TUPELO • Residents of Monroe and Okitibbeha counties are now ordered by Gov. Tate Reeves to wear a mask or face covering, with these two Northeast Mississippi counties among the 13 counties newly placed under mask mandates on Tuesday.

There are now 54 of 82 Mississippi counties under a governor’s mask mandate.

Under the current strategy employed by Reeves, counties with especially high levels of COVID-19 transmission are placed under emergency executive orders that require face coverings in public as well as limitations on crowd sizes.

In addition to Monroe and Oktibbeha, other Northeast Mississippi counties already under a mandate are Alcorn, Benton, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Lee, Itawamba, Marshall, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tippah, Tishomingo and Union.

Reeves and Chief Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs both warned on Tuesday that COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations are at alarming levels and placing stress on the ability of hospitals to care for all patients.

“Healthcare is an exhaustible resource,” Dobbs warned in a press briefing on Tuesday morning.

But for his part, Reeves stressed what he considers his “measured” approach to virus controls while urging Mississippians to “make small sacrifices” as needed until an effective vaccine can be widely distributed.

“This is a dangerous time. We all need to adjust our behavior accordingly,” Reeves said. “We know what works. We know wearing masks works. We know that avoiding large social gatherings helps.”

Other counties targeted on Tuesday for a mask order are as follows: Adams, Amite, Coahoma, Franklin, Kemper, Jefferson, Noxubee, Quitman, Scott, Sunflower and Washington.

The first-term Republican governor continues his targeted, county-by-county approach to masking orders rather than adopting a uniform statewide mask mandate as urged by some of the state’s top medical leaders, including the leadership of North Mississippi Health Services.

“We believe the last place anyone wants to be for Christmas is in an ICU,” NMHS leaders wrote to Reeves in a letter last week. “Your actions would assure all Mississippians the value of mandatory masking and would serve as a catalyst to save lives.”

Other state medical figures calling for a uniform mask mandate including Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Medicine.

But in a press briefing Tuesday, Reeves declined to directly respond to these requests by state medical leaders and instead maintained his own view that county-level orders promote more urgency among local residents, as opposed to statewide mandates.

Reeves and Dobbs also discussed on Tuesday preliminary plans underway to distribute anticipate vaccines, though final federal approval has not yet been granted for any vaccine. However, state leaders think it likely that a vaccine produced by Pfizer will be approved and available in at least limited quantities in Mississippi perhaps as soon as this month.

Two other vaccines are also nearing potential approval by federal authorities.

Healthcare workers would be prioritized for the initial supply of vaccines, Dobbs said.

Until then, an increased level of reported infections remains expected over at least the coming week. Any transmissions linked to Thanksgiving holidays are not likely to have yet produced identifiable cases.

“We do expect more hospitalization and more deaths, which is inevitable,” Dobbs told reporters on Tuesday.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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