Post mandate, doctor 'disappointed' at lack of mask wearing

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, right, listens as Gov. Tate Reeves responds to a reporter's question regarding his executive order mandating that all adults and students wear masks in schools, unless there's a medical reason that prevents them from doing so, during the governor's COVID-19 press briefing in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. State officials provided reporters an update on the coronavirus and the state's ongoing strategy to limit transmission in public schools.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's state health officer said he overestimated the number of people who would continue to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus after the statewide mask mandate was lifted.

“Why we would broadly abandon something that is so simple — even easy, and effective — just because there is not an executive order, it has perplexed me and I'm frankly quite disappointed," Dr. Thomas Dobbs said on a video call with reporters on Friday.

After months of declining cases, Mississippi has seen two straight days of new cases topping 1,000, something the state hasn't seen since around the time Mississippi's statewide mask mandate was put into place in August.

Gov. Tate Reeves repealed Mississippi’s statewide mask mandate on Sept. 30, citing declining cases. The Republican governor encouraged citizens to continue to wear masks anyway, but added officials “should not use the heavy hand of government more than it is justified.”

“We have to tailor our actions to the current threat, and make sure that they do not go beyond what is reasonable," Reeves said then.

Dobbs said Friday the decision was not made lightly. But two months into the mandate, people were lashing out against it.

“There were people who were getting tired of the mandate, and they just sort of were violating it when it was still mandated," he said. “I think that was some of the concern, that it’s lost its sort of, firepower.”

He said the state health department and Reeves will evaluate if mask mandates need to be put back into place in the counties that have seen the highest number of new cases.

With flu season approaching, Dobbs said he is getting worried there will be another spike. Mississippi “skated by with the skin of our teeth” through the summer, and that it could get a lot worse, he said.

The state health department said Friday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 109,250 cases and at least 3,160 deaths from COVID-19 as of Thursday evening.

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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