Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, in his own low-key manner, spoke with sincerity and authority about the ravages of COVID-19 on himself, on others and on the state as a whole at a recent digital town hall hosted by Mississippi Today.
Hosemann contracted the coronavirus in the summer of 2020 and revealed his struggles to overcome the illness.
“I’ve run marathons, New York marathon and all the others, and I am a regular exerciser, let’s just put it that way,” he said. “And my goal some days (after getting COVID-19) was to try to walk a hundred steps, and many days it was difficult to do so, just a devastating thing.”
He also spoke empathetically of a friend – healthy, but unvaccinated – who died recently of COVID-19.
“One of the last things he said to his three sons before COVID claimed him was, ‘Please get vaccinated,’” Hosemann recalled.
The Republican lieutenant governor also put COVID-19 in the context of what it might mean for the long-term economic health of the state, calling it “the elephant in the room.”
“How do we sell businesses to come to Mississippi as the least vaccinated state? Is that our selling point? I don’t think so,” Hosemann said. “So all these (economic factors) have multiplier effects, not just from the actual virus itself, but also from the economic effects … And I want to be real clear about that. This is a negative economically to you and your family, but also to the whole state.”
Or put another way: Can Mississippi’s population decline be reversed, as leaders say they are striving to do, when the state is mired in some of the most negative coronavirus outcomes in the world?
A few days after Hosemann’s comments, Gov. Tate Reeves appeared on a national news show where he was asked about those bad outcomes – specifically, the state’s highest COVID-19 fatality rate in the country.
The governor’s response to a question about what he was doing to combat that high fatality rate appeared to be that it was only a matter of timing, and that the death rate was “a lagging indicator.” As other states experience the surge in cases that Mississippi endured in July and August, Reeves contended, they would surpass Mississippi as having the highest fatality rate.
Perhaps that is true, but surely no one is wishing that the death rate increases in other states.
In that national interview, the governor could have said correctly that Mississippi has some unique challenges in fighting COVID-19. For instance, he could have pointed out that Mississippi for decades has been one of the unhealthiest states in the nation with multiple diseases that unfortunately make people more susceptible to dying from the virus.
In addition, Mississippians have less access to health care providers than people in just about any other state.
Granted, Reeves didn’t bring any of those problems to Mississippi, though it could be debated whether his policies – as a key state policy maker for more than a decade – have done enough or anything to reverse those trends.
In addition, Reeves could have pointed out that Mississippi also faces unique challenges in dealing with getting people vaccinated. The state has the highest percentage of African Americans and one of the highest percentages of non-college educated white people in the nation. These are two groups with lower vaccination rates nationally, though it should be pointed out the percentage of Black Mississippians who have been vaccinated is higher than the national average for Black Americans.
Ultimately, there are many factors that place Mississippi behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to battling COVID-19.
It also could be argued that those factors place more of a burden on Mississippi leadership to say and do the right thing to battle the pandemic. That is where many have questioned Reeves’ leadership. Many argue that his constant equivocation on whether Mississippians should be vaccinated has given people just another reason not to get the shots. He also has waged his war on mask wearing accusing people of “virtue signaling” for wearing a mask.
Reeves called the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that even vaccinated people should wear a mask in some settings “foolish, and it is harmful. It reeks of political panic, so as to appear that they are in control. It has nothing, let me say that again: It has nothing to do with rational science.”
In a state like Mississippi, with so many pre-existing conditions that make fighting the coronavirus that much more difficult, the question is whether it is in the best interest of the leader of the state to spend time battling with others instead of fighting the pandemic.
As Hosemann pointed out, the future of the state and the lives of many of its citizens could hang in the balance.