At his daily briefing one afternoon this week, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi reported that the death toll in the state from the coronavirus had climbed. He reiterated just how eager he was to reopen businesses. He answered reporters’ questions about extending the shelter-in-place order and ramping up testing.
And then he wished dozens of state residents a very happy birthday.
There was Alex, Brianna, Asher and Billy. There was more than one sweet 16, and others who ranged in age from preschoolers to an 83-year-old. Governor Reeves pointed out that one boy was a green belt in karate. “Keep working hard,” the governor said. “You’ll be a black belt before you know it.”
It was certainly an abrupt turn, swerving from delivering grim news about a pandemic and spreading economic pain to making birthday shout-outs like a drive-time D.J. But the announcements — and televised briefings from government officials, from the White House on down — have grown into a defining element of the pandemic.
Regular briefings have helped transform Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a veteran civil servant and infectious disease expert, into a household name. The graphics appearing beside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York during his briefings have spawned instant Twitter memes.
In Mississippi, the addition of birthday greetings has resonated as so many have found comfort from even the tiniest of gestures, anything that could be held up as evidence of a sense of togetherness while legally mandated to stay apart.
The decision to include birthdays in the briefings was made about a week ago, as some started asking on social media whether Governor Reeves could mention their children. A first-term governor, Mr. Reeves also wanted to add some bright moments and buoy people’s spirits, including his own: He noted in a recent briefing that he had just marked his 90th day in office, a period that has already included deadly tornadoes; the Pearl River’s swelling and flooding Jackson, the state capital; and a crisis in state prisons sparked by violence and decrepit conditions.
“It brightens my day,” the governor said of the birthday wishes in a quick phone call after a recent briefing. So far, more than 3,200 people have submitted requests for birthday shout-outs.