Mississippi school officials have ordered at least 12,700 students, teachers or school staff members to quarantine because of confirmed or potential COVID-19 infections since the start of school, new figures from the Mississippi State Department of Health show. The numbers, announced today, only cover cases or quarantines reported as of Friday, Aug. 28, and include 1,248 educators and students with known novel coronavirus infections.
The updated figures come as 53 more Mississippi public schools are set to welcome students back in the next week. Students at Natchez-Adams School District and the Lowndes County School District returned this morning.
Yesterday, Gov. Reeves issued an executive order increasing the number of spectators allowed at school sports events and other activities, including football games, to 25% capacity.
“As our numbers improve, we’ll be able to do more and more safely in the community,” he said at his Monday press conference. “Nothing is without risk, but we have to allow life to go on and to deal with these challenges that are before us.”
The new cases and quarantines that MSDH reported for last week are about the same as the ones the department reported the week before. School officials confirmed 138 new cases among teachers and staff members and 280 among students. Schools quarantined 3,730 students last week and 532 teachers or staff members.
Still, only 753 schools are currently reporting to MSDH, an increase of just 33 since last week. There are 1,063 public schools in Mississippi, and all but several dozen have already reopened. Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said last week that MSDH is working with districts to start getting reports from the outstanding schools.
Before school reopenings, several of the top health officials in the state, including Dobbs, cautioned Gov. Reeves against reopening schools in August. Mississippi hit its peak in new COVID-19 cases in late July. Though numbers statewide have since come down, daily cases and deaths still remain above spring and mid-summer highs on most days.
“The next 10 days are critical,” Reeves said at his press conference on Monday as he extended Mississippi’s mask mandate, which includes schoolchildren ages 6 and older, for another two weeks at a press conference yesterday.
Reeves recently came under scrutiny for a campaign stop with a North Carolina gubernatorial candidate where he wore no mask as he greeted a crowd of hundreds. Later, he appeared for President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech and posted a selfie of himself and Mississippi first lady Elee Williams Reeves, both wearing red “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” masks.
Footage from the event, though, showed that neither the governor nor his wife wore masks as they sat among a crowd of thousands on the White House lawn.
Medical experts say that, while there is still risk of infection while wearing a mask, they can significantly cut down the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Mississippi’s first school district to reopen, the Corinth School District, started classes on July 27. Within days, the school quarantined more than 100 students. Hundreds more schools began reopening in early August, with the rest set to open by Sept. 9.
While a handful of districts opted for virtual only learning, the vast majority reopened in traditional classroom settings with social-distancing measures.