Last week, Gov. Tate Reeves lifted the statewide mask mandate and any remaining COVID-19 related restrictions on businesses. This is the second time Reeves has lifted the mask mandate, doing so as well last September, as reported by Bobby Harrison with Mississippi Today. It was reinstated a few months later in December after ICU beds filled up across the state, as noted by Jacob Gallant of WMC-TV. I understand the impatience; I understand the importance of maintaining our economy, but this call comes just a little too early.
The point of all of the mandates and restrictions was never to halt the virus but to slow the spread enough so hospitals do not become overrun with patients at the same time. Each time a new wave of COVID-19 cases surges, hospitals and health care professionals are bombarded with patients. According to Ashton Pittman with Mississippi Free Press, as Mississippi's 890 ICU beds fill up rapidly, hospitals are forced to turn patients away at the door.
According to a graph shared by Mississippi's Public Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi saw its first peak in August with 989 cases in a week. As this major wave passed, Reeves lifted the mandate, then watched as it skyrocketed over the holiday season to 1,252 cases confirmed on Dec. 17. ICU beds in Mississippi filled up. In response to this, the mask mandate was reinstated by Reeves on Dec. 22. We are now going to repeat this cycle.
Beyond the beds, it is also morally cruel to subject healthcare professionals to that level of stress simply so we can have our return to normalcy. It is not about whether or not you and I want to wear a mask in Walmart. It is about mitigating the suffering of COVID-19 patients, doctors and any other healthcare workers taking care of the ill.
Furthermore, it is not like we are actually keeping numbers that low anyway. According to the daily COVID-19 coverage at the Mississippi State Department of Health, we have had 260 new cases confirmed since 3 p.m. on March 6, weeks before we will see the jump following the governor's recent executive order. As recorded on the Mississippi Department of Education website, the majority of Mississippi public schools closed on March 16, 2020, just five days after the very first positive test happened in Mississippi.
Further, our return to normalcy would be so much sweeter if we actually knew it was over. According to Zac Carlisle of WTVA, the city of Starkville is not lifting the mandate, as it is a city by city choice, nor is Mississippi State University making major adjustments to the COVID-19 policy, excluding higher levels of admittance to outdoor sporting events like baseball and softball.
No, the world is not normal. The pandemic is not over. On March 6, the U.S. suffered from over 1,400 COVID-19 related deaths, as reported by the New York Times. This number is over 15 times higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report of the average number of car crash related deaths per day in the U.S. If Mississippi waits longer to lift the restrictions, all of this has been for something. The long months of lockdown, excruciatingly monotonous days of Zoom calls and discussion posts — they were not done in jest. We did these things to minimize death and disorder and to save lives. Giving it all up this close to the end by suddenly deciding the protection of our fellow man is not a noble enough pursuit to keep at the hard work is to give this painful lifestyle we have been living a weak exhale of an ending. It diminishes our achievement, saving lives, to just being something we did for a while but got bored of.
Vaccines are being rolled out nationwide, and we are well on the way to being finished safely with the whole debacle. However, we are not there yet, and Mississippi lifting the mandate early is just guaranteeing healthcare workers a few more months of chaos and the death of more Mississippians.
No one likes masks. No one would choose to enforce social distance practicing for the sole reason of tanking Mississippi businesses, but the bitter medicine is working. COVID-19 deaths are down in places which are enforcing strict COVID-19 guidelines. The paradox lies in the fact Reeves is looking at the low numbers and taking it as evidence for us to return to normal when, in reality, it says the opposite. Instead, it is evidence which proves mask mandates and social distance requirements are working, and we should continue them until everyone who wants a vaccine has it.
When asked about extending the mask mandate as Alabama governor Kay Ivey did, Reeves responded to CNN's Jake Tapper this past Sunday by saying, "When you look at the numbers in Mississippi, it doesn't justify government intervention. It doesn't justify statewide mask mandates."
The correctness of this statement is up for debate, but the simple truth remains. Reeves' job is to protect Mississippians, and removing the mask mandate does the opposite. Reeves' executive order is premature and ultimately will exist as another stain on the history of the state of Mississippi. As the vaccine is slowly rolled out, Mississippi is preparing for one last hospital crisis, one last filling of the ICU and one more wave of lives lost.