Gov. Tate Reeves announced new measures — a face-covering mandate in all counties for public gatherings and retail settings for the next two weeks.
Also, all adults and kids in schools must wear masks, unless there is a medical reason not to.
“I (had) taken a piecemeal approach (to masks) because I believe firmly that this was the best way to get the most number of people to participate,” Reeves told reporters Tuesday.
“I believe that there is enough motivation (now) to safely get our kids in school that we can really juice the participation of mask wearing throughout our state for the next two weeks,” he said.
The high positivity rate is concerning “because it mirrors the health disparities that you already have in the state,” said Dr. Marinelle Payton, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Jackson State University’s school of public health.
“Taking something like Covid-19, compounded with all the other health problems that you have in the state, that’s what makes it so devastating,” said Payton, also a former physician and epidemiologist at Harvard.
‘I worry about the fatigue … in our health care workforce’
Hospitals, especially in Jackson, are struggling to keep up, officials say.
“Right now, we (Mississippi) are having our surge,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the top executive and an emergency room physician at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
“For us to get where we are, I think in part that reflects the rural nature of the state. But now we are seeing community spread in all corners of the state, including our most rural areas.”
Daily hospitalizations have risen, from about 700 at any given time in mid-June to more than 1,100 now, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Coronavirus patients account for only some of those ICU beds — but they take away space that otherwise is needed for other maladies, Woodward said.
As recently as July 24, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said some patients were flown to Georgia for medical care because none of the state’s nine major medical hospitals had available ICU beds.
“We’re seeing a lot of stress within the health care system,” Dobbs said Tuesday. “So please stay safe and try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus for everyone’s sake.”
While discussing some people’s refusal to wear masks in public, she said, wearily, according to the Free Press: “Please don’t make this worse for us.”
Mississippi ranks near the bottom for physicians per capita, Woodward told CNN this week.
“(Battling coronavirus) is very taxing, it’s exhausting, and there’s no relief team in sight,” Woodward said. “I worry about the fatigue and the weariness in our health care workforce in the state of Mississippi.”
A push to reopen schools
On Tuesday, he said that in eight counties with high case counts, schools for grades 7-12 must delay opening until at least August 17. He cited studies showing that older children may spread the disease more readily that younger ones.
Reeves said he was optimistic that people in the 37 counties that had mask mandates before Tuesday were increasingly wearing face coverings and that case numbers will go down.
“With a two-week push (of a statewide mask mandate), I believe we can have the maximum effect and allow for our education for our kids to occur,” Reeves said.
Dobbs asked that the public skip social events this month, to give schools and businesses a fighting chance for normalcy.
“If we can all just chill out for the next two to three weeks, consistent with the mask mandate,” he said. “We are undermining our ability to start school and keep businesses open because we want to have dinner with our friends who come in from out of town.”
‘We need a uniform response by the state’
Payton, the Jackson State University professor, warned that because many in the state are underprivileged, a significant portion of Mississippi’s populace may be vulnerable to the worst of Covid-19.
“How are you going to tell someone who lives way up in the Delta” to have hand sanitizers and take certain other precautions “when they can’t even afford it?” she asked.
“You (often) have several generations of families living in one house. It’s very difficult to socially distance when you have several people in one home,” she said.
“We need a uniform response by the state,” he told CNN Wednesday.
CNN’s Theresa Waldrop, Janine Mack and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.