by Hunter Dawkins

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued two controversial statewide executive orders on Tuesday’s press conference at the the Woolfolk State Office Building in Jackson.  The first; which has been a discussion of the last few months, was a statewide  mask mandate in the ongoing fight against this unprecedented global pandemic of COVID-19.  The other regulation would be to allow all public school districts to open according to their plans with an exception of eight targeted counties.

“Overwhelmingly schools are working very hard to provide for a safe return,” said Governor Reeves.  “Every school has had some part of virtual learning and we know that each will have to account for that this year.”

In regards to placing a mandate on masks in the general public, the governor asked Mississippians to wear a mask when they’re inside a business, school, or any place open to the public.

“We have seen over the last few weeks that when people wear masks it helps fight the virus,” stated Reeves.  “We are seeing improvement in our numbers across the state, even though these are slower than we want.”

Forrest and George Counties are the farthest two counties where the school districts are delayed from reopening.  When questioned about the decision making process of the school districts in his executive order, Reeves noted, “those closest to the classrooms will be best equipped to make those decisions.  We have guidelines for the schools from the Department of Health, which include every household having an option of virtual learning.”

The new executive order includes a statewide mask mandate for schools, instructing all Mississippians to wear a mask when inside a school building or classroom, or outside on a school campus when social distancing is not possible.

Following the virtual conference, a few school districts reached out to The Gazebo Gazette to express their views.

“Thankfully, the Governor did not select our county as one that is required to delay school and our teachers plus administrators are to be commended for their hard work over the summer to ensure we have a safe and viable plan,” said Pass Christian School District Superintendent Dr. Carla Evers.  “We will need our community and families’ help with controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”

Another resilient response in moving forward addressed these concerns.  “We understand that the return to school will not be consistent with the kind of culture and community that we have built over the years,” expressed Harrison County School Board of Trustees President Rena Wiggins.  “We ask for the parent’s and student’s cooperation as we return to school in these unprecedented times.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Reeves launched the ReSkill Mississippi initiative (ReSkillMS) to help ease the economic burden and uncertainty the global pandemic of COVID-19 has created for the Mississippi workforce.

Mississippians who lost their jobs or had severe cutbacks and went on unemployment due to COVID-19 now have the opportunity to receive skills training at Mississippi community colleges to change jobs into high demand careers.

Of the $1.25 billion in federal relief funds sent to Mississippi under the CARES Act, the Mississippi legislature appropriated $55 million to support our state’s workers and employers, which enabled the Governor and a coalition of the state’s workforce leaders to create an innovative new program to train individuals for good-paying jobs most needed right now and into the future.

ReSkillMS was created as a result of the Governor’s Commission on Economic Recovery’s recommendation that significant dollars from the CARES Act recovery funds be used for workforce training to help lift the economic burden on our workforce from COVID-19. The State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB), the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES), and Mississippi’s four local workforce areas collaborated to develop the program to allow Mississippians out-of-work or those working reduced hours to “re-skill” in order to fill high-demand, high-paying jobs across our state.

“This program can have a major difference in the lives of Mississippians and in building a stronger economy in our state for the demands of tomorrow’s world,” said SWIB Chairman Patrick Sullivan. “Skilled jobs were in demand before COVID-19, and they will be in demand long after the pandemic is over. Getting more Mississippians the skills for higher paying jobs is going to be key if we are to see sustained economic growth.”