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'In A Fight For Our Lives': Mississippi Issues New Mask Order Amid COVID-19 Spike

Mississippi's governor has imposed mandatory use of face masks and limited nonessential gatherings in 13 counties, including those that cover the state's most populous cities, as COVID-19 cases have surged in recent days, causing record hospitalizations.

The state's Department of Health reported1,031 new coronavirus cases and 11 new deaths from the disease on Friday, one day after the State Department of Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said intensive care units in five Mississippi hospitals were full because of the increase in cases.

Gov. Tate Reeves, speaking on Friday, said Mississippians should "take this as an alarm."

"Mississippi is in a fight for our lives," Reeves said. "COVID-19 is an ever-present threat and we are in the middle of a spike."

He said the face masks would be required while at public gatherings or in a "shopping environment."

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has reported 34,622 confirmed cases and 1,215 COVID-19 deaths.

The counties that come under the stricter mandate were chosen because they had experienced 200 new cases within the last two weeks or had an average of 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the same time period. Counties that cover the cities of Jackson, Gulfport, Southaven and Biloxi were among those on the list.

Reeves had earlier closed public schools, limited nonessential gatherings to 10 people, shut down in-restaurant dining and curtailed visits to nursing homes and hospitals — although, as in several other states, churches were deemed essential and exempt from the 10-person rule.

Some of the restrictions were eased around the end of April, and by the start of June, most businesses were allowed to reopen. Before the end of the month, however, the state had seen more than 1,000 cases in a single day for the first time.

Just days ago, Reeves blamed the media and protesters for the latest spike but cited no data to back up the claim.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.