By LEAH WILLINGHAM
Associated Press/ Report for America
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ A letter circulating on social media claiming to be from the office of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and abolishing the statewide mask mandate is fake, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials said Sunday.
“The letter is a FAKE,” the agency wrote on its Facebook page, adding that all of the governor’s executive orders can be found on the Secretary of State’s website. “Any major changes will be addressed in a press conference and an updated executive order.”
Mississippi’s statewide mask mandate has been in place since Aug. 4 to stem the spread of the coronavirus. It is set to expire at 5 p.m. Wednesday unless the governor extends it. He has chosen to extend the mandate several times already.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Malary White said Monday that she saw the fake letter circulating on Facebook and wanted to debunk it. Agency officials posted a photo of the letter on Facebook and Twitter with “FAKE” branded across it in red lettering.
The letter is topped with a portrait of Reeves, a Republican, and has a photo of the Mississippi state seal in the background. It is addressed to “all of the Residents and Business in Mississippi.”
“The beginning of October 2020 the statewide mask requirements will be abolished,” the letter reads. “Meaning that it will be no longer required to wear them in the state of Mississippi.”
“All business are hereby ordered to take down all facemasks must be worn on or in they establishments,“ it continues. “This Executive Order has been Signed and Sealed this 17th Day of September in the Year of 2020.”
The letter ends with a forged version of Reeves’ signature. Agency officials said Monday they did not know who created the letter.
Commenting on the letter Monday, the governor’s spokeswoman Renae Eze said the letter is “absolutely fake.” Those looking for a “trusted source” on the governor’s pandemic response should stick to the government’s official websites, she said.
“As we have throughout the entire pandemic, our office has made it a priority to share accurate, up-to-date information through our televised press briefings and official executive orders so Mississippians can be well-informed and included in the process,” Eze said.
The incident comes just four months after Reeves was pranked during a webcast recognizing high school graduates.
The state health department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 97,000 cases and at least 2,921 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 190 confirmed cases and two deaths from numbers reported the day before.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.