COVID-19 Transmission Rising in Mississippi, County Testing Sites Limited

A woman in blue PPE and yellow face mask picks up a plastic bag from a car's windshield in a drive through COVID testing line
COVID-19 is in the first stages of a sharp rise in Mississippi and across the nation. But a decline in financial support for the Mississippi State Department of Health is limiting available testing locations. Photo U.S. National Guard photo by A. Danielle Thomas

COVID-19 transmission is beginning a sharp incline in Mississippi, with the first signs of sustained transmission emerging after a long spring trough that followed the mass infections of the omicron variant. The Mississippi State Department of Health is warning of growing cases across the state, but limited support for testing services has drastically scaled back available appointments at county health-department testing sites.

“Mississippi is seeing increasing cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant, which are now approaching 200 per day, with a continuing upward trend,” the Mississippi State Department of Health warned in its last COVID-19 update. “While the majority of cases occur in those 50 and older, infection can still cause serious illness and hospitalization for those who are younger, especially if they have not been fully vaccinated, with any booster doses they may be eligible for.”

Over the weekend, MSDH reported 955 new cases of COVID-19 for the three-day period. Friday’s report, for cases detected on Thursday, included 701 new cases, significantly higher than transmission in previous days and weeks, which at times has dipped below 100 cases in a day.

Mississippi is not alone in rising transmission. Nationally, experts are warning of a growing wave of omicron subvariants, and analysis of these emerging variants has shown worrying trends. Previously, few variants possessed the ability to outcompete other strains of the virus. Now, as Dr. Eric Topol has warned, omicron seems to be wired differently.

“Very few of the thousands of variants since late 2019 have led to significant spikes of cases around the world,” Topol wrote. “(Including) only 4 (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) before Omicron. But now multiple Omicron subvariants are outcompeting one another, predominantly because of more immune evasion.”

Continued research suggests that the currently available vaccines are still broadly effective against the omicron family of subvariants. Protection against symptomatic transmission continues to wane as new subvariants emerge, but fully vaccinated individuals and especially those with booster shots or hybrid immunity from infection show resistance to serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death.

Person getting a vaccine inside of a clinic
Vaccination remains the most effective method of preventing severe cases of COVID-19, as reinfections continue to rise. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The best free option for quick COVID tests, MSDH’s county health-department testing locations, are facing a drawdown due to waning support for anti-coronavirus measures. Even with relatively low transmission, a limited runway of testing appointments are available on the state’s scheduling website.

Liz Sharlot, MSDH communications director, explained to the Mississippi Free Press in a statement that the reduced testing availability was the result of limited capacity and a reduction in external support for the agency.

“During the COVID emergency we had a lot more assistance than we do now,” Sharlot wrote. “All of our health department (staff) returned to their ‘regular jobs’ and we no longer have the National Guard.”

Available testing now rotates through the state on a weekly basis, Sharlot explained. Roughly 42 sites are available each week. Individuals seeking testing should look for a county testing location near them, consider requesting free at-home test kits ahead of time through USPS, or reaching out to a local health-care provider.

For those who do test positive for COVID-19, interventions are still available. Some forms of monoclonal antibodies remain effective against omicron infections. Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are antiviral pills that can arrest the growth of the virus, provided they are taken within five days of symptoms emerging.

“Remember,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs wrote on social media, “we have effective treatments for COVID so GET TESTED (and) GET TREATED if you become ill.”

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