The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mississippi’s governor limited gatherings in the state. But he’s still inviting legislators to holiday parties.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves at a coronavirus news briefing on Dec. 1 in Jackson. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
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On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) warned Mississippians that they would soon face stricter guidelines to help curb surging coronavirus infections and urged them to skip large gatherings.

“Please be extra cautious and mindful during this time,” Reeves said on Twitter, adding his executive order would be amended later in the week. “In the meantime the best tool is the same: wear a mask. Avoid crowds. Be smart. Protect loved ones.”

But state lawmakers received a different message.

Mississippi Today reported Monday that the governor’s office has sent state and district officials invitations to at least three holiday parties at the governor’s mansion in coming days, despite widespread bans on large get-togethers in the state.

As of early Wednesday, Reeves’s executive order for 54 of the state’s 82 counties requires people to wear masks and prohibits gatherings of groups larger than 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors where social distancing is not an option. That rule applies to Hinds County, where the governor’s mansion in Jackson is located.

It is unclear how many people were invited to the parties and how many plan to attend. There are 122 members of the state House and 52 state senators, and Reeves is planning parties for both groups, Mississippi Today reported.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Bailey Martin, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the events will follow Reeves’s executive orders.

“The Governor and first lady have canceled or delayed many mansion events this year including the 1st Friday Christmas Candlelighters event and their daughter’s 16th birthday party, and have only continued with those events that can be conducted safely,” Martin said.

Reeves isn’t alone among government officials hosting holiday parties during the pandemic. The State Department and the White House are also pushing forward with several holiday parties this year, with at least 25 of the events occurring indoors despite warnings from the nation’s own public health officials.

Pompeo invites hundreds to indoor holiday parties after subordinates are warned against hosting ‘non-mission critical events’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, Susan, are hosting an indoor Christmas party on Dec. 15 with hundreds of guest, The Post reported. A spokesperson for the department said they planned to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing — a requirement that would prove troublesome given the food and drinks that will be served

On Tuesday, President Trump defended the parties, saying the White House had reduced the number of events and some attendees were taking safety precautions.

“I see a lot of people at the parties wearing masks, and I would say that I look out at the audience at those parties, and we have a lot of people wearing masks, and I think that’s a good thing,” Trump told reporters at the coronavirus vaccine summit.

White House planning a packed season of holiday parties

But some fallout from the White House’s parties has already begun. On Tuesday, the Trump campaign announced Jenna Ellis, one of the president’s legal advisers who attended a White House Christmas party on Friday, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Ellis was not wearing a mask at the event, according to Politico. Ellis recently worked closely with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who tested positive earlier this week.

Nationally, numerous elected officials have been accused of violating their own coronavirus restrictions. Days before the mayor of Austin instructed his constituents to avoid traveling and socializing, he hosted his daughter’s 20-person wedding and then took a private jet to Mexico with eight wedding guests. Similarly, several prominent California Democrats offered warnings about dining out and attending parties only to do so themselves.

California Democrats urged people to stay home — and then did the opposite at restaurants and holiday parties

News about the Reeves’s holiday parties comes as cases surge in Mississippi. In the past week, new daily reported cases went up more than 20 percent and deaths rose more than 73 percent, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. Since the beginning of December, new daily cases have hovered between 1,400 and 2,500 in the state. So far, Mississippi has had more than 167,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths.

Health officials in Mississippi have criticized Reeves for his response to the virus. On Dec. 1, he rejected a push to reinstate a statewide mask order, despite its effectiveness during the summer. Instead he pushed forward with a county-by-county mandate.

Reeves’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Democratic state Rep. Christopher Bell told WAPT he received an invitation to the holiday party for members of the Mississippi House, but declined to attend. Bell said given how rapidly the virus is spreading in the state, he felt going to the event would go against the directives of health officials.

“We didn’t follow what Dr. Thomas Dobbs and Dr. Fauci had recommended for us to do, which was socially distance, no gatherings of 50 or more individuals,” Bell said, referring to the state’s health officer and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. “I have the same concerns today with respect to this Christmas party.”

When the state hit a record of daily cases on Dec. 2, Dobbs tweeted Mississippians should avoid gatherings such as parties. That same day, Reeves attended an in-person fundraiser on his behalf hosted by the chief executive of Mississippi’s largest hospitals, according to Mississippi Today.

The Mississippi State Department of Health “strongly recommends that EVERYONE avoid all social gatherings until further notice,” Dobbs wrote.