JACKSON • Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday announced he is issuing an executive order that adds two Northeast Mississippi counties to the total list of counties in the state that are under a mask mandate and stricter social distancing guidelines.
Under the newest order, residents in Lee County and Pontotoc County will be required to wear a mask or face covering indoors and outdoors when unable to maintain a proper social distance between others. The order contains several exemptions for situations where people are not required to wear a mask such as when exercising, eating or giving a speech to an audience.
Social gatherings in the two counties are also limited to 20 people outdoors and 10 people indoors. The gathering limit does not apply to religious services or classrooms, and the order will go into effect at 8 a.m. August 3 and last until 8 a.m. on August 17.
“We are going to continue working to ensure the integrity of our health care system,” Reeves said at a Thursday press conference. “I want to underscore this one more time: even if you do not personally fear coronavirus, the overwhelming of the system affects everybody. If you get in a car wreck, you don’t want to be treated in a tent like we saw in other parts of the world, and in fact like we saw in other parts of the country. You want to get the best possible care.”
The latest executive order now brings three counties in Northeast Mississippi under the purview of stricter measures. Calhoun County was added last week. State and local law enforcement in the impacted counties have the authority to enforce the provisions in the executive order and issue fines to people who do not comply with the orders.
There are now 37 counties out of the state’s total 82 counties that are under stricter safety measures. As more counties continue to be added to the list under stricter measures, Reeves has resisted calls to issue a statewide mask mandate, including calls from the Mississippi State Medical Association.
“I’m here to tell you I think fewer people would wear masks in the counties where it’s most important if that’s what I did,” Reeves previously said about the possibility of a statewide mask mandate. “Otherwise, I’d do it. But I don’t believe that’s the best strategy.”
The first-term Republican governor has issued new executive orders in recent weeks as the state experiences an increased rate of residents testing positive for the virus. Last week, Reeves issued an executive order limiting the hours that bars and restaurants can serve alcohol and requiring restaurants to only serve alcohol to patrons who are seated inside.
Some portions of Lee County have already been under some version of a mask mandate. In late June, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton issued a local executive order mandating that all citizens wear a mask or face covering while inside businesses and public buildings. The order was later ratified, or approved, by the City Council.
On July 8, the Lee County Board of Supervisors issued a resolution requiring all county residents to wear a mask or face covering when entering all county-owned buildings.
According to the latest data from the Mississippi State Department of Health, 1,775 new people on Wednesday tested positive for the virus and 48 additional people have died from complications related to the virus. The department also states that 972 people are being hospitalized for the virus who are confirmed to have the virus and an additional 296 people are hospitalized with the virus who are suspected to have the virus.
At the press conference, Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist, said that there has been “some amount of leveling” in the state’s hospital capacity, but said that the number of people in Mississippi who are being hospitalized for the virus is “still astounding.”
“We need to act as if every single person we come in contact with has COVID,” Byers said. “And we need to act as if we have COVID and do those measures we need to do to protect us from transmitting it to other folks.”