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Reeves adds seven counties to mask mandate

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is adding seven counties to his list of counties under a mask mandate, bringing the total to 22.

“Wearing a mask helps,” Reeves said at a briefing with press Monday. “It helps you. It helps your family. It helps your friends.”

Mississippi, like states across the country, is facing a surge in coronavirus cases. There were no ICU beds available in Jackson for several days last week, and hospitals are facing intense stress. Reeves said he implemented the mask mandates in counties with the highest number of new cases.

The new counties under the mandate are Hinds, Madison, Pontotoc, Tate, Winston, Itawamba and Montgomery. The 15 already under a mandate were Benton, Carroll, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Humphreys, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Leflore, Lee, Marshall, Rankin and Yalobusha.

The state  Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 134,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,545 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 589 cases and two deaths from the day before. Both deaths occurred on Saturday and were identified later using death certificates.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, health officials are worried that numbers could rise even more. Physicians have been urging families to stick to small gatherings and avoid large parties and events where vulnerable populations could be put at risk for coronavirus infection.

“We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas,” said Dr. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. “It’s going to happen. You’re going to say ‘Hi’ at Thanksgiving, ‘It was so great to see you,’ and you’re going to either be visiting by FaceTime in the ICU or planning a small funeral before Christmas.”

In a virtual conversation with Horne on Friday, state Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs asked that college students and other people returning home for the holidays get tested before seeing family members and isolate themselves in the days before making a trip.

“We know that a lot of folks are going to go back home for the holidays, but we don’t want them taking coronavirus with them,” Dobbs said. “Right now, it’s time to take care of yourself, take care of your family and take care of your vulnerable because it is out there in force.”