Mississippi Teachers Ask For Help After 18K Kids Catch COVID In A Month

by Christina Marfice
Álex Cámara/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In the first month of school, 18,000 Mississippi students tested positive for COVID-19, including an eighth-grader who died from the virus

The vicious wave of the delta variant that has been crushing communities across the country for months finally appears to be waning. But during the height of this most recent peak in COVID-19 cases, schools reopened, sometimes with disastrous results. Nowhere is that more true than in Mississippi, where low vaccination rates and resistance to mask mandates and other common-sense safety measures allowed the virus to flourish. Mississippi teachers are now begging for help after more than 18,000 students testing positive for COVID just in the first month of school.

State data shows that at least 18,825 students tested positive within the first month of schools being in session in Mississippi, while tens of thousands more had their learning interrupted because they had to quarantine after a case in their grade or class. More than 15,000 students across the state were in quarantine last week alone.

And yet, the state continues to flout practices that could help keep kids safely in school, like mask mandates. At a press conference last month, Governor Tate Reeves claimed the virus only causes “sniffles” in kids under 18, and falsely speculated that maybe one or two children had died from the virus in the state. Reeves’s own public health officials corrected him, saying that 7 children had died up to that point.

Just a few days after that press conference, a Mississippi eighth-grader died from COVID.

Teachers are begging Reeves to institute a statewide mask mandate in schools, especially considering only 46 percent of Mississippi residents ages 12 and older — those eligible for COVID vaccination — have received any shots.

“There is no discussion around, at what point do we protect children over the economy,” Esther Newell, a public school teacher in Jackson, told Insider. “It seems like a question [Reeves] is successfully avoiding, and every level of it is concerning to me.”

George Stewart, a middle school Spanish teacher in Jackson, said he believes the decision not to protect kids is purely political.

“He said he’s not playing to no damn political agenda, but in my opinion, he’s playing to a political agenda,” Stewart said.

Hannah Gadd Ardrey, who was Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year in 2020, works at a school that does have a mask mandate in place, but she said she worries that her local school board will overturn it. She wished Reeves would “take a second look at the science, look at the numbers, and see that Mississippi students need to be safe.”