Dozens of Mississippi lawmakers have coronavirus after weeks of refusing to wear masks


File-This June 27, 2020, file photo shows Don Hartness of Ellisville, Miss., walking around the Capitol carrying the current Mississippi state flag and the American flag in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi will surrender the Confederate battle emblem from its state flag, more than a century after white supremacist legislators embedded it there a generation after the South lost the Civil War. Mississippi’s House and Senate voted in succession Sunday, June 28, 2020, to retire the flag, with broad bipartisan support. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

 (CNN) — If you’ve been in contact with your state lawmaker in Mississippi, you may want to get a coronavirus test.

About one in six state lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Dr. Thomas Dobbs of the Mississippi Health Department.

For weeks, politicians flouted mask recommendations inside the state Capitol. Twenty-six state legislators have now tested positive for Covid-19, including Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and State House Speaker Philip Gunn. Neither man wore a mask at a bill signing at the governor’s mansion last week.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said on Tuesday that he and his daughters tested negative for the virus, tweeting they had “limited contact with the people who were diagnosed.”

This spike in infections follows an especially busy few weeks in the Capitol. Members have met to discuss the state’s budget, an unemployment crisis, and in June, the legislature passed a historic bill to remove the Confederate emblem from the state’s flag. Many visitors and advocates attended the Capitol to watch the debate and to protest.

Without masks, it may not come as a shock that the virus spread so efficiently within the legislature. On the floor, desks are packed tightly together, and members gather closely to communicate with their colleagues.

A staff member raises the state flag for the flag retirement ceremony at the Mississippi State Capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi on July 1, 2020. – Mississippi’s flag, the last US state banner to feature a Confederate emblem, was permanently retired Wednesday when it was lowered from the state’s capitol and removed from the grounds. The move comes one day after Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill ordering the rebel-themed flag’s removal, which comes in the wake of coast-to-coast protests over the police killing of African American George Floyd in May. (Photo by Rory Doyle / AFP) (Photo by RORY DOYLE/AFP via Getty Images)

“We could have done more to prevent this,” State Rep. Robert Johnson III, the Democratic leader of the state’s House of Representatives, said in a statement to CNN.

“It seems it was all about some erroneous, dangerously promoted political stance. It’s disgusting. Our governor refuses to order statewide mask requirements and our leadership decided not to require it at the Capitol.”

One lawmaker who contracted coronavirus, Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr., shared that although he did wear a mask most of the time, he could have been more vigilant. “I can honestly say that I wore my mask 95% of the time when I was around the Capitol and public places, but that 5% can make a big difference,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

On Thursday, Gov. Reeves mandated mask orders for 13 counties experiencing the greatest spikes of Covid-19, including Jackson, Biloxi and Gulfport. “Mississippi is in a fight for our lives,” he said.

Even President Donald Trump, who has stubbornly refused to wear a mask in public and ridiculed those who have, said that he will wear a mask during a visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center on Saturday.

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