Mississippi governor's mask mandate expands to 16 counties

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he is extending a mask mandate to seven additional counties to try to control the spread of the coronavirus as cases increase rapidly in some areas.

His new order takes effect Wednesday and lasts until at least Nov. 11. When it is in place, 16 of Mississippi's 82 counties will have a requirement for people to wear face coverings when they are indoors away from their homes. Social gatherings in those 16 counties also will be limited to 10 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.

The counties Reeves is adding are two of the larger ones in the state, Harrison and Madison, along with the less-populated Benton, Carroll, Jones, Leake and Marshall counties. Those with restrictions he set last week are DeSoto, Jackson, Lee, Forrest, Lamar, Itawamba, Neshoba, Claiborne and Chickasaw counties.

Reeves said the restrictions are in counties that have had at least 200 confirmed virus cases or at least 500 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents during a recent two-week period.

“If you live anywhere in Mississippi and you want to be in the game and help us reduce the risk of spread and overwhelming the health care system — you go out in public, wear a mask," Reeves said during a news conference. “Stay socially distanced. Don't get close to one another. Don't have big events ... for social purposes.”

The Republican governor said he does not anticipate that he will set a statewide mandate for people to wear masks to polling places on or before the Nov. 3 election.

“I do anticipate that the vast majority of Mississippians, when they go vote, are going to wear a mask,” Reeves said.

Mississippi confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 in March. For the first few months, Reeves set county-by-county mask mandates only in places with rapidly increasing case numbers. His only statewide mask mandate was in place from Aug. 4 to Sept. 30.

The state health department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 115,000 confirmed cases and at least 3,263 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening.

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