Mississippi student, 13, dies of COVID-19 after governor doubles down against mask mandate

Mkayla Robinson, an active eighth-grader at Raleigh High School in Mississippi, had gone to classes all week before she died.

A 13-year-old girl died of COVID-19 in Mississippi not long after that state’s governor, Tate Reeves, downplayed the number of cases among its children. 

Mkayla Robinson died of coronavirus complications early Saturday just hours after testing positive. The active eighth-grader at Raleigh High School had attended classes most of the week before falling ill, according to The Mississippi Free Press, 

Thirteen-year-old Mkayla Robinson (above) died of COVID-19 in Raleigh, Mississippi early Saturday just hours after that state’s governor, Tate Reeves, downplayed the number of cases among its children. (Facebook)

“It is with great sadness, and a broken heart, that I announce the passing of one of my 8th-grade band students,” the school’s band director, Paul Harrison, wrote on Facebook Saturday morning. “She was the perfect student. Every teacher loved her and wanted 30 more just like her. Please pray for Raleigh Junior High, the band, and especially the family as they deal with this.”

Cases like Robinson’s — or even the threat of them — have done little to sway Mississippi’s leaders.

On Friday, Gov. Reeves said at a press conference held mere miles from the newly constructed field hospital set-up at University of Mississippi Medical Center: “I don’t have any intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate for any category of Mississippians at this time. I don’t know how I can say that differently other than the way I’ve said it repeatedly for a number of days and weeks and months.” 

“If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles,” the governor added. “Does it happen from time to time? Sure, it does. I believe we have had one fatality of an individual, maybe it could’ve been two — I think there’s three under the age of 18 at this time? Two?”

The state’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, informed him that there had been four juvenile deaths in Mississippi, including one this summer. 

The number did not change Reeves’ position on masks. 

The tally also did not include Robinson. 

Reeves, a Republican, has deferred the decision on mask mandates to individual school systems, and at Friday’s press conference, he continued to downplay the effects of the virus on younger kids. “For those under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible for the vaccine,” he said, “it is highly unusual for there to be any significant effects.” 

“But for that parent who has a kid that they’re worried about,” Reeves continued, “if their kid is going to a school, I would recommend that they go to their school district if they think the best thing to do is to make masks mandatory in their school district, then they have every right to do so.”

The governor also deferred to individual families. “If the school district will not agree with the opinion of that particular individual, and he or she is worried about their kid that’s under the age of 12 going to school, they certainly have the option of encouraging their kid to wear a mask in the classroom,” he said, “and to protect themselves if they believe that will have a significant impact on protecting their kid in the classroom.” 

Dr. Dobbs then added that mask-wearing in schools would help “keep kids in schools longer.” 

At least 76 students and 11 teachers in Robinson’s school district had tested positive by Friday after beginning the school year Aug. 6 with masks “allowed” to be worn, but not required. By that week’s end, the district has reversed its course, mandating masks for all its students and educators.

A Mississippi county, Pearl River, has reverted to online classes after a teenager in that district died late last month from COVID-19. They too started their school year with no mask mandates and have since closed in-person classes amid rising cases. 

Mississippi currently has no adult ICU beds available, and the state’s only pediatric hospital, The Children’s of Mississippi, is also full of youngsters fighting COVID-19 in its ICU and on ventilators. 

The state requested the USS Comfort, a military hospital ship to come and assist with the ill. FEMA has denied that request. 

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