As local daily virus cases approached record highs in two area counties on Tuesday, McComb officials decided to extend the city’s mask mandate until at least after the November election, citing rising case numbers and recommendations from the Pike County Election Commission.
“My position is that I support the mask. There are those that don’t support the mask, and I wanted to be clear on the mayor’s position,” Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said.
When asked why he did not decide to end or extend the mask mandate when Gov. Tate Reeves announced his mandate ended on Sept. 30, he added, “I was in favor, and I wasn’t going to make that decision without the board.”
Selectmen Michael Cameron and Ted Tullos voted to rescind the mandate, while selectmen Ronnie Brock, Donovan Hill, Devante Johnson and Shawn Williams voted to keep it in place.
“Talking to citizens and looking at the numbers increasing, I was thinking we should keep it because I don’t want to rush this and open up something,” Williams said.
The timing of their decision coincides with alarmingly high new coronavirus infections in the area.
Pike County went up by 31 cases Wednesday to 1,334 total since the beginning of the pandemic. This is the highest single-day count for the county since Aug. 19, when 30 cases were reported. It’s also Pike County’s second-highest single-day count since the beginning of the pandemic, with the most cases confirmed in a single day reported on Aug. 8 at 32.
Meanwhile, the state officially surpassed 100,000 total infections as of last Saturday. The state added 876 cases Wednesday for a total of 106,817 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The state also reported 25 deaths, bringing that total to 3,140.
Selectman Ronnie Brock said the Pike County Election Commission sent a letter to the city recommending the board leave the mandate in place until after the election.
Cameron has vividly expressed displeasure with the mandate at previous meetings, including on Sept. 8 when he was asked to leave for refusing to wear a mask.
“My suggestion was to follow the governor’s lead,” Cameron said, incorrectly saying the city followed Reeves’ lead in putting the mandate in place when the statewide mandate actually followed the local mandate by two weeks. “It was the mayor’s idea to wait until tonight.”
Cameron was not wearing a mask during the beginning of the board meeting.
“Before anybody criticizes me, Mr. Cameron, you know you need to wear a mask,” Lockley said with a chuckle.
Though the mask mandate was not the next item on the agenda, Cameron asked the mayor to move it up, which Lockley did. Hill blasted the action, noting that Cameron “should not be here now” because he was not wearing a mask.
“I think it is a little disrespectful for a city selectman to not follow the ordinance,” Hill said. “Mayor, you are allowing the disrespect. You moved (the item) up at the man who is not wearing the mask’s request. I don’t like wearing my mask, but it is what I was asked to do.”
Hill noted that the board sets the example for the city, and board members not wearing a mask leads others to not take the mandate seriously.
After the vote, Lockley asked Cameron to put on a mask or leave. Cameron donned his mask without covering his nose. Lockley asked him to put the mask on correctly. Cameron noted that Lockley and some other selectmen are often seen with masks improperly worn or off.
Lockley bucked back, saying his mask slips, and if it is not covering his nose, he pushes it back up. Cameron continued to wear the mask without covering his nose.
Tullos, who contracted COVID-19 over the summer, also regularly does not wear a mask at city board meetings and produced a doctor’s note to Lockley to get out of wearing one. After the vote, Cameron said he’d bring a doctor’s note as well.
Meanwhile, virus cases continued to see an uptick throughout the area. Lincoln County had 24 new cases totaling 1,278 as of Wednesday. Amite County added a new daily record of 17 to 397 total. Franklin County rose by just one to 213, Lawrence County reported three new cases to reach 479, Walthall County went up by nine cases to 628 and Wilkinson rose by just one case to 319.
Amite County added two deaths Tuesday for a total of 12 since the beginning of the pandemic and the first recorded deaths since Sept. 11. Lincoln County added one death for a total of 54. It was the county’s first death since Sept. 17.