Mississippi schools are set to begin opening this month, as the state sees the largest COVID-19 surge since last winter. COVID-19 safety policies are left to each school to decide, though the Mississippi State Department of Health recommends vaccination for all eligible students and faculty. Photo courtesy Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The state is now experiencing a full COVID-19 resurgence as the fourth wave of the deadly virus spreads across Mississippi towns and communities. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 573 new cases today with 2,326 reported over the weekend, averaging 725 daily cases over the past four days. Weekend data are generally under-reported due to staffing issues, underscoring an already significant spike in cases.
“What's going to happen is painfully obvious,” Dobbs said Friday, July 16, in a Mississippi State Medical Association press briefing. “We saw Delta come in real hard,” he said. “We saw a low immunization rate. We saw what happened in Missouri and Arkansas.”
This month Missouri saw its weekly case average increase by 150%, while Arkansas saw its average increase by 287%. “We are truly in a very dangerous predicament," Springfield, Mo., Mayor Ken McClure said of that city's case increase earlier this month.
Delta Greater Risk to Unvaccinated
Unvaccinated individuals and communities are at greater risk due to the delta variant’s contagious nature, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explained last Friday.
“I think it's important to lay out ‘why is delta variant a problem,’ and it's very simple,” Dobbs said. “Number one, it's twice as contagious as the COVID we saw a year ago.”
“Effective herd immunity” is not possible with Mississippi’s current vaccination rates and prior cases, Dobbs said, which still trails behind almost every other state.
“Number two, if you've had COVID before, your immune response to delta is not very good,” he said. “So it's quite plausible and a lot more likely that you'll get COVID from delta, even if you've had COVID before. And then number three, we're just under-vaccinated.”
Dobbs reported that 95% of recent cases occurred in unvaccinated individuals, and 93% of fatalities had not been vaccinated. “That means 93% of our deaths are preventable,” Dobbs said.
Other state leadership weighed in on the news, with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann echoing Dobbs’ report and calling for Mississippians to protect themselves as the virus surges.
“COVID-19 cases have almost doubled in the last week from prior weeks, and there is beginning to be a shortage of ICU beds in our hospitals,” Hosemann tweeted yesterday. “Please protect yourselves.”
Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Moss Point, expressed his frustration at the state’s continuing low vaccination rates.
“Consequences of not getting vaccinated and poor mask wearing,” Anderson tweeted yesterday. “Well Mississippi—you wanted it here it is. This is ridiculous and the deaths that will definitely follow were completely avoidable.”
In-Person-Learning To Resume
In contrast to last year, in-person-learning is set to return as the standard guideline for schools starting this year’s fall semester. Online lessons may still be offered, but students must travel to campus in order to take statewide tests.
MSDH guidelines recommend vaccination for all eligible students and faculty. Any unvaccinated students or staff should wear masks, according to the MSDH guidelines laid out Thursday. Social distancing in classrooms is recommended as well, with a 3-foot minimum distance between students.
Mississippi schools start at differing times, with the earliest fall semesters starting as early as next week in Corinth.
Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].