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By The Associated Press

Published 5:07 pm Monday, August 31, 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he is extending a statewide mask mandate and most other restrictions another two weeks to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

He made a single change — eliminating a cap of two spectators per participant at high school sports events. Reeves said a limit of 25% capacity remains in place for stadiums, gyms, and other venues, and people should maintain social distance from those who are not in their immediate families.

As the University of Southern Mississippi prepares to host its first home football game on Thursday, Reeves said his prohibition on tailgating at college games also remains in place at least two more weeks.

“I’d rather be in the South where we can’t have tailgating, where we have rules in place but we are going to have football, than to be in the Pac-12 where they’re not even going to have football,” Reeves said.

Both Reeves and the state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, urged Mississippi residents to continue to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 during the Labor Day weekend. Mississippi saw an increase in virus cases after people had gatherings during the Memorial Day weekend and July 4.

During a news conference Monday in Jackson, Republican Reeves also responded to questions about photos that showed him without a mask at the White House last week when President Donald Trump accepted his party’s nomination during the Republican National Convention. Reeves posted photos of himself and his wife, Elee, wearing Trump-themed masks at the event, but others photographed the governor bare-faced and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other people.

“As I have said repeatedly, many of us during this pandemic — six months in — have not always worn a mask 100% of the time,” Reeves said. “I will tell you, at that particular event, the vast majority of time I was there, I had on a mask. The vast majority of the time I was in D.C., I had on a mask.”

Reeves said he also had on a mask the “vast majority” of the time he was in North Carolina the week before that. Photos showed him speaking and posing for pictures in North Carolina at an event for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“As I look back on it, perhaps I should have done it more often,” Reeves said.

The state Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has had at least 82,950 reported cases and at least 2,473 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 274 confirmed cases and 32 deaths from numbers reported the day before; the figure included 19 deaths that occurred between July 8 and Aug. 24, with information from death certificates arriving later.

The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most but can be more severe or fatal for some, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions.