Mississippi is about to find out how many of its residents are willing to abide by an order to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Tate Reeves recently issued a mandatory mask order for 23 counties, including some of the state’s most populous. Interestingly for him, some of the counties involved are among the state’s most heavily Republican, so this will be a good way to find out what percentage of the governor’s political peers adhere to his instructions.
Reeves made masks mandatory in counties with high levels of virus transmission. It applies to Jackson and its two largest suburban counties, Madison and Rankin; as well as the Gulf Coast counties that are home to Biloxi and Pascagoula, plus DeSoto County along the Tennessee line.
The mandate also applies to people who go out in public in seven smaller counties. The closest ones to this part of the state are Claiborne and Jefferson counties. People must wear a mask in public, including in an outdoor setting where people do not remain six feet apart. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people, while only 10 people can get together indoors.
This must have been a tough decision for Reeves, who is as stalwart a Republican as there is in Mississippi and has spoken often about the importance of reviving the economy. The vast majority of people who oppose the heavy hand of government telling them what to do are Republicans; yet Reeves, citing the increasing number of virus cases, just told a bunch of them they have to wear masks in public.
Many people have become accustomed to wearing masks regularly, and they should be complimented for their diligence. But those who are healthy and who have either a philosophical or comfort reason to object to a mask are not wrong.
Nobody likes the state ordering them to cover their faces. And setting aside the philosophical debate for another day, even the softest mask gets uncomfortable after just a few minutes. You definitely have to get used to wearing it.
That said, if masks significantly reduce the number of infections, the 13 counties under the mandatory order ought to benefit.
It probably helps that this order is coming from someone like Reeves. He’s not prone to going overboard with excessive restrictions, and it would be foolhardy for him to ignore the recommendations of the state health experts. Other governors around the country have learned this lesson.
As virus tests now take several days to be analyzed, we won’t know for up to two weeks whether the mask order has any effect. But the most interesting element of this story is not the order itself, but seeing what percentage of the public follows it, and how strictly the order is enforced.
It should be deemed a success if a substantial majority in the 23 counties go along with it as a means of getting this pandemic under control.
Jack Ryan is editor and publisher of the McComb Enterprise-Journal.