Dr. LouAnn Woodward explained how the recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the contagious Delta variant contributed to the decision to require vaccines or N95 masks on all UMMC campus grounds. Photo courtesy UMMC
The University of Mississippi Medical Center instituted a new safety policy today, requiring all students and staff to either get vaccinated or wear an N95-type mask. The new policy is aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 to patients, students and staff. Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, detailed the new policy in a UMMC press briefing this morning.
“The new policy now going into effect will require all employees, all students to either be vaccinated or to wear an N95 mask,” Woodward said. “This time last year, we were just hopeful for the vaccine. We didn't have the vaccine, yet, but we were hopeful for a vaccine as something that could be a defense mechanism, something that could be a tool to manage this pandemic. And in fact, now that vaccine is available.”
Woodward said that Mississippi’s vaccination rate is not up to par, and that even though the state recently saw the 1 million mark passed for vaccinated residents, that only accounts for one-third of the state’s populace.
“Mississippi's rate of vaccine uptake is not what we want it to be,” she said. “It is not what we need it to be.”
Woodward cited the state’s rising case numbers due to the Delta variant, as well as myriad chronic health challenges the majority of Missisippians face such as diabetes and heart disease as factors in determining the new shift in policy.
“We have a significant portion of our citizens in the state of Mississippi that have what we call comorbid diseases—diabetes, hypertension, heart disease—and we know that those patients have a higher risk of a poor outcome with COVID, so what we have begun to see is an increase in the numbers,” Woodward said.
“So for all of these reasons, but at the very, very heart of it, the number-one reason being that we take care of the sickest patients in Mississippi, we feel strongly that this is the right thing to do.”
Woodward acknowledged that the policy decision may prove unpopular with some, even including medical professionals, but that she and other UMMC staff feel strongly that the decision is the correct one.
“There are some people in the medical profession (for) who in fact this is not a popular decision, and I acknowledge that,” Woodward said. “But on balance, when I think about the responsibility that we have to our patients who are very vulnerable and very sick, I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do.”
Per the policy change, fully vaccinated individuals are allowed to go maskless in non-clinical areas, though they must wear a mask of their choice while in clinical settings and around patients. Unvaccinated individuals must specifically wear an N95 mask at all times on UMMC premises.
Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].