JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves ended a statewide mask mandate Wednesday but said he will still require people to wear face coverings in schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"We should not use the heavy hand of government more than it is justified," Reeves said at a news conference. "We have to tailor our actions to the current threat, and make sure that they do not go beyond what is reasonable."
Mississippi's statewide mask mandate has been in place since Aug. 4. Reeves, a Republican, has chosen to extend the mandate several times since then. However, on Wednesday, he said the declining number of confirmed virus cases and hospitalizations are positive developments that call for the lifting of some restrictions.
"We've cut our average number of new cases in half. We've cut our hospitalizations by two-thirds of what they once were," Reeves said. "We know that it was a very turbulent summer, but we have come out on the other side."
The new executive order ending the statewide mask mandate, effective Wednesday at 5 p.m. and expiring Nov. 11 — after the presidential election — also limits group gatherings where social distancing is not possible to 20 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
Reeves said there will still be restrictions on the number of people who are allowed in restaurants, bars and other businesses. College football games are already happening in Mississippi, and Reeves said people will still be asked to wear masks while attending games. The annual Mississippi State Fair starts next week in Jackson, and masks will be required at that event as well.
The governor said if cases of coronavirus start to rise again, he would consider putting a mask mandate back in place.
The announcement comes days after a fake letter made to look like it came from Reeves' office and that circulated on social media announced an end to the mask mandate.
Reeves spokeswoman Renae Eze said Monday that the letter was "absolutely fake." Those looking for a trusted source on the governor's pandemic response should stick to the government's official websites, she said.
The state health department said Wednesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 98,000 cases and at least 2,969 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. That's an increase of 552 confirmed cases and 12 deaths from numbers reported the day before, with 10 occurring between Sept. 18 and Sept. 29 and recorded later using death certificates.