TUPELO • With the state again posting a new highest single-day total of COVID-19 cases for the second time in a week on Thursday, Mayor Jason Shelton announced an intent to impose new safety orders, including masking requirements inside the city.
The Mississippi Department of Health on Thursday reported 1,092 new COVID-19 cases, which is by far the largest single-day increase yet. Five deaths were also reported.
The previous single-day case count peak was 611 reported on Tuesday.
Shelton told the Daily Journal his administration is currently drafting new emergency response orders, which will include a requirement that everyone wear a mask or face covering when inside a business in the city of Tupelo.
As of Thursday afternoon, the mayor said he anticipated the order will go into force at the beginning of Saturday after midnight. That means daylight hours on Saturday would be the first time residents and visitors inside the city would be under a masking order.
The mayor said his current plans do not call for a masking requirement outdoors, only indoors.
“It will probably be modeled on Oxford’s order,” Shelton said.
Shelton, Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill and Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill used their emergency powers to impose restaurant closures and shelter-in-place orders earlier this year before Gov. Tate Reeves imposed similar statewide provisions.
State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs spoke to local ordinances being helpful in gaining support for masking during a Thursday afternoon press briefing.
“On a local level, you have to support the rules that are there and pass your own rules. We’ve had a lot of great communities that have local mask ordinances and have that support. I think that’s really important,” Dobbs said.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Mississippi now stands at 24,516 with a death toll of 1,016. More than 17,200 patients in the state are presumed to have recovered from the virus.
The Mississippi State Department of Health said after Thursday’s data was released that COVID-19 cases are “rising fastest among young adults not following proper safeguards,” and urged Mississippians to wear masks or face coverings in public and keep strict social distancing whenever possible.
Although deaths are higher in older age groups, the 18-29 age group has the highest amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases with a total of 4,819.
“They’re mostly in young people who may not get deathly ill – but could easily debilitate loved ones,” Reeves said of the new cases. “I don’t know how to be more clear: Coronavirus is not gone just because you give up. It can still overwhelm us.”
Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Paul Byers used Thursday’s briefing to address the “evolving and worsening” pandemic in Mississippi.
“I would say that this is a surprise, but it’s not even remotely a surprise,” Dobbs said of the increase in cases.
He said there has been significant stress on the health system over the past couple of weeks.
“I’m absolutely terrified that we’re going to overwhelm the healthcare system, the hospitals and ICU – not in the fall which is something that had worried me previously,” Dobbs said. “But now I’m worried about next week or two weeks from now.”
Dobbs said the spike in cases is not due to an increase in testing.
“If you look at the number of tests we’ve done, we’re not doing any more tests than we did a month ago, at least not significantly,” Dobbs said. “We’re seeing a ton more cases, our percent positive is higher, we’re seeing significant hospitalization.”
He stressed that reckless social behavior is going to harm the state, its businesses and economy and will cause unnecessary deaths.
“We can stick our head in the sand and try to find excuses so that we don’t have to modify our behaviors, but it doesn’t change the truth,” Dobbs said. “The truth is there’s a lot of COVID out there, it’s killing people, it’s going to kill a lot of people and it’s going to stress out our healthcare system. That is just reality.”
Reeves also expressed concern over the rising number of cases during a brief livestream Thursday evening. He mostly addressed the rise being due to people becoming fatigued from COVID-19 safety measures and ignoring the rules. He emphasized the rise among young people in areas such as Oxford, Desoto County and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He did not attribute the rise in cases to opening the state back up.
“They’re not because the rules are too loose. It’s because people aren’t following the looser rules that we now have in effect,” Reeves said.
Reeves talked about working on additional actions to prevent the healthcare system from getting overwhelmed and said he was concerned about the impact cases could have in the coming weeks as it spreads.
“The virus is real. None of us have been perfect in responding to it. I’ve shaken people’s hands. I’ve not worn a mask every time I should have. You don’t have to be perfect, but I need you to not give up,” Reeves said.
Daily Journal reporter Danny McArthur contributed to this story.
Here’s a list of Northeast Mississippi counties with new cases as of Thursday: Alcorn (6), Benton (3), Calhoun (8), Chickasaw (14), Clay (7), Lafayette (14), Lee (26), Marshall (12), Monroe (10), Oktibbeha (17), Pontotoc (19), Prentiss (4), Tippah (6), Tishomingo (3) and Union (12).
Northeast Mississippi case numbers by county: