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‘Mask Use Dropping Off Rapidly’ in Mississippi After Mandate’s End, Top Health Official Warns

Sen wicker sits on a plane with his mask hanging under his chin
A Delta Airlines passenger shot three photos of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker on a flight with a mask hanging under his chin in October 2020. Photo courtesy Matt Harringer

When Gov. Tate Reeves announced last week that he would not renew an executive order requiring Mississippians to wear masks in public places last week, he said he would “trust the majority of the people of Mississippi to do the right thing.” Most Mississippians would continue wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said.

In a tweet Sunday, though, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said he worries that many Mississippians are already ditching their masks less than a week after the governor let the mandate expire on Sept. 30.

“Please mask up. Discouraging to see mask use dropping off so rapidly after mandate lifted,” Dobbs tweeted on Sunday.

Over the weekend, Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, Roger Wicker, drew heavy criticism for failing to model mask-wearing behavior after a traveler tweeted a photo showing him seated in an airplane with a mask hanging under his chin—but not covering his face or nose. 

When the Sun Herald’s Anita Lee reported on the incident, Wicker’s office claimed that the senator only took his mask off for a moment to eat a snack.

But the passenger who made the photo, Washington, D.C., resident Matt Harringer, shared three time-stamped photos throughout the flight that showed him maskless at various points in the Oct. 1 flight—8:37 p.m., 9:27 p.m., and 9:46 p.m. In one photo, Wicker is using an iPad while his mask hangs under his chin.

The Wicker staff did not respond to a request for comment from the Mississippi Free Press.

With no mask mandate in effect, Mississippians began casting in-person absentee ballots today at their local circuit clerk’ offices statewide. Under the governor’s current orders, voters will not have to wear masks at polling places.

The Legislature adjourned over the weekend without taking up two bills that were aimed at making voting safer. One bill, proposed by two Republican legislators and a Democrat, would have allowed all voters to cast absentee ballots in person starting today to lessen crowding at polling places on Nov. 3.

The other bill, which Democratic Mississippi House Rep. Jeramey Anderson of Moss Point filed, would have required voters to wear masks at polling places.

“We do not want to endanger that progress or our voters, officials and poll workers,” Anderson said in a statement on Oct. 1. “I am proud of the growing number of Mississippians who are choosing to wear masks whenever they are out and about in our state. Please, everyone, let’s be responsible and mask up.”

With the Legislature adjourned for the rest of the year except in the case of a special session, it is unlikely either bill will become law.

Over the weekend, Mississippi surpassed 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 3,000 deaths. 

The somber milestones came a week after Mississippi reported the most COVID-19 cases among schoolteachers and students of any week since schools began reopening in late July and early August. Though Reeves’ mask mandate has expired for most public places, teachers, students and staff are still required to wear masks in Mississippi’s public schools.

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