Mississippi’s declining COVID-19 numbers present a promising snapshot of increased mask use and social distancing in early August. But public-health officials fear for the emergence of a different trend as schools return to in-person classes today. Photo courtesy UMMC
Mississippi is showing the signs of a promising downward trend in new coronavirus infections as August unfolds, with a rolling average on a continued slump from late July’s all-time peaks. But with schools opening against the repeated advice of the state’s health-care professionals, it remains to be seen if the trend can persist.
The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 276 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, following 381 from Saturday. While weekend numbers typically show an artificial dip in new case counts, this weekend’s reports represent a significant departure from previous Saturday and Sunday counts, and follow a week of significantly lower regular case counts as well.
The most current seven-day rolling average shows 680 new cases of COVID-19, cutting previous all-time highs in half. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs’ predictions of a continued slump in COVID-19 numbers appear accurate.
Mississippi’s testing, too, is in a slump, with the state maintaining the highest test positivity rate in the nation, at 20%. But in an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 12, with the Jackson Free Press, Dobbs suggested that testing followed infections, and said that aggregate reports from the state’s clinics support the data showing a meaningful decline in new cases.
“The demand is down because less people are more symptomatic. In Mississippi, we're not a wellness culture. We're an illness culture. We only get medical care if we’re sick,” Dobbs told the Jackson Free Press.
Appearing on CBS’ Face The Nation this Sunday, Gov. Tate Reeves suggested he hadn’t seen data on Mississippi’s high positivity rate—misleading at best, as the case positivity rates are regularly discussed at his afternoon COVID-19 briefings.
Reeves’ executive order delaying the opening of schools in specific hot-spot districts ends today, but the governor signed new orders limiting attendance in high-school sports and other extracurricular activities to two spectators per participant. For sports, it will be up to individual schools to decide if groups like cheerleaders and bands also count as participants, adding to the maximum event occupancy. Relevant staff and media are excluded from these limitations and may attend events.
Enforcement of the new participation limits will be left up to individual schools. When asked about possible punishment for non-enforcement, Reeves pivoted to how adherence will determine whether sports will be allowed to continue or not. “If you really want to play sports for the entirety of the fall, if you want to get through the entire season, work with us. Enforce this if you're a local school leader,” the governor said.
Colleges have not yet received additional orders regarding capacities for sports venues, but current orders allow for venues to have 25% capacity. “What you can expect is that the number will be in that ballpark, no pun intended, although probably a little bit less than that,” Reeves said.
Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Email state reporter Nick Judin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nickjudin.