On Friday Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves broke his long silence to address the skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers but failed to implement any statewide mandates.
As it was when the COVID-19 pandemic began to show up in the state in large numbers, Reeves again deferred to local governments to impose their own restrictions. A month after cities and counties throughout the state implemented those policies — including mask mandates — Reeves began to implement similar policies. Based on his statements Friday, it seems unlikely that Reeves will ever implement mask mandates for any segment of the population, no matter how grave the circumstances become.
So any measures to slow the spread of the Delta variant, which is far more infectious and poses a greater threat to people of all ages, will be left to local governments, which will bear the responsibility and, inevitably, the criticism that comes with it.
In March 2020, Golden Triangle cities and counties acted in one accord, implementing measures that included mask-wearing, social distancing and capacity limits within a few days of each other.
While the number of cases has never been higher — more than 5,000 in the state last week — it seems unlikely that our local governments will act in unison.
The first of those local governments to take up the issue this time around were the Lowndes and Oktibbeha board of supervisors. While the Columbus city council will discuss a mask mandate at tonight’s council meeting, it is not on the Starkville Board of Aldermen agenda tonight and Mayor Lynn Spruill said she doesn’t expect the matter to be raised.
Lowndes supervisors stopped short of implementing a county-wide mask mandate, instead voting to give county administrator Jay Fisher the authority to implement and modify policies as needed.
Supervisors voted to allow County Administrator Jay Fisher to implement policies based on CDC and state health department recommendations. This will allow the county to react quickly as the situation evolves. As we have seen, COVID is not static nor are the circumstances and risks to public health associated with it. Allowing Fisher to act based on the latest guidance provides flexibility and allows policy changes to be made quickly as the situation warrants.
Effectively immediately, all Lowndes County employees will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Citizens will be required to wear masks at all indoor county buildings as well.
Oktibbeha County supervisors discussed a mask mandate, but took no action Monday.
It will be interesting to see what the Columbus City Council chooses to do tonight, especially given the reluctance of the Lowndes County supervisors to implement a large-scale mask mandate.
While we do believe that there is a good argument to be made for mask mandates, we recognize that unless cities and counties act together, it will be difficult to implement those measures. Also, as we saw when various mandates were previously lifted at different times, policies can be confusing when they aren’t in line with each other.
Given that, we believe that the action taken by the Lowndes County supervisors may be the best viable course, at least at this point.
Individual businesses retain the right to require masks, of course, but mask-wearing at this point is likely to be a matter of personal choice.
We urge everyone to wear masks when visiting indoor public places, not in compliance with a rule but as a matter of conscience.
And, of course, we implore those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so. A high vaccination rate reduces the need for masks and other precautions. Until that happens, wearing masks should be viewed as a civic duty.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.