Mississippi Governor Vows to Defy National Lockdown if Biden Orders One

Gov. Tate Reeves, seen here during a July press briefing, is vowing to defy a national lockdown if President-elect Joe Biden orders one after his inauguration. Reeves' defiance comes despite the fact that he has not acknowledged Biden's victory. Photo courtesy Gov. Tate Reeves

Mississippi will not cooperate if President-elect Joe Biden orders a national lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tate Reeves said in a live-streamed address today.

“We’re going to try to work with whomever the president is, but we’re not going to participate in a nationwide lockdown,” Gov. Reeves, a vocal Donald Trump supporter, said today. (He avoided definitely referring to Biden as the winner of the 2020 election; President Trump has refused to concede the race despite a large margin of victory for Biden).

Reeves was responding to remarks Dr. Michael Osterholm, one of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 advisers, made this week. Osterholm, who serves as the director for the Center of Infectious Disease Research Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned that the U.S. is racing toward “Covid hell” this winter. 

A national lockdown of four-to-six weeks coupled with an economic package to cover lost income for workers and companies, Osterholm said, could help the country bring COVID-19 down to manageable levels while the nation waits for a vaccine. Pfizer plans to have a vaccine widely available next year.

“We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that,” CNBC reported the disease expert saying.

The Biden adviser said the spring 2020 lockdowns were not effective enough because they were not nationally coordinated, and some states were far less strict than others. 

‘Completely Beyond Reasonableness’

Biden has not said whether he would adopt such a plan, only that he would “listen to scientists.”

The idea is already a non-starter for Mississippi’s governor, who has at times adopted and, at other junctures, ignored recommendations from his own public-health experts.

“This notion that one of his advisers has said that all we really need is about a six-week national lockdown, and we can slow down the spread of this virus is totally and completely beyond reasonableness,” Reeves said today. 

“The people of Mississippi can’t just go home and shut down their restaurants, shut down their gym, and shut down their small businesses for six weeks and think you can just come back six weeks from now and flip a switch and everything is going to be fine.”

President-elect Joe Biden, seen here with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, has vowed to “listen to the scientists.” Photo courtesy President-elect Joe Biden

When the pandemic first arrived in the state in March, though, Reeves said Mississippi would follow the “South Korea model.” But that country implemented a national lockdown with far more strict enforcement mechanisms.

Unlike Mississippi, South Korea was able to wrest control of the virus in the spring, and has kept transmission at relatively low rates since, despite a comparatively small summer spike. 

South Korea, a nation of 52 million people, has identified fewer than 28,000 cases since the pandemic arrived there with only 487 deaths. Mississippi, which has a population of about 2.9 million, has reported 130,665 and 3,514 deaths so far.

Despite South Korea’s strict national lockdown early on and continued government efforts to mitigate COVID-19 spread there, South Korea’s economy has rebounded far more quickly from the worldwide recession COVID-19 unleashed this past spring than most counties. Economist Alex Holmes told Al Jazeera that South Korea is “one of the best-performing economies in the world this year.”

‘We Are Going to Continue With Our Strategy’

Tate Reeves has not referenced the “South Korea model” recently, but claimed today that he does not “believe that there is any constitutional or statutory authority for any president to shut down Mississippi’s economy.”

“We will certainly fight that if it becomes necessary. We as a state are going to continue with our strategy. It’s got to be targeted—targeted to those places where cases are worst across the state,” he said today. “It does us no good to shut down counties just so we can go on Facebook Live and say, ‘Hey, look at us, we shut things down.’ We’re trying to open things back up in a safe and responsible way.” 

Almost a month and a half after Gov. Reeves ended a statewide mask order that helped beat back a summer wave of coronavirus cases, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are once again surging across Mississippi.

The governor has since issued a patchwork of mask mandates only for counties hardest hit, with mixed results. The sheriff’s department in North Mississippi’s DeSoto County is refusing to enforce his mandate there, even as the county was down to just one ICU bed remaining this morning.

Statewide, only about 20% of staffed hospital beds and 12% of ICU beds remain available. The state reported almost 1,300 new COVID-19 cases today and 17 additional deaths. On Sept. 30, when Gov. Reeves allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire, the rolling seven-day average for daily new cases was 500; it is now more than double that.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who has pushed for more efforts to get Mississippians to mask up, tweeted out a grim warning about the state of hospital capacity in Mississippi this morning.

“Zero ICU beds in Jackson. Very few elsewhere. Please protect yourself and your family,” Dobbs wrote.

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