In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Tate Reeves labeled several Mississippi counties – including Forrest – as COVID-19 hotspots, and he said he would sign an executive order to delay the opening of schools for grades 7-12 in those areas.
Reeves – who also announced a statewide mask mandate at the press conference – said he was largely deferring to local school leaders and their virus plans, but he planned to delay the start of the academic year in Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower and Washington counties until Aug. 17.
Those counties have more than an absolute number of 200 cases and have experienced 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks, he added.
“Teenagers can be effective spreaders of this virus, and we need to work to get our overall transmission rates down,” said Reeves.
The governor added that he must “pump the brakes in hardest-hit areas” to lower transmission and infection rates, but he reiterated numerous times his belief that schools must open for in-person classes as soon as possible.
“I believe in my heart that we’ve got to get our kids back in school,” he said. “If you wear a mask, if you socially distance, if you do the little things … it will make a difference.”
Reeves said the state will continue to assist local school districts in their reopening.
“We will continuously measure and assess the situation, but here’s the bottom line: we have to balance the very real risk of the virus and the lifelong damage of school closure,” he added. “To do that, we have to safely provide education for the greatest number of children. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to provide guidelines and allow local school officials to tailor them … and step in with the authority of state government if necessary.”
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer, said the state Health Department reported 1,074 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional deaths on Tuesday.
“We’re hoping we’re seeing a bit of plateauing of the number of cases, especially if you look at the date of onset; that’s a lot more telling about where we’re going,” he said. “Certainly, you don’t want to be too complacent, because we do see these variabilities from time to time … so we need to monitor them closely over the next few days to see if there is a plateau.”
Dobbs said there is still considerable stress on the statewide hospital system.
“We have the most ICU patients we’ve had to date at 314, 173 on mechanical ventilators, 963 in the hospital altogether,” he said. “There’s a lot of stress within the health care system, and we understand they’re under significant strain.”
There have been 1,653 COVID-19 cases in Forrest County with 53 deaths. In Lamar County, there have been 1,146 cases with 13 deaths.