The omicron surge has likely passed its tipping point in Mississippi, declining on a quick trajectory comparable to delta’s sudden fall. New cases have fallen sharply this week, but surveillance in the state’s hospital system is a more valuable sign of decreasing transmission.
Today, just before press time, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,661 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest single-day report since late December. Yesterday, that number was 2,322 new cases, still far below omicron’s peaks of well over 9,000.
This morning, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs highlighted the decline on social media, while warning that lingering cases still burdened the state’s intensive-care unit and emergency-room capacity.
“ICU beds still tight and ERs full … but grateful to see a rapid decline in COVID hospitalizations,” Dobbs wrote.
Testing, too, is experiencing a precipitous downturn, which health experts have explained is the result of less symptomatic infection. Testing demand reached its limits in early January, with so much demand that virtually no analysis of caseloads could accurately depict the true rate of new infections, peaking at just under 300,000 tests reported in a single week.
Now, the most recent week has brought only 175,000 tests, with the state’s positivity rate declining as well.
New fatalities from coronavirus-damaged hospital patients, and recent casualties identified on death certificates continue to grow. A spike in deaths that continues after transmission declines is an expected occurrence for a COVID surge. Yesterday, MSDH added 77 new deaths to Mississippi’s long list of fatalities. The day before, that number was 93.
Deaths in Mississippi during the omicron surge have never reached the peaks of winter 2020, or the sudden spike following delta’s emergence. But significant death is still occurring. MSDH’s weekly update on Tuesday tracked 334 new COVID-19 fatalities recorded in the previous seven days alone, a number this week is already set to exceed.
Despite outbreaks in virtually all of the state’s long-term care facilities, LTC deaths no longer make up a significant proportion of all COVID fatalities, a trend that emerged with the availability of the vaccine. Health experts have previously credited the reduction in relative mortality to the early rush to ensure the vaccination of as many immunocompromised and elderly patients as is possible.
With the surge receding, state health officials are warning that those infected with COVID-19 are under-using post-infection interventions. Oral pills, like Paxlovid and molnupiravir and monoclonal antibodies like sotrovimab, show significant reduction in mortality even in unvaccinated individuals.
Experts warn that infected individuals should act quickly to secure interventions after infection, especially if they are in a high-risk group, as the treatments are more effective the sooner they are used. Some particularly high-risk adults may be able to take pre-exposure treatment to prevent the likelihood of a serious infection.
While new hospitalizations are on a sharp decline, lingering hospitalizations still have more than 1,000 Mississippians in the state’s hospitals with or because of COVID-19. Just over 250 patients with COVID-19 crowd the state’s ICUs, which remain severely battered from years of pandemic stretch.
In spite of—or perhaps because of—the surge in new cases, Mississippi’s vaccination rate has cratered, reaching the lowest rates since the widespread availability of the shot. Last week, Mississippi recorded 13,990 new first, second and booster doses. For the week beginning Feb. 5, that number is currently 9,794.
Mississippi is currently tied for last place in vaccinations with Wyoming and Alabama, all with exactly 50% of its population having two shots of the vaccine. Mississippi’s booster rate is near the bottom of the nation as well.
Despite omicron’s real threat to even immunized individuals, extensive studies on the variant continue to yield concrete evidence that vaccination is still enormously protective against COVID. The booster generates an immune response that is especially valuable in protecting against symptomatic infection, and critical for further reducing the chance of hospitalization.
Even more than three months after a booster dose, data show 80%-plus effectiveness at reducing omicron hospitalization.
As this variant wanes, health officials hope that some combination of natural antibodies derived through infection and vaccination will give the state more durable protection against the pandemic moving forward.