After spending several days with his family at a Gulf Coast resort, Governor Tate Reeves has announced his latest plan for dealing with the coronavirus epidemic in Mississippi.
Basically, except for a “handful” of hot spot counties, Reeves has bounced the school reopening ball back to officials in individual school districts.
Even while passing them the ball, he stated that he thought it would be beneficial to delay openings in most cases.
Reeves announced that an Executive order has been signed that will mandate a delay opening of school for 7th – 12th graders in “hot spot” areas until August 17. The eight counties are: Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower, and Washington. These counties meet certain guidelines, based on number of cases and upon exceeding 500 cases per 100,000 population.
Other public school districts may reopen as local officials see fit. Reeves’ order will require students and staff to wear masks in all public schools. Private school are not under obligation to follow the state decisions.
Reeves believes that the mandating of masks in 37 counties has elicited a high degree of cooperation from citizens and has also had the result of slowing COVID-19 spread in those areas. Many citizens and officials have wondered why that mandate was not made statewide.
Because of the local results in the mandated counties, he is now initiating a two week statewide mandate for the wearing of masks for everyone throughout the state. His hope, he says, is that the mask mandate will be followed by those who want to get the schools open in a safe manner that will allow the schools to remain open. This mandate comes four days after the deadline for school districts to present their plans for reopening. In fact, some state schools are already open.
State Health Officer Dobbs has issued a public health mandate requiring 14 days of isolation for any persons who tests positive. Refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.00 or imprisonment for up to five years or both. State cases are overwelming the tracking and contacting systems, so isolating is an important step in controlling the spread of the virus. Dobbs indicated that there could be circumstances under which he would activate the stated penalties for refusal to follow the order.
Dr. Dobbs also stated that he believes it ‘makes sense’ that districts consider delaying opening for several days, because of the likelihood of transmission in the older grade age groups. As Reeves said, “teens spread virus.”
Both Dobbs and Reeves stated their opinion that it would be a good idea for all school districts to consider delaying reopening schools for about two weeks. However, Reeves reiterated several times that ultimate decision is left to individual school district officials, other that where the executive order mandates otherwise.
Reeves says this entire issue is a “gray area,” and “some of our decisions may change.” in the future. Mississippi is currently dealing with two public health crises are being managed at this time: The coronavirus pandemic, and the public health problems created when large number of children have not been in school for five months.
The governor has said that “…we have to balance the very real risk of more community spread and the devastating life impact of extended school closures.”
Just yesterday, Reeves deputy chief of staff, Parker Briden, told reporters that Reeves had gone to the coast- avoiding crowds and poring over a foot high binder full of school districts’ plans, while spending “a few secluded days with his girls before they return to school.” It seems that all his pondering has resulted in a mixed message to school offficials, teachers, parents and students throught the Mississippi public school system: most of you can do whatever you decide to do.
This is, in its final analysis, much the same thing he has been saying for much of the time Mississippians have been caught up in the coronavirus pandemic.
Dobbs stated, “We have a lot of COVID activity throughout the state right now, so it is absolutely critical that anyone infected with COVID-19, and not hospitalized, must remain in the home or other appropriate residential location for 14 days from onset of illness (or from the date of a positive test for those who are asymptomatic).”
The failure or refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is, at a minimum, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 (41-3-59) or imprisonment for six months or both. If a life-threatening disease is involved, failure or refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.00 or imprisonment for up to five years or both (41-23-2).
MS politics, Northeast MS news, school reopenings