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Mississippi 8th Grader Dies With COVID Hours After Gov. Reeves Downplays Child Cases (Updated)

Dr Thomas Dobbs looks at Governor Tate Reeves as he speaks at a press conference
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, right, watches Gov. Tate Reeves during a news briefing regarding Mississippi's COVID-19 response in Jackson, Miss., Aug. 13, 2021. During the briefing, Gov. Reeves struggled to accurately say how many children have died of COVID-19 in the state. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

This breaking Saturday-night story was updated Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, with additional details and the identity of the 13-year-old who died on Aug. 14, the same day a local 20-year-old young mother who died of COVID-19 was buried in the same county.

An eighth-grade girl died the morning of Saturday, Aug. 14, in Raleigh, Miss., mere hours after testing positive for COVID-19. Multiple sources told the Mississippi Free Press that the student had attended classes at the school most of the week, including Wednesday, before testing positive for COVID-19 at week’s end. Her health quickly declined afterward.

Photo of young Black woman MKayla smiling and holding awards. She is thin and grinning widely
Mkayla Robinson died of COVID-related complications on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, her local : newspaper reported. Photo: Raleigh HS Band Facebook page

On Sunday, Aug. 15, the Smith County Reformer, the area’s long-time local newspaper, reported that 13-year-old Mkayla Robinson “who has died of complications from Covid-19.”

“Mkayla was in the Jr. High Lion Pride Band and was an outstanding band member and student,” the Reformer reported. The official cause of death and specific details of the COVID-19 complications were not available at press time.

Raleigh High School Band Director Paul Harrison posted on the band’s Facebook page at about noon on Saturday about the loss of the eighth-grader: “It is with great sadness, and a broken heart, that I announce the passing of one of my 8th grade band students. She was the perfect student. Every teacher loved her and wanted 30 more just like her. Please pray for Raleigh Junior High, the band, and especially the family as they deal with this.”

Reeves: ‘Three Under the Age of 18 at This Time? Two?’

Classes began in the Smith County School District, where Mkayla Robinson attended school, on Aug. 6. Unlike last year when Gov. Tate Reeves mandated masks in all public schools, the district decided in June that it would “allow” students and educators to bring face masks to school but would not require them. Photos posted on school Facebook accounts on the first day show maskless students walking through the hallways in close proximity.

But as students and employees in the school district tested positive within the first three days of classes, the school district reversed course. “After much consideration for the welfare of our children, Smith County Schools will require all personnel and students to wear a mask,” the district announced on Aug. 10. By Friday, at least 76 students and 11 educators had tested positive; 411 students and 11 educators were quarantined by that point.

The Raleigh student’s passing came the morning after a press conference on Friday in which Gov. Tate Reeves reiterated that, unlike last year, he will not mandate masks in schools this fall.

“I don’t have any intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate for any category of Mississippians at this time. 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,” the governor said in response to a question from Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus.

The governor who frequently calls himself “a numbers guy” then struggled to recall how many children have died in Mississippi since the pandemic arrived.

“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,” the governor said. “Does it happen from time to time? Sure it does. 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?”

The governor looked behind him at Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who held up four fingers.“Four so far and one this summer,” Dobbs told Reeves. 

That figure, of course, did not include the Smith County child who died Saturday morning

Dobbs: Masks ‘Right Thing to Do to Keep Kids in Schools Longer’

A teen in Pearl River County’s Picayune School District died of the virus in late July, several days before classes began. The nearby Pearl River County School District, which began with no mask mandates, announced earlier this week that classes would go all virtual amid widespread outbreaks.

Tate Reeves speaking at podium
At a Friday, Aug. 13, 2021 press briefing, Mississippi Gov. Tates Reeves downplayed the COVID-19 risk to children and said again that he definitely would not require masks in all Mississippi schools. Photo: Facebook Live stream

“So for those under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible for the vaccine, it is highly unusual for there to be any significant effects,” Gov. Reeves said Friday. “But for that parent who has a kid that they’re worried about, if their kid is going to a school, I would recommend that they go to their school district if they think the best thing to do is to make masks mandatory in their school district, then they have every right to do so.”

“Also,” Reeves added, “if the school district will not agree with the opinion of that particular individual, and he or she is worried about their kid that’s under the age of 12 going to school, they certainly have the option of encouraging their kid to wear a mask in the classroom and to protect themselves if they believe that will have a significant impact on protecting their kid in the classroom. I have confidence that all of the schools in Mississippi are taking all of the local factors into account.”

Minutes before the governor made that pronouncement, however, Dr. Dobbs stood at the podium and urged masking in schools.

“We do know kids in a structured setting with masks on is the right thing to do to keep kids in schools longer,” the state health officer said.

Younger People Dying from Delta, or Left with ‘Long Covid’

The current delta variant has driven the pandemic to new heights while affecting younger Mississippians over past mutations. Mississippi currently has zero adult ICUs available statewide due to widespread COVID-19 outbreaks. Mississippi’s only pediatric hospital, the Children’s of Mississippi, announced earlier this week that it is full, including with children in pediatric ICU beds and on ventilators for life support. 

Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaking at podium
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs took a different approach to virus precautions than the governor on Aug. 13, 2021. “I’m vaccinated: I wear a mask in public. I’m avoiding indoor social gatherings … and I’m not going to go to a bar or sit around with other people and breathe in indoor air.” Photo by Nick Judin

Dr. Dobbs said Friday that while most children recover from COVID-19, about 5% deal with long-term complications and health issues from “long COVID.”

The deceased Smith County child’s vaccination status is unknown at press time. Statewide, only 12% of children ages 12 to 15 are vaccinated. Children younger than 12 are not currently eligible for any of the currently available vaccines for the general public.

The Smith County Reformer also reported that a 20-year-old local woman had died from COVID-19 in recent weeks and was buried the same day that Mkayla Robinson died.  Madison Stanley died July 31 at St. Dominic Hospital after suffering for several weeks from the effects of the virus. She gave birth to a healthy son before she died, the Reformer reported.

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