Joel Miles, the mayor of Wiggins, Miss., died last night after a two-week hospitalization for COVID-19. He had been ill since November.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce that Mayor Joel Miles has passed away. We appreciate your prayers. Please continue to pray for the family and the City. We will miss him,” the City of Wiggins announced in a statement last night.
Miles, the 67-year-old leader of about 4,600 people in Stone County, “was adamant about wearing his mask,” his wife, Mary Miles, said in a Dec. 12 Facebook post as her husband’s condition grew more dire.
“When this COVID journey began for us, Joel told me that whatever he might face, for us to be as transparent as we can with everybody. … He felt he needed to do everything he could to protect people,” Mary Miles wrote. “He faced many people every day that felt it was unnecessary to wear (a mask). As he was trying to protect others, not everyone did their part to protect him.”
Emergency workers transferred the Republican mayor to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport late on Dec. 11 after George Regional Hospital, where he was first hospitalized in Lucedale, told the family they had “exhausted all of their resources.” As of Dec. 13, Memorial Hospital had only one staffed bed available out of 195.
In her Dec. 12 post, Mary Miles admitted that she had not always taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.
“When COVID-19 first appeared, I, myself, said some very ignorant things concerning this awful disease. But I have learned the hard way this is not a hoax,” she wrote. “It is real! … If you don’t agree with me, it’s okay but just remember this. This is my post and I’m doing EVERYTHING I know how to do to help someone else.”
When Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves ended the statewide mask mandate on Sept. 30 as the state successfully beat back the summer surge, Wiggins’ Board of Alderman responded by extending a local mask mandate.
“I think the best thing to do is to continue for two weeks as we have been doing,” the Stone County Enterprise reported Mayor Miles saying at the time.
But with the statewide mask mandate gone, local leaders have struggled to convince residents to comply with city and county-level mask mandates. When cases began rising once more by mid-October ahead of record-breaking surges in November and December, Gov. Reeves opted to reissue some mask orders, but on a county-by-county basis—and only after a county had suffered a sustained outbreak.
Those orders have met with less compliance than the statewide order. In comments under Mary Miles’ Dec. 12 Facebook post, a number of residents said they were disappointed that business owners and other locals in Wiggins had not complied with local mask orders.
By the time Gov. Reeves issued a county-level mask order for Stone County on Nov. 24, Mayor Joel Miles, who had led the City of Wiggins since voters first elected him in 2013, was already infected.
“I would not want ANYONE to be in my shoes right now,” Mary Miles wrote in her Dec. 12 post—a day before her husband’s death. “I only say these things to try to help someone else. I beg you, PLEASE wear the mask!”