SOUTHAVEN, Mississippi — Wednesday, those at the top of Mississippi State Department of Health encouraged students, teachers, staff and visitors wear masks at all times indoors, despite many Magnolia State districts - including DeSoto County Schools - not requiring masking this upcoming school year.
A DCS spokesperson said masks are optional for students and staff.
"I would strongly recommend those parents continue mask use for their children, even if it's not required by your school district," MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.
"There's a benefit for everyone wearing a mask indoors and we know how very important that is, so we are going to strongly encourage every school system to have universal masking indoors," Dr. Thomas Dobbs, MSDH's State Health Officer added.
Both men responded to new guidelines Tuesday from the Centers For Disease Control - or CDC - which encouraged all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in schools wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Wednesday, a spokesperson for Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he has 'no intention of implementing mask mandates.'
The MSDH can issue guidance but not a mandate on masking in schools, which Dr. Dobbs said is outside of the MSDH's mandate authority.
In Southaven Wednesday morning, teachers with DeSoto County Schools felt differently about the mask in schools issue.
"The people that I have talked to, the people that I work with, they don't want them. You know, it's hard to stand up and teach wearing a mask," DeSoto Central Middle School teacher Lorrie Holmes said.
"My preference is to wear the mask because it keeps the kids safe, keep us safe from COVID, them safe from COVID, since they can't get vaccinated," another DeSoto County elementary school teacher added, who didn't want to give her name.
The debate comes as the Magnolia State is dealing with a surge in COVID cases, primarily from the Delta variant.
In the last two weeks, total new COVID cases jumped from 5,155 to 12,453 compared to 6/30 to 7/13. MSDH leaders say 96% percent of cases, 88% of hospitalizations and 82% of deaths were those not vaccinated in Mississippi.
A fourth child in the state has also died from COVID complications.
Because of the increasing strain on Mississippi hospitals, the MSDH again enacted the Mississippi COVID-19 System of Care Plan. Until August 15, it will delay certain types of elective surgeries that require an overnight stay to best maximize the available resources in hospitals.