After a 13-year-old Mississippi girl died from COVID-19 complications over the weekend, national media outlets and political commentators have jumped at the opportunity to question governor Tate Reeves’ decision not to mandate masks in the state’s schools, and they are accusing him of downplaying the impact of the virus on kids.
During a brief segment on Tuesday about Smith County eighth-grader Mkayla Robinson’s death, Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, pointed responsibility at Reeves. “That’s on him,” she said, after playing a clip of the Republican governor defending his decision not to re-institute a mask mandate in the state’s schools.
“If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles. Does it happen from time to time? Sure it does,” Reeves said at a Friday press conference, one day before Mkayla’s death.
There have been 392,309 cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi since the start of the pandemic, and 7,880 deaths, according to the Mississippi Department of Health. Only five of those deaths have been children, including Mkayla’s.
Few details surrounding Mkayla’s death have been released, including if she was vaccinated or if she suffered from any co-morbidities that may have left her more vulnerable to the virus. Attempts by National Review to reach the local coroner were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
Mkayla’s death was first reported on Facebook by a local Mississippi newspaper, the Smith County Reformer, which said she died of complications from COVID. According to local news accounts, the teen attended school last week before coming down with a sore throat on Thursday. She was diagnosed with COVID on Friday and died on Saturday.
Reeves instituted a school mask mandate last year, but has so far declined to re-institute it this year, pointing at the relatively small number of kids who have died from COVID in Mississippi.
“I don’t have any intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate for any category of Mississippians at this time. I don’t know how I can say that differently other than the way I’ve said it repeatedly for a number of days and weeks and months,” Reeves said at the Friday press conference. He also said updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling for masks in schools was “foolish,” and reeking of “political panic.”
Attempts by National Review to reach Reeves and his press secretary on the phone and by email were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
A story in the Mississippi Free Press accused Reeves of downplaying the virus. Other news outlets, including Rolling Stone and People, also have published stories linking Mkayla’s death to Reeves’s decision to forgo a mask mandate in the state’s schools.
Students in Smith County started the school year on August 6 with no mask mandate, but changed course on August 10 after dozens of students and educators tested positive for the virus. Mississippi is one of the states that’s been hard hit by the fast-spreading delta variant. Only 36 percent of Mississippians are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to a New York Times tracker.