Gov. Tate Reeves is pleading with Mississippians to make a big effort with masks and social distancing over the next 10 days.

As he extended the state’s mask mandate on Monday, he said the state is poised to turn a corner with COVID-19 case counts.

“The next 10 days are critical, because we have an opportunity to really shoot the numbers down,” he said during a press briefing.

His optimism is based on the state’s R0 (“R-naught”) number of 0.9, meaning a person with COVID in the state will give it to 0.9 others. Only two states – Rhode Island and Arizona – currently have a lower R0 number.

“We’ve cut our weekly numbers in half,” said Reeves. “Now we need to cut them in half again.”

More people wearing masks “clearly have had a significant impact during the month of August in driving down our numbers,” he said.

Local officials are also urging citizens to continue to “mask up.”

“It is encouraging to see the number of people who have begun to take the mandate seriously,” said Code Enforcement Officer Kim Ratliff. “While there is growing participation in masking, the virus is still doing its work, as well.”

Much improvement has been observed in the locally owned stores. The city is making spot checks and responding to citizen complaints. The State Department of Health is also responding to citizen reports and has made some local visits.

Ratliff said most of the citizen complaints were initially focused on restaurants, but that has shifted to a mix of restaurants and retail.

“The mandate has teeth and it needs to be respected,” he said.

Reeves encouraged residents to be cautious on the upcoming holiday weekend.

“We know that with both Memorial Day and July Fourth, large gatherings occurred,” he said. “And, in many cases, there was transmission that led to increased cases.”

With the return to school, State Epidemiologist Paul Byers reported the preliminary school data for the week of Aug. 24 – 28, including 123 new cases among teachers and staff and 251 new cases among students. Those quarantined are about 3,400 students and about 450 teachers.

The 50 percent capacity for restaurants and other existing restrictions are extended two weeks under Monday’s order. The one change was lifting the limit of two spectators per participant for high school sports events, although the 25 percent capacity limit continues for stadiums and gyms.

Reeves asked citizens to continue to make the effort.

“If we keep doing the little things, we will see things continue to improve,” he said. “We will protect each other, and we will create an environment that is more like normal than what we’ve been dealing with for much of 2020.”

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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