JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Gov. Tate Reeves said he based his decision to lift Mississippi’s statewide mask mandate on encouraging numbers -- lower average daily coronavirus cases and fewer hospitalizations -- the state’s health officer couldn’t conclusively say that ending the mandate was the right move.
Reeves praised Mississipians during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing for helping reduce the state’s cases considerably. When the mask requirement was put into place on August 5, the state had already seen 17 consecutive days with more than 1,000 daily average coronavirus cases.
Those daily averages now hover above 500.
“For the heavy hand of government to tell you that you must do something, then the underlying conditions should justify it. When we were at our peak and we were making those decisions, the numbers absolutely justified it," Reeves said. “But because of the work and the effort of the people of Mississippi, we’re in a different spot now.”
The new executive order, which takes effect until November 11, still requires masks in schools and among employees at businesses throughout the state, but no longer requires them in most instances. Reeves said he believes the decision to end the mask mandate was the right decision to make at this time.
When asked that same question, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs initially said there’s a lot to consider where that’s concerned.
“I mean, everyone needs to wear a mask, there’s just no doubt about it,” Dobbs said. “As far as the balance of, you know, liberties and public health, I understand that’s, that’s a debate that happens.”
Dobbs then sidestepped answering 3 On Your Side’s question to address another reporter’s question concerning voting concerns, saying that those voting in-person should wear a mask because of the high risks involved among older Mississippians.
Fifteen minutes later, we asked Dobbs the same question again, whether lifting the statewide mask mandate was the right thing to do.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it depends on what we do,” Dobbs said. “We went into the fall and I was really worried. And with the schools, the schools have been fantastic. If we go into this and the people are responsible and wear the mask, it’s going to be the, you know, that’s going to be probably the right thing to do.”
Dobbs mentioned the psychology behind mandates, where people sometimes aren’t as compliant when something is required.
“Legitimately, I don’t know. I’m going to wear a mask. I’m going to eat outside,” Dobbs said. “I’m not going to have any small gatherings. I’m not going to go to weddings of my family and it breaks my heart. I think these are decisions that we all kind of have to come to.”
Because of the uncertainty in Dobbs' answer, 3 On Your Side then asked whether or not he encouraged the governor to extend the mask mandate.
“I encourage the governor to look at the data. And he always does. And he’s, I’ll tell you, he’s very thoughtful and very analytical,” Dobbs said. “We did talk about priority groups, and you know, schools and stuff like that.”
Reeves said he still wants Mississippians to wear them, and will encourage that, but won’t require it.
3 On Your Side asked the governor for clarification that the state was going from requiring masks by law to hoping people will wear them -- essentially, the honor system.
“We are moving to an executive order wherein I trust the people of Mississippi to do the right thing. If you want to call that the ‘honor system,’ that’s fine with me," Reeves said.