Our View: Governor's action on Sunflower County may be premature

By BRYAN DAVIS PUBLISHER,

Sunflower County is one of 13 targeted by Gov. Tate Reeves for enhanced COVID-19 restrictions.

As novel coronavirus cases pick up steam across the state, our top health officials are warning us that the recent surge in cases is leading to an Armageddon scenario in our hospitals.

Health care capacity has been the No. 1 concern for Reeves and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs since day one of this pandemic.

If that is still the case, why was Sunflower County added to the list of enhanced restrictions?

When Reeves signs his promised executive order that is set to go into effect next week, folks in Sunflower County will be required to wear masks in public during shopping trips.

More importantly, indoor gatherings will be restricted to 10 or fewer, and outdoor gatherings to 20 or fewer.

We do not take issue with masks or social distancing, nor is this an attempt to undermine the seriousness of COVID-19.

We simply want our leaders to use these great responsibilities entrusted to them by the taxpayers with great care and with sound scientific approach. 

When Reeves held his daily COVID-19 response press briefing on Thursday, he wasted no time calling out the counties that will be adhering to his new executive order.

He then explained the metric used in this bold decision making process.

It was simply the fact that Sunflower County, and the other dozen, had at least 200 positive cases within the past 14 days.

Later, Reeves lamented the threat COVID-19 continues to be to our health care system, noting that hospitalizations are way up, especially in the five biggest hospitals in the state.

Each of the last three weeks, and several times before that, The E-T has contacted South Sunflower County Hospital to talk about how COVID-19 is affecting Indianola’s health care system.

The situation is dire. Hospitalizations are up. There is a constant and healthy concern over resources, but at no point has anyone told this paper that SSCH is anywhere near capacity when it comes to regular beds, COVID beds, ICU rooms or ventilator usage.

We asked North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville this week about hospitalizations.

Same answer.

They are up, but a nursing shortage seems to be presenting more problems for the Ruleville facility than COVID-19 at the moment.

Had Reeves or Dr. Dobbs called SSCH or NSMC to assess the local situation when it comes to health care capacity, I’m sure they would have gotten a similar answer to the one we got on Tuesday.

Simply going off the daily data dump provided by the Mississippi State Department of Health when making important decisions for our communities is not sound.

Late last week, Mississippi experienced a day with over 1,000 reported cases. Everyone predictably went crazy, and members of the media got a lot of mileage out of the headlines, but the following day, the reported cases by MSDH were almost half.

Going off the Friday logic, everyone should have been ecstatic about the fact the disease was half as potent on Saturday.

But they weren’t, because the nature of the disease did not change. The reporting did, as MSDH is at the mercy of the multiple testers to give them data to log into the system. And everyone admits those data lag, which creates an automatic bias in the reporting.

Local leaders, last week, made a recommendation during a public meeting that involved the county board and municipalities to reach out to the governor to ask he and Dr. Dobbs to look over our numbers and determine whether we needed enhanced restrictions.

Perhaps that’s why Sunflower County made the list.

It’s certainly not because our health care facilities are in crisis at the moment. Nor did Reeves or Dr. Dobbs provide any metric that shows we’re on a trajectory for meeting capacity in the near future. 

In Sunflower County, and most likely in other places, contact tracing has been made pretty much irrelevant due to the fact that folks who test positive for COIVD-19 and those who have been ordered into quarantine, move about as freely as anyone else. Our health care providers test them, order them home for two weeks and then they see them walking in the grocery store later that week.

This means anyone who tests positive might have picked it up anywhere.

The enhanced restrictions, however, are directed toward the well, instead of the sick.

To make things worse, Reeves all but said on Thursday that it will be up to local authorities to enforce the mask and gathering mandates.

Sunflower County and its municipalities already have citizens who can’t pay fines handed down during normal times. How do we expect to effectively enforce mask mandates with even more burdensome fines?

The E-T supports our local leaders and our local health care officials’ push to educate individuals on social distancing and the importance of wearing face coverings when social distancing is not possible, but these non-evidence-based enhanced restrictions will only create more unnecessary tense interactions with police and a disgruntled populace.

If we are going to have enhanced restrictions, they have to make sense, even in this crazy year of 2020.

A circuit court judge in Kentucky on Thursday agreed with this notion when he ordered that state’s governor, Andy Beshear, to halt a series of executive orders, including mask mandates.

According to CNN, the judge stated that in his orders, the governor has to "specifically state the emergency that requires the order, the location of the emergency, and the name of the local emergency management agency that has determined that the emergency is beyond its capabilities."

Do higher cases, absent added hospital strain constitute an emergency? That’s certainly a different metric than the one that was being used during the spring, when “flattening the curve” meant making sure health care capacity was not compromised.

We are not against the notion of the governor intervening on principle. We raised little if any objections during Reeves’ shelter-in-place mandates.

But when our county is targeted for enhanced restrictions, it cannot be based on what feels right at the time. The scientific method has other steps beyond the hypothesis. 

COVID-19 is very real, and it is very dangerous to those affected by it, but government officials must still be held accountable for their decisions, even when they are made with the best of intentions.

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