With Mississippi Hospitals Near Calamity, Gov. Reeves Left State For GOP Political Event

Governor Reeves sits at a table at an RGA event while another Republican governor speaks
While leaders at struggling hospitals systems called for help amid the latest COVID-19 surge, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, right, attended an out-of-state Republican Governors Association meeting on Aug. 10, 2021. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey revealed his whereabouts inadvertently when he tweeted this photo. Photo courtesy Gov. Ducey

“Hospitals and healthcare workers need you to help us,” Neshoba General Hospital CEO Lee McCall tweeted desperately at Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves yesterday as COVID-19 continued to overwhelm the state’s least vaccinated county. “Where are you?”

The answer, Arizona’s governor inadvertently revealed, was that the Mississippi governor was once again out of state. He was attending a Republican Governors’ Association meeting just one day after the state health officer announced that no intensive-care beds remained statewide. Mississippi Today’s Adam Ganucheau also reported that Reeves was attending the RGA event yesterday.

“Excited for day 2 at @The_RGA 2021 Candidate Conference to continue discussing what’s next for our nation and the importance of conservative principles with our future leaders,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted yesterday. He attached a photo showing GOP governors seated in a conference ballroom, with Reeves visibly seated on the right side of the podium.

Meanwhile, Neshoba County’s hospital was overflowing with patients and, according to McCall, he and hospital workers were “all at our breaking point.” Meanwhile in Jackson at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where there is no longer enough staff to tend to all patients in need of ICU treatment, officials were asking the federal government for help setting up a field hospital in the medical center’s parking garage.

‘It Reeks Of Political Panic’

On July 29, Gov. Reeves spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, where thousands of mostly maskless attendees gathered. While there, he criticized the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance for people to wear masks in public as “foolish and harmful.”

“It reeks of political panic so as to appear they are in control. It has nothing to do with rational science. In Mississippi, we believe in freedom,” said Reeves, who last year ordered a statewide mask mandate and required masks in schools, but refuses to do so this year as the more contagious delta variant rips through classrooms. “In Mississippi, it is our belief in God that has gotten us through this last year and a half.”

In the two weeks since that speech, COVID-19 cases in Neshoba County have risen 605% compared to a 118% increase in the state overall. In an Aug. 2 episode of MFP Live, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Dobbs said that he expected to see outbreaks from the fair, which drew thousands of attendees this year, especially due to the crowded fair cabins there.

“What we see that worries me more about Neshoba (County Fair) is not the concert as much as it is 30 people sleeping in a cabin overnight, right? I mean, this is the challenge about masks,” Dobbs said on MFP Live Aug. 2. “ … [F]or Neshoba, there’ll definitely be transmission events linked back to that.”

In recent weeks, the governor has repeatedly rejected the Mississippi State Department of Health and Dobbs’ for a statewide public-school mask mandate.

Gov. Reeves also left the state last month as the delta surge was mounting, including for an earlier RGA event that he attended in Aspen on July 20. That same day, Dr. Dobbs announced that 13 intensive care units had run out of capacity for additional patients.

The state’s ICU capacity has since dropped to 0, with patients on waiting lists for ICU beds amid staff shortages at hospitals statewide). The governor was still out of state in Orlando a week later when Dobbs warned on July 27 that “we are seeing more and more ICU capacity being extinguished.” He returned in time to give his speech at the Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi’s biggest annual political speaking event which attracts a mostly white, conservative and Republican-friendly audience.

‘Failure Of State Leadership Has Lead To This Moment’

Aside from lambasting mask mandates, Gov. Reeves has spoken sparingly about COVID-19 since his last press conference on the virus in April. Until today, he had tweeted only once about the virus this month to share data from MSDH and telling Mississippians to “do the right thing for your family.”

On June 18, just as the delta variant began to spread in the state, Gov. Reeves announced that he would withdraw the Mississippi National Guard from COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts on July 15; he also announced that he would end Mississippi’s COVID-19 State of Emergency order on Aug. 15. Less than a week later, on June 24, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned of “ominous” signs in the data and predicted that “it will be our dominant strain in 1-3 weeks”; subsequent data suggests it already was by that time.

Dr. Alan Jones, assistant vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center,
“Since the pandemic began, I think the thing that hospitals have feared the most is total failure of the hospital system. And if we track back a week or so when we look at the case positivity rate, the rate of new cases, the rate of hospitalizations—If we continue that trajectory within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we’re going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi,” UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said during an afternoon press conference on Aug. 11, 2021. Photo by Nick Judin

The delta variant had already begun sending COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations soaring by mid-July when Gov. Reeves followed through on his plans to withdraw the National Guard from testing and vaccine distribution, staging a tour across the state to meet with and thank members for their work. Since then, testing has become more scarce in parts of the state, forcing some Mississippians to wait in long lines and, in some cases, pay for testing themselves.

Despite the dire situation statewide as medical leaders turn to the federal government for help, Gov. Reeves is still currently set to plow ahead with ending the state’s emergency order on Friday.

Reeves Falsely Claims Hospitalizations Below 2020 Highs

Amid mounting criticism, the governor broke his silence today at 12:29 p.m., posting a message on Facebook and Twitter declaring that his team is “not panicking.” Despite the fact that Mississippi reported all-time highs for cases, ICU patients and patients on ventilators yesterday, Gov. Reeves suggested that the state is not at a new peak because overall COVID-19 hospitalizations remain slightly below the January peak.

“Total hospitalizations remain below where they were at our peak from August of 2020. Total number of patients in ICU beds remains at or near our peak levels from August 2020,” Reeves wrote, contradicting clear data showing that the situation today is far worse than it was a year ago.

UMMC Garage B is being converted into extra bed space
The federal government is helping UMMC set up a field hospital in the parking garage basement that could serve as many as 50 patients. Photo by Nick Judin

In fact, Mississippi surpassed its summer 2020 highs for ICUs on Aug. 6 and for ventilators on Aug. 8. ICUs peaked at 337 in August 2020 and are at 371 today, while ventilators peaked at 198 in August 2020 and are at 234 today. In December 2020, the governor similarly denied that the fall and winter surge represented a new peak despite data contradicting his claims.

Hospitalizations surpassed last summer’s peak of 982 patients on Aug. 2 and are at 1. The state surpassed its summer 2020 highs for ICUs on Aug. 6 and for ventilators on Aug. 8. ICUs peaked at 337 in August 2020 and are at 371 today, while ventilators peaked at 198 in August 2020 and are at 234 today. In December 2020, the governor similarly denied that the fall and winter surge represented a new peak despite data contradicting his claims.

Reeves: ‘Remain Calm. Ignore All The Irrational Folks’

Today, Dr. Thomas Dobbs also revealed that Mississippi has surpassed all prior peaks on those metrics, including its Jan. 6, 2021, hospitalization record of 1,444.

“We have just now surpassed the worst of what we saw in the winter,” Dobbs said this afternoon. “We anticipate that there’s going to be a significant impact on schools in coming weeks.”

“My number one goal from day one of this pandemic has always been to protect the integrity of our health care system,” Gov. Reeves said in this statement on Twitter today.  He has repeatedly rejected many health leaders’ recommendations in recent weeks, including for mask mandates in schools.

Reeves also suggested that hospitals may be partly to blame for “labor shortages,” saying without evidence that some people have left “due to administrative decisions (such as mandating vaccines).” But that claim ignores the fact that hospital vaccine mandates are recent. 

Dr. Dobbs announced that Mississippi had lost about 2,000 nurses over a seven-month period on July 23—two days after UMMC became one of the first hospitals to announce that it would require workers to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or wear masks on July 21. Other hospital systems in the state followed suit with similar masking options for those who decline vaccination.

In his post, the governor provided followers with a list of actions that various parts of the state government is taking, including UMMC’s request for federal assistance with a field hospital and MSDH’s decision to delay elective surgeries until Aug. 15. 

“As you can see, in spite of the angry rhetoric coming from so many, our emergency management team is doing what it does—we are calmly dealing with an ever-changing environment to meet the needs of Mississippi. I remain incredibly proud of all the work being done by the Mississippi National Guard, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi Department of Health, and our many partners,” Reeves wrote. “Please…Pray for your fellow Mississippians. Be smart. Remain calm. Ignore all the irrational folks.”

But in recent weeks, much of the anger and frustration has come from health-care leaders in the state who are frustrated with leadership. After Mississippi Free Press State Reporter Nick Judin broke the news this morning that the University of Mississippi Medical Center was setting up a field hospital and seeking federal aid, American Academy of Pediatricians Mississippi Chapter President Dr. Anita Henderson criticized state officials on Twitter.

“Failure of state leadership has led to this moment. We have vaccines for kids 12 and up and mitigation measures that would have worked,” Henderson tweeted, while also thanking Dr. Dobbs and other Mississippi health-care leaders, including at MSDH and UMMC.

Mississippi Broke Pandemic Records Yesterday

As of yesterday, 1,378 Mississippians were hospitalized for COVID-19 with all-time pandemic highs of 388 in ICUs and 249 on ventilators. MSDH also reported the highest one-day toll for new cases since the pandemic began on Tuesday, with 3,488 new infections detected. 

After reporting 36 deaths yesterday, the state reported 25 more deaths today and another 3,163 cases. At least 7,710 Mississippians have died since the pandemic began.

Watch, listen or read/search full transcript of State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explaining on MFP Live how the delta variant spreads, its dangers and specific safety precautions from school assemblies, to flying, to masking.

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