Today, Governor Tate Reeves will sign an executive order that mandates any schools within hot spot zones for COVID-19 delay starting until August 17.
Those areas are:
Boliver, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower, and Washington.
“This is what I believe is the best plan for the additional reopening of our schools,” said Reeves. “We will continually measure and assess the situation. We have to balance the very real risk of the virus into life long damage of school closures.”
He also issued a two week long statewide mask mandate. Furthermore, students six and older along with teachers will be required to wear masks will in school.
The order to delay school until August 17 will not impact non-public schools in these areas. Reeves also said he does encourage distance learning, and while the mandate might impact the school year length for some schools, if distance learning can be utilized it should be.
“Here’s the bottom line: we have to balance the very real risk of the virus and the lifelong damage of school closures. To do that, we have to safely provide education for the greatest possible number of children,” said Governor Tate Reeves at today’s press briefing. “The best way to accomplish that is to provide guidelines, allow local school leaders to tailor them, and step in with the authority of state government where it is absolutely necessary. That is what we’re doing today. This is the beginning of that effort, not the end.”
Numbers in Mississippi related to COVID-19 have been on the rise in the last few weeks putting Mississippi as one of the highest states per capita. The latest CDC rankings put Mississippi 5th nationally for incidences of COVID-19 at over 2,000 cases per 100,000 residents. Seven day averages of reported cases have been over 1,000 with roughly 968 hospital beds being occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The state has had over 61,000 cases of the virus and over 1,700 deaths according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Position of Healthcare officials
Recently, other healthcare officials in Mississippi have urged for later starts to K-12 schools.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs urged the delay of starting school for students from elementary to high school.
It is time to make the tough decisions – for the health of all Mississippians:
-a statewide mask mandate (wash hands, too!)
-K-12 schools delay start until after Labor Day (#COVID19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths need to move in the right direction)@UMMCnews
— LouAnn Woodward M.D. (@LAWoodwardMD) August 3, 2020
Woodward said schools should not start until after Labor Day, when they hope that COVID-19 case counts, deaths and hospitalizations have moved in the right direction, lower.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, State Health Officer with MSDH also shared his concern for students returning to school while Mississippi’s numbers still remain quite high. The most recent days have shown some indication that the state could be leveling off again, but Dobbs said that might not last too long.
During a video sponsored by the Mississippi State Medical Association, Dobbs said he believes the cases will soon level off but could rise again with the opening of schools and universities.
“I do think it’s a good idea to put our toe in the water a little bit, kind of go slowly, offer as much online as we can, maybe delay in person for a little while, maybe until September,” said Dobbs. He added that he was off when he initially thought that school starting back in August would be alright. He said it wasn’t until recently that he realized it was too soon.
He finally said, he does believe it is a good idea to delay schools from opening in person.
Dobbs also issued an order on Tuesday, for the isolation of individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We have a lot of COVID activity throughout the state right now, so it is absolutely critical that anyone infected with COVID-19, and not hospitalized, must remain in the home or other appropriate residential location for 14 days from onset of illness (or from the date of a positive test for those who are asymptomatic),” said Dobbs in the order.
The announcement to delay schools comes after all districts were required to submit their plans by June 31, for the Governor to review. He indicated in a Facebook post on Monday night, that today’s press conference would lead to more decisions regarding when students could return.
Elyse Marcellino with Empower MS provided their perspective on the subject.
“Every day our children go without access to a quality education represents a danger to their future. In this unsettled environment, all Mississippi families deserve the option to choose between in-person and at-home instruction. The state should take seriously the opportunity to offer a full-time, statewide virtual public school option to any student who is not comfortable returning to the classroom given districts’ differing abilities to offer both models to all students,” said Marcellino
Not everyone is supportive of the decision Governor Reeves made to suspend school start dates for only two weeks. The Mississippi Association of Educators called the order “reckless and irresponsible.” The posted on social media that “it ignores the advice of the state’s top medical officials and is putting students and educators and their families at risk.”
You can read both executive orders below: