TUPELO • Gov. Tate Reeves says he will begin rolling back state imposed restrictions meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as early as next week.

The governor said he will begin lifting restrictions of social gatherings and mask wearing via an executive order he plans to sign next week. Reeves announced his intention during a press conference on Tuesday.

Reeves cited a decrease in average COVID-19 daily cases, hospitalizations and ICU usage as the reason behind the decision.

As of Wednesday, the state has gone 18 days without breaking 1,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day, and the seven-day average of new cases is at 356, down from a peak of around 2,400 last month.

The governor touted active COVID-related hospitalizations being down to around 500 from a peak of 1,450, and there are just over 140 ICU beds in use statewide compared to a peak of more than 350.

Reeves said Mississippi’s restrictions are already “relatively thin” compared to other states. Still, according to the governor, conversations are in progress regarding “what a new executive order may look like and what restrictions make sense for us to take off the books” along with which should remain for a bit longer.

Executive Order 1543, the most recent in a series of coronavirus-related orders the governor has issued since the pandemic began, declares the “key to reducing spread of COVID-19” is continued social distancing, limited capacity of gatherings where people are in prolonged close proximity and the use of face coverings “as Mississippi continues to safely recover.”

That order, signed by the governor on Feb. 3, also includes guidelines for outdoor sports stadiums at colleges and universities limiting bowl/outdoor stadium ticketed seating to a maximum of 25% seating capacity depending on space available to ensure a minimum of 6 feet of social distancing between people not in the same household and county mask mandates for a vast majority of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

During the press conference, Reeves alluded to there being “a reward for getting vaccinated.”

“We have to be very careful in talking to those individuals who have been fully vaccinated with a week to two weeks after the second dose in terms of continuing to require them to do things like wearing masks, etc.,” Reeves said, adding that while demand currently exceeds our supply of the vaccine, a day will come when it will not.

Reeves said the state wants to continually push more and more people to get vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, a total of 525,323 doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in Mississippi – 358,246 first doses and 167,077 second doses.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Mississippi had a population of 2,976,149 as of July 1, 2019. That means roughly 12% of Mississippians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Fewer than 6% have been fully vaccinated.

Just under 10% of Mississippi’s population – 291,891 individuals – has tested positive for COVID-19, according to MSDH data.

The governor also reiterated a point on Tuesday that he’s made before: Current restrictions have “never been about trying to make sure that every single Mississippian did not get COVID,” but rather “protecting the integrity of our health care system.”

“When government takes action to try to do everything we can to minimize the likelihood that the health care system is overwhelmed, that’s different than government taking action just to take action or government taking action to try to keep one or two or some number of Mississippians from actually getting the virus,” Reeves said. “We can no more accomplish that than we can keep every single Mississippian from getting the flu.”

As the state moves through the pandemic, nearly a year after Mississippi confirmed its first case, Reeves said the onus of staying safe and healthy falls on each individual.

“If every single individual is concerned about it going forward and certainly doing the little things to protect themselves and protect their family, it’s still a good idea to wear a mask,” Reeves said. “It’s always going to be a good idea in the future, until COVID is completely behind us, to do the little things to minimize your individual risk.”

Reeves said Mississippi is very near the point where the state’s health care system is no longer at risk of being overwhelmed.

The current executive order expires at 5 p.m. on March 3, 2021.

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