Reeves' criteria for COVID-19 hot spots changes, yet still uses older data

Governor says week-old data is used to give contact tracers more time to be thorough
Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 10:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Starting Wednesday, seven additional Mississippi counties will face greater coronavirus restrictions -- including mask mandates -- in an effort to slow surges of transmission in certain parts of the state.

However, a 3 On Your Side analysis of the process to determine those counties reveals it isn’t something the public can follow or factcheck.

When the state’s first county-by-county mask mandates were established in mid-July, Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters what seemed to be the only criteria: at least 200 new cases or 500 cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week period.

This time around, Reeves doesn’t use reported case numbers solely, but instead looks at other breakdowns, including that county’s date of onset of illness statistics, data that has never been released to the public.

“[The mandates] are based upon the date of onset of illness. That’s why the Department of Health and their data gatherers and data collectors are so very important in this process," Reeves said.

One of the counties that seemed an unusual choice was Madison, the only Jackson metro county now under a mask mandate even though Hinds and Rankin counties have had more cases over the last two weeks.

In the period ending Sunday, Madison had 311 reported cases of coronavirus; by contrast, Hinds (490) and Rankin (352) had more.

Reeves said that’s not accurate based on their data, which is an older two-week period used for determining these hot spots, a period that ended more than a week ago.

“If you look at both Hinds and Rankin, they did not meet that criteria this week. But both of them are relatively close,” Reeves said, later clarifying the period they analyzed was from Oct. 5 through the 18.

Reeves had faced criticism for this months earlier, when 3 On Your Side determined the governor had been using week-old case data to make these decisions.

The governor defended his decision to use older data because it gives contact tracers more than enough time to determine when those outbreaks occurred and from where.

Reeves also uses per-capita case rates in this analysis, too.

“Madison’s population size is a little bit smaller than both Hinds and Rankin; that is the primary reason that they, they fit the criteria this week,” Reeves said. “We have a very objective set of criteria. You either meet the threshold or you don’t. I’m not picking and choosing counties; I’m just here. I picked and chose the criteria.”

Not one of the nine counties initially placed under mask mandates have been removed from that list, particularly DeSoto, which has the fastest growing number of cases in Mississippi.

In a two-week period ending Sunday, that county gained 896 more positive coronavirus cases.

Reeves' older two-week period showed 716 new cases from Oct. 5 through Oct. 18.

“Even though it’s one of our more populated counties, [that county still has] 410 [cases] per 100,000 residents,” Reeves said. “I don’t recall at any time during this pandemic, one of our larger counties having a higher number of cases per hundred thousand residents."

The state’s health officer also acknowledged the lack of measures among some municipalities in DeSoto County.

In recent months, several current and former elected officials have expressed their desire not to mask up.

“There has been a little bit more reluctance in DeSoto County to embrace the things we know that work," said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. "And if we do the simple things, that works. And if we refuse the simple things, we get COVID spread. So it’s a very simple equation.”

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