The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 641 new cases of COVID-19 today, the highest single-day report of new cases since Mar. 13, 2021, the end of the national surge from the winter holidays. In virtually every other metric, signs of widespread community transmission of coronavirus are visible, which the highly infectious delta variant is driving, public-health officials confirm.
The current seven-day average of new cases is 357, more than twice as much as the lulls in June. Hospitals across Mississippi are reporting a glut of critical cases of COVID-19, reminiscent of earlier spikes before the vaccine became widely available.
Seven children across Mississippi are in intensive-care units with COVID-19, with two of the seven ventilated and on life support. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reported the tragic development last night on Twitter, blaming a surge in cases of the Delta variant—and correcting his earlier erroneous report from a hospital that incorrectly inflated the numbers to 12 children in ICUs and 10 on ventilators.
In spite of the rising curve of new cases, and the sharp spike in new hospitalizations, including some severe cases among children, Gov. Tate Reeves confirmed yesterday that he would not consider additional COVID-19 executive orders. At an event honoring the National Guard in Tupelo, the governor told the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion that no additional restrictions were forthcoming, citing the widespread availability of vaccinations to all who want them—although no vaccine for children younger than 12 is currently available.
The restrictions Reeves says he will not consider include any return to masking in schools, which are set to resume full in-person learning in the fall. Despite the news of the sharp spike in new cases and hospitalizations, Reeves is clearly communicating that the time for such measures is past.
Delta Rising in Mississippi
Delta, a highly contagious strain of coronavirus, is behind the oncoming surge of new cases, which have bent the curve back upward after months of decline thanks to Mississippi’s vaccine drive.
But while Mississippi State Department of Health data show the available vaccines are still extremely effective at preventing coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the increased aggressiveness of the new variant has it racing through the state’s unvaccinated population.
Surveillance sampling has shown the variant to be completely dominant in Mississippi. “Pretty much ALL cases in MS are Delta variant right now,” Dobbs explained on July 12 in a social-media post, adding that the “vast majority of cases/hospitalizations/deaths (are) UNVACCINATED.”
Through most of June and early July, MSDH and private clinics detected 94% of all cases in unvaccinated residents. Percentages of breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths—meaning in fully vaccinated individuals—are slightly higher, 12% and 7%, respectively.
The state health officer chalks this disparity up to the high vaccination rates of the state’s most vulnerable population—meaning the virus simply has fewer unvaccinated at-risk individuals to infect. While the vaccine still offers this group powerful protection against the variant, some immunocompromised adults may remain vulnerable to the evolving virus. Young, healthy, unvaccinated adults and children are capable of introducing infection in these compromised groups.
“Please remember – if you are immunocompromised for any reason – talk to your doctor. You might need an antibody test to make sure you are immune. If not – a booster dose may be indicated,” Dobbs tweeted on July 12.
These immunocompromised groups continue to make up the largest portion of Mississippians lost to COVID-19, Dobbs added. “7% of deaths in vaccinated worrisome – we are allowing too much circulating Delta to reach our most vulnerable.”
Delta has caused a sudden, rapid onset of new hospitalizations. MSDH data released today show an 85% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations across Mississippi in the last week alone. Critical cases in the state’s ICUs are climbing toward 100, with just over half on life support. Public-health officials warn that the surge may only accelerate.
This second summer surge has led the state health agency to issue additional COVID-19 advisories, encouraging all Mississippians aged 65 or older, as well as those with underlying health conditions, to avoid public gatherings. The advisory also strongly encourages all Mississippians to wear masks in public settings, although with the governor’s rejection of new mandates, those suggestions are set to remain just that.
Elsewhere in the South, COVID-19 vaccinations are hitting unprecedented new roadblocks. In Tennessee, currently the national hotspot for new cases of COVID-19, the Tennessee Department of Health has ended all vaccination outreach to adolescents—not only for COVID-19 vaccines but for all other diseases.
Even Tennessee teenagers who have already received their first dose will not receive a reminder to take their second shot, leaving their protection against the virus severely compromised as the second summer wave surges through the state.