Mississippi — one of the last coronavirus hot spots to make face coverings mandatory — now appears to be the first to let its mask mandate lapse.
Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced Wednesday that he will continue to urge Mississippians to wear masks in public but will not extend an executive order requiring them to do so. “I want to be clear, I still believe masks work,” he told reporters at a news conference, before qualifying that “there is a difference between something being wise and something being a government mandate.”
“We have to trust the people of this country to look after themselves and to make wise decisions,” he added.
Masks will still be mandatory in schools, and in some businesses like hair salons and barbershops where employees and customers come into close contact. Some cities, including Jackson, Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Oxford, have said that they will continue to require masks in public settings.
Reeves was reluctant to introduce a statewide mask mandate when coronavirus cases skyrocketed in Mississippi over the summer, explaining in July that he didn’t think the order would be an effective form of persuasion. He reversed course in early August, as cases began to decline from their July peak, but drew criticism that same month for going maskless at a crowded political rally in North Carolina. By then, most other hard-hit states — with the notable exception of Florida — had imposed mask requirements.
In recent weeks, Mississippi has averaged roughly 515 new coronavirus cases a day, about half the number being reported over the summer. Hospitalizations have also dropped, and Reeves on Wednesday encouraged schools to reopen. But State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs warned on Wednesday that the state is “still vulnerable for a rebound” and a second surge, the Clarion Ledger reported.