Harvard professor says Mississippi must get COVID-19 numbers down before opening schools

Updated: Aug. 5, 2020 at 11:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Harvard University medical expert has been keeping a close eye on coronavirus in Mississippi and he’s alarmed by what he is seeing. 3 On Your Side talks to Dr. Ashish Jha about a disturbing trend in the Magnolia State and how he thinks we can reverse it.

”And over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the numbers from Mississippi with some concern,” said Dr. Asish Jha.

The concern is that Mississippi is poised to surpass Florida when it comes to coronavirus cases said Dr. Jha, who is director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Dr. Jha continued, saying, ”Mississippi’s number were going up still and Florida’s numbers were coming down and they were right next to each other and it was clear that at some point that in the upcoming days and weeks, Mississippi would most surely surpass Florida and become number one.”

As for Governor Tate Reeves’ statewide mask mandate and two-week school re-opening delay:

Dr. Ashish Jha said, ”Well, I think it’s gonna help and I think we should give the governor credit when he does something that’s good, so I do think it will help. I think the mask mandate is a good step. He’s gotta enforce that mandate. It’s not just about having a mandate. You gotta enforce it, but, beyond that, there’s gotta be a lot more.”

That means, said Dr. Jha, Mississippi has to think about closing bars, closing or scaling back indoor dining, closing gyms and any large indoor gatherings.

“You gotta bring the levels of virus down before you can open up schools safely,” said Dr. Jha.

I asked Dr. Jha if that means Mississippi should undergo another full shutdown to get COVID-19 under control:

He replied, ”Given how bad things are, in terms of numbers of cases in Mississippi, there are a lot of public health folks who are saying you go a full shutdown, I’m not one of them. I think you can find your way forward without that, but it is gonna take a lot of work.”

And to those who say being forced to wear a mask denies them their freedom.

Dr. Jha said, ”It is a little puzzling to me. As I said, there are other things that we do that are public health measures and people say it’s about freedom and I always say, ‘I don’t have the freedom to, like, walk into a retail store and light up a cigarette.’ That’s an infringement of my freedom; except I can’t do that because it’s going to be harmful to other people.”

Even though Mississippi is on the fast track to lead the nation in coronavirus cases, Dr. Jha said it’s not too late to change that trajectory.

”It’s not too late but it will take awhile, so, you know, a mask mandate, even if everybody where’s a mask, is not going to solve this overnight. I think it’s along unto itself, not enough, but I do expect in the next three weeks, some of these policies will begin to make a difference. But, also, I think there’s more to be done and ultimately, whether it takes three weeks or six weeks, we owe it to the people of Mississippi to do the things that will protect lives, to protect health and ultimately, that’s better for the economy. It’s better for our kids. It’s better for everyone,” said Dr. Jha.

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