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First Mississippi Child Dies of COVID-19; Gov. Reeves Pushes Racist Virus Theory

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves used a racist descriptor for the novel coronavirus during a press conference today and repeated a debunked conspiracy theory. File Photo/Ashton Pittman

“We’re sad to report the death of a healthy child between the ages of 1 and 5 years old today,” Dobbs said at a press conference with Gov. Tate Reeves today. 

The child died with the coronavirus-linked MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines as “a rare but severe condition that has been reported approximately 2-4 weeks after the onset of COVID-19 in children and adolescents.”

Children who develop MIS-C following a coronavirus infection can experience fever and inflammation of the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

“The child died from coronavirus and MIS-C. … It’s a sad and a powerful reminder that even though most people get over it just fine, even healthy young people can die from it,” Dobbs said.

The health department also reported that someone between ages 11 and 20 died of COVID-19 and MIS-C over the past week. MSDH lists it as a “pediatric” death.

MSDH has reported a total of three MIS-C cases among children ages 1-to-5 so far, two among kids 6-to-10, and two in the 11-to-20 age group.

‘The Danger Zone’

The Magnolia State’s first child death comes weeks after most Mississippi schools began reopening, though 53 more are set to reopen within the first two weeks of September.

Mississippi has reported 8,887 COVID-19 cases in children under age 18 since March, including about 700 in the past two weeks.

Yesterday, MSDH reported that K-12 schools had already identified 766 students and 482 teachers with positive COVID-19 cases by Friday, Aug. 28. Schools have ordered more than 12,700 students, educators and school staff members to quarantine in the month since schools began reopening.

Today, the Forrest County Agricultural High School announced that its entire football team, which includes 58 students, is now under quarantine after a player and two employees tested positive for the virus. The school has cancelled its planned seasoned opener at Bay High School in Bay St. Louis, which had been set for Friday. A number of other public schools have quarantined athletic teams in recent weeks as well.

Douglas Chambers, a University of Southern Mississippi historian who has studied past pandemics and closely monitored COVID-19 data since March, told the Mississippi Free Press today that he has seen a new pattern emerge among new COVID-19 cases since Aug. 25. The groups seeing the fastest increases in new cases are ages 18-to-29, followed by 11-to-17-year-olds and then people 80 and older, he said.

Across the state, colleges and universities have reported hundreds of COVID-19 cases and quarantined hundreds of students, some in dorm rooms or hotels, since reopenings began in August.

Historian Douglas Chambers warned in July that Mississippi was already facing a “pediatric COVID crisis” that would only grow worse as schools reopen. Photo courtesy Douglas Chambers.

In late July, Chambers told the Mississippi Free Press that he feared an unfolding “pediatric COVID crisis” would grip the state if schools went ahead with August reopening plans.

“This is just begging for trouble … for the state as a whole,” he said in July.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who pushed schools to reopen in-class instruction as the state hit its COVID-19 peak in late July, said today that Mississippi is “almost out of the danger zone.” He cited decreases in confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU patients since mid-August.

The number of patients with confirmed infections is now 654, down from 963 on Aug. 14. But the number of patients with suspected COVID-19 cases nearly rose dramatically today, from 135 reported on Tuesday to 202 reported today—the highest number of suspected cases since Aug. 15.

MSDH reported another 33 deaths today, including four among people in long-term care facilities, and 781 new COVID-19 cases statewide.

‘Let’s Put That Silliness to Rest’

During today’s press conference, Dr. Dobbs sought to shut down rumors that Mississippi and other states are overcounting coronavirus deaths by including people who died from other causes—a false conspiracy theory that President Trump himself has pushed by pointing to the fact only 6% of people who died with the coronavirus had no other comorbidities, like heart disease or diabetes.

“We take it very seriously and look into this very closely to see that it was COVID that caused the deaths we report,” Dobbs said today.

He shared death certificates, including some that showed people died from “acute respiratory failure” caused by COVID-19. Others, though, cited heart disease or diabetes as the cause of death, while noting that the deceased also had COVID-19. The State does not count those as COVID-19 deaths, Dobbs said. 

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs debunked a false conspiracy theory about COVID-19 deaths at today’s press conference. Photo courtesy MSDH

“Perhaps we’re over-conservative. But the people from Mississippi who have died from COVID that we have reported definitely died from coronavirus,” the state health officer said. “So please, let’s put that silliness to rest.”

Dobbs urged Mississippians to spend their Labor Day wisely, and to “not repeat the errors of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.” On both holidays, Mississippians joined for large gatherings across the state that resulted in large outbreaks. 

“This is not the time to be having big family gatherings or big social gatherings,” Dobbs said.

Reeves Repeats ‘Racist’ China Conspiracy Theory

During the same press conference, though, Gov. Reeves repeated a debunked conspiracy theory, claiming the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.

“Had this virus not escaped, however it occurred, from the lab in China, I don’t know that we’d be having the kind of conversations that we’re having all day, every day. And that’s a fact,” Reeves said.

That is not a fact. Trump, who Reeves often praises in his press briefings, has repeated claims that the novel coronavirus originated in and may have been engineered in a Chinese lab. 

Though the virus originated in China, research has proven that the virus was not man-made. On April 30, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the theory.

“The Intelligence Community … concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” said in an April 30 statement. Scientists and intelligence officials have also reported no evidence that an unaltered version of the virus escaped from a Chinese lab.

During his comments, Reeves also mimicked Trump as he referred COVID-19 as the “China Virus.” 

The World Health Organization issued guidelines in 2015, recommending against naming diseases after people, places or jobs to avoid unfairly stigmatizing groups of people.

After the press conference, Alissa Zhu, an investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger with Chinese family heritage, offered the governor some advice. “There are names for the thing causing the pandemic that are not racist or xenophobic. The coronavirus. COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2, if that’s your jam. Let’s go with those instead,” she tweeted.

Minutes later, though, the governor doubled down in his own series of tweets, writing that he would “never be sorry for assuming the worst about a government that works against the USA.

“Whether it was a Chinese wet market or lab as intel first said, the Chinese Communist Party needs to own the fact they unleashed this virus and lied about it,” Reeves tweeted.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, seen here with First Lady Elee Williams Reeves wearing masks at the White House last week, repeated President Donald Trump’s false claims about COVID-19 and China during today’s press conference. Photo courtesy Gov. Tate Reeves

The governor has been silent about Trump’s own lies about the virus (except when repeating ones like the China lab claims), though, and praised the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic during his briefing today.

As the coronavirus picked up steam across the U.S. in February, Trump repeatedly downplayed it, with false claims that it was “no worse than the flu.”

“You have 15 people (with COVID-19) and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” Trump said on Feb. 26.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” he said at a rally two days later, also bizarrely calling the coronavirus outbreak a political “hoax” that Democrats were trying to use to hurt his re-election chances.

In the months since, more than 185,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, including 2,493 Mississippians. The United States has seen one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world and accounts for about 22% of all confirmed deaths worldwide, despite only representing around 4% of the world population.

“It is what it is,” Trump said when asked about the death toll in an Aug. 4 Axios interview.

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