Gov. Tate Reeves announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, reinstating mask mandates for nine counties — including DeSoto County — and ICU requirements on hospitals statewide.
Previous measures, which have been praised by local health experts and been criticized by residents who feel that it is government overreach, have often not been enforced by law enforcement around the county.
Troy Rowell, Chief of Police for the Horn Lake Police Department, said that with limited resources, police have to choose what to prioritize, and policing those not wearing masks is not one of them.
“We’re not the mask police and have no intention of being the mask police,” Rowell said.
A spokesperson for the Southaven Police Department said there have not been discussions between leadership about enforcement of the mask mandate.
Anyone violating the mandate could technically face a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. This acts as a deterrent, according to Rowell. Members of the Horn Lake police said they have sometimes seen people without masks who are about to enter a store turn back and leave if they see an officer wearing a mask inside.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s state health officer, agreed that the mask mandate from the state government resulted in more residents wearing masks and, in turn, reduced the spread of the virus.
While DeSoto County has maintained the third-highest number of total infections statewide, the number of new cases and infection rates continues to rise.
The number of new cases averages at 35.8 per 100,000 people. To compare, Harrison County, which has a larger population than DeSoto County, averages 25.6 new cases for every 100,000 residents. DeSoto County’s report of average daily new cases has been steadily climbing since Oct. 5, when the daily new case average sat at 13.5 per 100,000.
DeSoto County currently has an infection rate of 1.24, ranking fifth highest in the state. This means that each person in DeSoto County with COVID-19 is infecting 1.24 other people. This number has continued to rise since Sept. 22, when the county saw a lower infection rate at .93.
Reeves’ amended executive order requires health care facilities to reserve 10% of their ICU capacity for COVID-19 patients. If they do not adhere to this requirement, they cannot perform elective procedures.
Additional restrictions are also being placed on the counties that have faced the highest levels of transmission per capita over the past two weeks. Face coverings will be required in public and social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors in these counties. The executive order went into effect on Oct. 21 and will expire on Nov. 11 unless extended.
The counties with additional COVID-19 safety measures are Chickasaw, Claiborne, DeSoto, Forrest, Itawamba, Jackson, Lamar, Lee and Neshoba.
“We’ve seen this before. We know what can happen if we allow this to get out of control, and so we want to be proactive to prevent that from happening,” Reeves said. “None of these elements are silver bullets. None of them will totally eliminate the virus. We have to allow for life to go on in the meantime. As we wait for a vaccine, our mission is the same as it ever was: to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. That has to be the focus.”
Reeves is using the criteria he established during the summer wave for placing restrictions on individual counties: more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents over a designated two-week period.
A county having more than 200 new cases over a two-week period was another criteria used by Reeves when he issued mandates on a county-by-county basis, but is granting exceptions this time. Rankin, Hinds and Harrison counties have met that criteria, but Reeves attributed it to their high populations and said he would not “punish” them for it, but was still open to adding them to the mandate if necessary.
Coronavirus cases have spiked statewide since Reeves made Mississippi the first state to lift a mask mandate on Sept. 30. Reeves was reluctant to issue a statewide mask mandate during the summer wave of infections, only doing so as hospitals became overwhelmed.
“As I've said many times throughout 2020, we have to avoid using the heavy hand of government unless it is truly necessary,” Reeves said. “We should always be as limited as possible, while never ignoring the risk of inaction.”
During a recent visit to DeSoto County, Dr. Dobbs expressed concern that the state would return to peak levels of virus transmission. He also raised alarm over a decline in Mississippians following public health guidelines since the mask mandate was lifted. Over the period it was in effect, Mississippi cases dropped by 54%.