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Gov. Reeves issues statewide mask mandate

The executive order also requires all adults and children in schools to wear face masks
Governor Reeves speaks at a news conference in Jackson
Governor Reeves speaks at a news conference in Jackson(WTOK)
Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 2:26 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WTOK) - Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced two new executive orders Tuesday to delay public school reopenings in target counties and establish a statewide mask mandate in the ongoing fight against this unprecedented pandemic.   

“Here’s the bottom line: we have to balance the very real risk of the virus and the lifelong damage of school closures. To do that, we have to safely provide education for the greatest possible number of children,” said Reeves. “The best way to accomplish that is to provide guidelines, allow local school leaders to tailor them, and step in with the authority of state government where it is absolutely necessary. That is what we’re doing today. This is the beginning of that effort, not the end.”

Working closely with officials in the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi State Department of Health, Reeves is directing school districts in counties with higher risk of community transmission and recent spikes in new cases to delay the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. Under Executive Order No. 1517, school districts in the following counties must delay their reopening for grades 7-12 until Monday, August 17: Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower, and Washington counties.

The new executive order includes a statewide mask mandate for schools, instructing all Mississippians to wear a mask when inside a school building or classroom, or outside on a school campus when social distancing is not possible.

To combat rising cases and ramp up response efforts across the state, Reeves also issued a statewide mask mandate for all Mississippians to wear a mask when in public, with exceptions including for children under 6 years old, those who cannot cover their face for medical or behavioral conditions, and those at religious worship.

Going into effect Wednesday morning, Mississippians must wear a mask when they’re inside a business, school, or any place open to the public, or when at an outdoor public space where social distancing is not possible. 

You can view the signed versions of the new executive orders here: Executive Order No. 1516, Executive Order No. 1517

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Earlier:

JACKSON, Miss. (WTOK, WLBT) - Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced his decision on reopening of schools.

“None of this is simple,” Reeves said.

He explained that school districts across the state have guidelines in place as precautions against COVID-19, including not using cafeterias, sanitizing the buildings, and staggering in-person schedules to limit the number of children in schools.

Reeves is issuing an executive order to delay in-person learning for students in 7-12th grade in schools in hot spots. That includes: Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower, and Washington counties.

The order also requires masks in schools for teachers and students. He says 51 districts are scheduled to start this week, unless there is a medical exemption.

Reeves also issued a statewide mask mandate for two weeks.

“These are hard times, and hard times require hard truth,” he said. “We cannot and will not prevent everyone from acquiring COVID-19.”

“We are facing two questions, how to prevent rampant community spread and prevent lifelong damage from extended school closures,” said Reeves. “Our office has been flooded with calls from teachers who are not ready to return to school.”

The governor said he has gone through 598 pages of school reopening plans.

“Our decision here today is the beginning of the conversation, not the end,” said the governor.

Whenever possible, he said he will allow local school officials to decide their return plans.

An executive order will mandate the wearing of masks in all retail settings statewide.

Reeves said he has taken a piecemeal approach on his state orders but did so in the belief that participation would be greater and he says it has worked. People are, by and large, rule followers, said the governor.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says if “we could just chill out for a couple of weeks”, avoid parties and other social events, it would go a long way to reducing the risk of coronavirus.

Also Tuesday, Dobbs issued a statewide order for the isolation of people diagnosed with COVID-19, effective immediately. The order stipulates that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 must immediately isolate at home.

“We have a lot of COVID activity throughout the state right now, so it is absolutely critical that anyone infected with COVID-19, and not hospitalized, must remain in the home or other appropriate residential location for 14 days from onset of illness (or from the date of a positive test for those who are asymptomatic),” Dobbs said.

The failure or refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is, at a minimum, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500.00 (41-3-59) or imprisonment for six months or both. If a life-threatening disease is involved, failure or refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.00 or imprisonment for up to five years or both (41-23-2).

Persons infected with COVID-19 should limit exposure to household contacts. No visitors should be allowed in the home. Please stay in a specific room away from others in your home. Use a separate bathroom if available. If you need to be around others in your home, you should wear a face mask. Please see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-prevent-spread.html for guidance on preventing transmission in the home.

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