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Steve Walker with the Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department (left) hands out a face mask provided during Saturday’s free mask giveaway. The giveaway was the second one done by DeSoto County and its cities with the masks provided through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The past few days have seen stark increases in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths from the virus in Mississippi and in DeSoto County.

Meanwhile, health officials continue to tout the benefits of wearing face masks or coverings to stop the spread of the virus, and DeSoto County and city officials last weekend were actively working to make sure free masks were available to those who choose to wear them.

Wednesday’s update from the Mississippi Department of Health added one more DeSoto County virus-related death to the toll from the pandemic since March 11. Fourteen people have now died from coronavirus in the county, the latest being confirmed Wednesday through death certificate reports between May 23-June 11.

The addition to DeSoto County’s total was one of 23 new death reports MSDH provided on Wednesday, bringing to 938 COVID-19 deaths in the Magnolia State. Sixteen of that number were confirmed by death certificates between the same dates.

The other alarming number in Wednesday’s update is that the number of new cases grew to a near-record one-day high of 489 to 20,641 in Mississippi, while DeSoto County saw an increase of 50 new cases to reach 790 case reports for the pandemic.

The county has not seen that many new case reports in one day. Mississippi saw 498 new cases on June 8.

Where there is some good news of sorts comes from the number of long-term care, or LTC, case reports in DeSoto County, which has stayed static since at least last week. Eighteen LTC cases, or outbreaks as termed by MSDH, and four deaths, have taken place from the coronavirus in the county.

DeSoto County EMS Director Mark Davis said, during a free mask giveaway at Lewisburg High School on Saturday, the county was clear of active COVID-19 cases in LTC locations at this time.

“The nursing home we had that had active patients has been cleared, so we have no active cases in any nursing homes in DeSoto County,” Davis said. “That’s a good plus because that population is very vulnerable, so we’ve been very lucky. We’ve only had it in three different nursing homes, but this was the biggest outbreak that we’ve had, but it has now been cleared up.”

The major outbreak came at Diversicare of Southaven and another case came from Olive Grove Terrace of Olive Branch. A third home has not been identified.

Saturday’s comments from Davis came as he was part of the second free mask giveaway held across DeSoto County to help combat the spread of the virus.

Each volunteer fire department distributed masks at their fire location, although Lewisburg High School was used by the Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department. The four cities in the county also had their own specific spot to provide masks to Mississippi residents as part of the program provided by state officials.

In the first giveaway event held in late May, a total of 50,800 masks were placed in recipients’ hands. Saturday’s event, held between 10 a.m.-2 p.m., resulted in another 34,150 masks being passed out as people drove in and received them.

Saturday’s distribution was of masks that would be washable and reusable, officials said.

In all, a total of 84,950 masks were now in the hands of residents due to the program, out of a total supply of 129,500 masks provided the county from the state.

Davis stressed the use of face coverings remains an important part of combating the spread of COVID-19.

“Especially for people who are more highly susceptible to compromised immune systems, it’s important for those people to wear them when they go out,” said Davis. “Right now it’s hard to buy some and when you buy them, the prices have gone up quite a bit, so this is a way to give back to the community to try to help slow this thing down.”

“The Board of Supervisors are thankful we are able to provide masks for free,” added Board President and Supervisor Jesse Medlin. “You can now buy washable masks in stores for five or 10 dollars. But if you have a family of five, two masks per person could cost $50, $100, or more.”

Demand for masks Saturday depended on specific locations. For instance, in Lewisburg, where the volunteer fire department set up in front of the high school, their allotment was depleted by 12:30 p.m. as vehicles had lined up ahead of the 10 a.m. start to receive masks.

Other sites, especially in the cities, still had supplies available when it ended at 2 p.m. The remaining masks would be offered at upcoming events until they, too, are all distributed.

Medlin pointed out that supervisors wanted to make sure masks were available for those who felt they needed to have one.

“It’s important we recognize that everyone’s circumstances are different,” Medlin said. “Some people don’t want to wear a mask, and that is their choice. Others won’t leave the house without one. The Board of Supervisors wants to make sure everyone who wants a mask is able to get one.”