said can give fines up to $5,000 or five years in jail to citizens with the coronavirus who do not isolate themselves.
Before Tuesday, only 37 of Mississippi’s 82 counties were enforcing under mask mandates.
“I want to see college football,” Reeves said, “The best way for that to occur is for us all to realize is that wearing a mask — as irritating as that can be, and I promise I hate it more than anyone watching — is critical.”
This decision comes shortly after health officials and educators across the state have pushed for schools to open later, including Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, who said some schools’ reopening plans “could use a lot of work.”
“Let’s behave for a few weeks so we can get this school thing back on track,” Dobbs said, citing parties and other large social gatherings as a main cause of Mississippi’s recent jump in coronavirus cases.
Corinth School District opened its doors last week to students and has already isolated 91 students and staff who were in contact with infected students, but Alcorn County was not considered a hot spot in Reeves’s plan. Most recent data from the MHSAA in 2019 shows that Corinth High School’s student population was 591 while Oxford High School’s population was more than double Corinth’s at 1,202.
In a statement shortly after Reeves’s announcement, the Mississippi Association of Educators said that the decision was “reckless.”
“We are simply requesting a few weeks to lower the number of new COVID cases and develop a plan that ensures every school in every district has the resources they need to get back into buildings safely,” the statement said. “The governor’s plan, in its current form, is reckless and irresponsible. It ignores the advice of the state’s top medical officials and is putting students and educators and their families at risk.”