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Actions by our leaders kept Warren County from being declared a hot spot

We should have been. We fit all the criteria. In this, we had all the symptoms.

When the Mississippi State Department of Public Health released their daily COVID-19 report on July 24, Warren County crept into an area that would have normally led to it being declared a virus hot spot.

That announcement — that declaration from Gov. Tate Reeves and the state’s health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs — would have brought stringent social distancing measures for residents and businesses within the county. It would have brought a strict mandate requiring the use of a mask both in businesses and public buildings, as well as in public outdoor spaces.

It also would have brought with it a stigma — true or otherwise — of a community incapable of handling the spread of the virus.

For weeks leading up to that date, Reeves and Dobbs had said that any county that had more than 200 new cases or 500 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period would — not should or could — be declared a hot spot and receive those additional restrictions.

On July 24, Warren County not only had 248 new cases over the 14-day period but also recorded a ratio of 508 cases per 100,000 residents. It crossed both thresholds, but no declaration came. Maybe it would happen Monday. It didn’t.

For 10 consecutive days the numbers remained above those state thresholds, but still no state declaration. Why?

When asked by The Post if the numbers were merely a guideline or an absolute, Reeves gave every indication that they were absolute; that if a county reached those numbers it would see stronger measures. But, still, nothing came.

As the list of counties under those stronger guidelines grew to more than 30 — including neighboring Sharkey, Claiborne and Hinds — Warren County was never added, yet the numbers remained above those thresholds until they began to fall earlier this week. Monday, the 14-day totals still showed more than 200 new cases, but the ratio had fallen below 500 cases per 100,000.

The days since have seen even lower numbers.

While the state may not have a clear answer as to why the county was never declared a hot spot, we think we do.

Just days before Warren County reached those threshold levels, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. made a decision. He put in place a city-wide mask order that required masks be worn in businesses and public buildings. The Warren County Board of Supervisors followed with a similar order a few days later.

These elected officials, who receive information from local and state health officials on a weekly — if not daily — basis, saw what was happening and saw what was coming if nothing was done. They made a decision that was unpopular to some, but their actions may very well have kept Warren County off the state’s list and saved it from an image of a county unable, or unwilling, to do what was needed.

Since their actions, the state has issued stronger social distancing guidelines statewide and instituted a statewide mask order. The state has also required children, teachers, staff and administrators at schools to wear masks for the upcoming start of the school year and set in place additional restrictions aimed at curtailing the spread of the virus.

In the days since the city and county mask mandates were put in place, Warren County’s numbers have leveled off and begun to slide. Over the seven days ending Friday, the county saw an average of 12 new cases per day, including two days in which no new cases were reported. The seven days prior to that, the county had seen an average of 17 cases per day.

Throughout this months-long pandemic, where we have seen cases rise, slow, dip and then spike again, our leaders have made good decisions and bad, they have been quick to act, and at times slow to respond, but it appears they are learning and making adjustments.

All we can ask of our leaders — just like all we can ask of ourselves — is that they do their best; that they seek out the best information and advice and then make the decisions they believe are the best for our city, our county and beyond.