Even as he ordered Mississippians to limit indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people, Gov. Tate Reeves said he would continue to host Christmas parties at the governor’s mansion this month. Hours later, he held a Christmas party at the Jackson mansion.
“The governor’s mansion is not just a mansion—it’s a museum that is typically open, and usually in any one year, people come through it. … The first lady and her team have just done a wonderful job decorating the mansion,” Reeves said yesterday.
Reeves said he would continue to have friends, family, state legislators and other Mississippi officials over for holiday festivities despite urging families around the state to avoid large gatherings. He also promised to allow Christmas tours of the mansion to continue.
The governor said guests would be required to wear a mask indoors and that an outdoor space would remain open to avoid surpassing indoor limits.
“It allows us to really send a message to the people of Mississippi that you can return to a life that is somewhat normal, but you’ve got to do it in a way that minimizes risk, that mitigates risk, that does things like ensures that we only allow 10 people indoors at any one time,” he said.
The Daily Mail, which published photos from Gov. Reeves’ mansion party last night, reported today that “there appeared to be little social distancing” and “it appeared only the servers were wearing facial coverings.”
Reeves’ Christmas festivities are at odds with guidance Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has given repeatedly. Last month, he urged Mississippians to limit even holiday gatherings only to those who live in the same household. Otherwise, he and other public health leaders said, families that held large Thanksgiving gatherings could be planning small funerals by Christmas.
Many Mississippi families ignored that advice, though, and held large Thanksgiving dinners. Those gatherings led to a new surge in coronavirus cases at a time when infections were already on the rise.
Yesterday, Mississippi reported 2,746 new cases of COVID-19—the single worst day in the state since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations have also risen to an all-time high of 1,166, leaving hospitals across the state strained for resources, with many now out of beds. The Mississippi State Department of Health has reported an additional 122 deaths among Mississippians in the past three days alone.
But Gov. Reeves continued to look for silver linings at a press conference on Wednesday.
“There were 2.8 million Mississippians that didn’t get the virus today. … I trust the vast majority of Mississippians to make good decisions most of the time,” Reeves said.
He expanded county-level mask mandates to include 61 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. He continues to refuse to issue a statewide order, despite health experts’ repeated pleas in recent weeks.
Reporters asked Reeves why he was ignoring health experts’ guidance.
“They don’t work for me. They work for the Board of Health. … That doesn’t mean we agree on every single decision that has been made. In fact, fortunately, in 99.99% of those, we have been able to find a consensus,” Reeves said.
The governor said there is “no question” that if people wear masks, stay home (except for work, school and other necessary activities) and avoided social gatherings “for weeks and weeks and months and months into the future, it would help slow the spread of the virus.”
“As governor, I have to look at the public-health impacts, but also a lot of other things that are occurring out here,” he said. “So what I think we are doing by offering the public the opportunity to tour the governor’s mansion is to offer a sense of normalcy, but to recognize that you can have a sense of normalcy while at the same time recognizing that the virus is real and there are ways which you can do things that may not eliminate the spread of the virus but to minimize and mitigate the spread of the virus.”
Reeves said, as he has before, that “there is no perfect answer.”
“The virus is going to virus. It is going to spread.”
He said one of the “more frustrating things about 2020” for him is “mask shaming.”
“We don’t have to pick on each other. We don’t have to tell everybody that they’re stupid,” he said.
On Dec. 2, Dr. Dobbs issued a public health advisory urging “all residents of Mississippi” to “avoid any social gathering that includes individuals outside of the nuclear family or household” and that Mississippians “only participate in work, school or other absolutely essential activities.”
Asked how he felt about the governor’s decision to continue hosting Christmas parties at yesterday’s press conference, the state health officer avoided criticizing the governor.
“A lot of the stuff the governor’s talking about sounds like work to me, so I understand there’s going to be some nuance there,” Dobbs said. “It’s really important to reinforce that message of, ‘Hey, let’s pull back a little bit.’”
Later, he noted that “it’s a risky time to be together.”
“If you go to a party of 10 people, just on average, there is a 19% chance that somebody there is going to be shedding the virus,” Dobbs said.
The state health officer praised county and city-level leaders who have begun issuing local orders that are more strict than those the governor has issued.
“It’s not just up to me and the governor for this to go well—it’s up to everybody,” Dobbs said. “And I’m proud to see local leaders making hard decisions to protect their constituents. That’s real bravery and I appreciate it.”