MS Gov. Refuses Mask Mandates, Compares Covid-19 in Kids to ‘Sniffles’

Less than 24 hours after Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves tried to dismiss the threat that Covid-19 poses to children, an eighth-grader in the state died from complications due to the virus.

“If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles. Does it happen from time to time? Sure it does,” Reeves said at a news conference on Friday. Over the weekend, the U.S. hit a record high number of children hospitalized with Covid-19, as the Delta variant appears to affect younger people more severely than earlier versions of the virus.

And on Sunday, the Smith County Reformer, reported 13-year-old Mkayla Robinson’s death from the day before. According to multiple sources who spoke to the Mississippi Free Press, Robinson had attended school for most of the week in a district where masks were allowed but not required until three days into the year, when the school reversed course after numerous students and staff tested positive. The district then made masks mandatory.

Although Reeves implemented a state-wide mask mandate for the last school year, he has resisted doing so again. Unlike some other Republican governors, however, like Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’s Greg Abbott, Reeves has not barred local governments or school districts from implementing their own mask mandates.

“I don’t have any intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate for any category of Mississippians at this time,” Reeves said at a news conference Friday. “I don’t know how I can say that differently other than the way I’ve said it repeatedly for a number of days and weeks and months.”

Reeves frequently refers to himself as a numbers guy but could not accurately recall the number of children who have died of Covid-19 in his state. “I believe we have had one fatality of an individual, maybe it could’ve been two — I think there’s three under the age of 18 at this time? Two?” Reeves asked.

At that point, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s health officer, corrected the governor by holding up four fingers and saying, “Four so far and one this summer.”

Robinson’s death makes it five.

Even if a child gets Covid-19 and survives, they may have long-lasting symptoms that continue for months, often referred to as “long Covid.” While testifying before Congress in April, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, cited a study that estimated between 11 and 15 percent of youth who contract coronavirus experience long-term symptoms. These symptoms, Collins said, “can be pretty devastating in terms of things like school performance.”

Despite the evidence, Reeves is determined not to implement measures that would curb the disease’s spread. Last month, he said the CDC’s recommendation to resume masking indoors was “political panic so as to appear they are in control” and claimed it had “nothing to do with rational science,” according to the AP.

But a Duke Clinical Research Institute study found that universal masking in schools in North Carolina successfully quelled the spread of Covid-19. “With masking, the schools clearly can safely deliver face-to-face education for children and adults,” said Dr. Danny Benjamin, who co-led the study. “The amount of distancing, whether it’s less than six feet, less than three feet or no distancing at all, it didn’t make any difference at all… providing there was masking in place.”

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