The state of Mississippi passed a tragic milestone last week, surpassing New York in total Covid-19 deaths per capita. The closer one looks at the development, the worse it appears.
The reason New York's total was so high is that the pandemic crisis slammed the Empire State early on last year -- long before free and effective vaccines were available, and before treatment and mitigation strategies were obvious. Mississippi, however, is struggling with rising Covid-19 fatalities more than a year later, in the midst of fundamentally different public-health circumstances.
Or put another way, Mississippi's tragedy was avoidable in ways New York's was not. What's more, The New York Times reported over the weekend that few states were less prepared for such a disaster: "The current coronavirus spike has hit the South hard, but a combination of poverty and politics made Mississippi uniquely unprepared to handle what is now the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation."
The article added that the Magnolia State has fewer active physicians per capita than any other and thousands fewer nurses. What's more, five rural hospitals have closed in the past decade, and 35 more are at imminent risk of closing, thanks in part to Mississippi Republicans' refusal to embrace Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act.
Given all of this, why would the state adopt such a passive attitude toward the pandemic? Evidently, Mississippi's GOP governor shed some light on the subject over the weekend.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, in remarks Saturday, said that people in the state were "less scared" of Covid-19 because they believe in "eternal life," as new infections reach record levels and hospitalizations spike. Reeves made the remarks to a gathering of state Republicans at a fundraiser last Thursday in Eads, reported The Daily Memphian.
According to the local report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, the first-term governor told the fundraiser's attendees, "I'm often asked by some of my friends on the other side of the aisle about Covid ... and why does it seem like folks in Mississippi and maybe in the Mid-South are a little less scared, shall we say?"
"When you believe in eternal life -- when you believe that living on this earth is but a blip on the screen, then you don't have to be so scared of things," Reeves added.
To be fair, it's worth emphasizing that Reeves went on to say that he believes God wants people to "take necessary precautions," adding, "And we all have opportunities and abilities to do that and we should all do that. I encourage everyone to do so. But the reality is that working together, we can get beyond this. We can move forward. We can move on."
As of this morning, Mississippi has the second lowest vaccination rate of any state in the nation, the second worst infection rate and the second worst fatality rate. The governor's plan for "getting beyond this" is not altogether clear.