Neshoba Central students under a strict “Return-to-School” plan head to class today (Wednesday) for the first time in nearly six months after the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended school in March.

In detailed plans for a safe return at, parents are encouraged to take their children to school in order to reduce the number of students on buses.

A virtual learning option will be provided to students with a valid medical or health issue that prevents them from attending in person, officials said.

Among other things, the district will employ “grab and go” meals for students for a period of time to prevent large numbers of students occupying the cafeteria

Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday issued an executive order delaying the start of some 7th-12th grade schools in “hot spots” throughout the state that did not include Neshoba or any surrounding counties.

In addition, the order requires masks for all students and teachers. The executive order also calls for masks at retail stores and public gatherings statewide for two weeks in an attempt to lower the spread and allow for a safer school reopening. 

The delayed start only applies to Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower and Washington counties.

Reeves pivoting to a statewide mask mandate is precipitated by his desire to have schools open and remain open for the fall term. 

“This is what I believe is the best plan for the initial reopening of our schools,” Reeves said. “(State Health Office) Dr. (Thomas) Dobbs and our health experts have worked with us on this. We have to balance the very real risk of the virus and the lifelong damage of school closures.”

On Friday, the Philadelphia Public School District announced it was delaying the start of school until Aug. 17 with teachers reporting this week. 

Union and Leake Academy students return to school this week, with Choctaw Tribal Schools beginning on Aug. 31.

The Mississippi Department of Health announced 1,074 new cases and 42 new deaths Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 62,199. In one week, the total number of cases in the state has jumped by nearly 8,000. There have been 1,753 deaths attributed to COVID-19, up 210 from one week ago.

Neshoba County has one of the highest infection rates in the state, with 4,231 per 100,000 residents. Last week the infection rate was 3,977 per 100,000 residents. Mississippi as a whole is up from 1,824 per 100,000 residents to 2,090. Two weeks ago the infection rate was 1,530 per 100,000 residents in the state.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs on Tuesday issued a statewide health order requiring anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and not hospitalized to isolate immediately or face fines or possible jail time.

“We have a lot of COVID activity throughout the state right now,  so it is absolutely critical that anyone infected with COVID-19, and not hospitalized, must remain in the home or other appropriate residential location for 14 days from onset of illness (or from the date of a positive test for those who are asymptomatic),” Dobbs said.

Failure to comply can result in a minimum misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 or six months imprisonment or both. When a life-threatening disease is involved, failure to obey is a felony, punishable by a fine up to $5,000 or five years imprisonment or both.

Dobbs said they continue to see stress and strain on the healthcare system in the state.

There are currently 963 hospitalized patients with COVID-19. ICU patients decreased from a high of 273 in mid-July to 201. Ventilator usage remained steady at 173 on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, Neshoba had 1,232 confirmed cases of the virus, with 107 of those cases in long-term care facilities. Of the 88 deaths here attributed to the virus, 35 of those came from long-term care facilities.

Neshoba County went nearly one week without any deaths last week, but that number jumped up by five within the last seven days.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has reported a total of 1,037 positive cases among Tribal members, with nearly half of those coming from the Pearl River community. 

The Tribe only saw an increase of 21 positive cases within the last week. The Tribe has tested 3,482 members, with 2,357 negative results. Of the positive cases, 815 have recovered, 76 have died and six are still hospitalized. The Tribe is reporting 146 active COVID cases amongst Tribal members.