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As Mississippi’s COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike 145%, Gov. Reeves Rejects Mitigation Efforts

Tate Reeves speaking at a rally, as people hold signs with his name on it behind him
Mississippi experienced a 145% spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations between July 29, 2023, and Aug. 29, 2023, but Gov. Tate Reeves said in an Aug. 28 press release that he would not impose a mask mandate or other guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. He is pictured here on July 28, 2023, at the Neshoba County Fair. Photo by Heather Harrison

Mississippi’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased 145% amid a late summer spike in cases between July 29 and Aug. 29, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows. But statewide masking guidelines will not change, nor will the State institute any other restrictions to prevent further spread, Gov. Tate Reeves says.

The state reported 184 new admissions for COVID-19 the week of Aug. 29, up from 75 new hospital admissions a month earlier on July 29. September’s numbers are not available yet.

As experts nationwide suggested people, especially those who are immunocompromised, wear face masks amid the rise of new COVID-19 variants, the Republican governor issued a press release rejecting any new steps to combat the virus. In one Aug. 25 article citing expert opinions, CBS News’ Sara Moniuszko posed the question, “Is masking coming back?

“The simple answer to the question being posed by ‘experts’ is: no. We will not return to widespread masking or COVID rules,” Reeves said in an Aug. 28 press release. The statement comes at a time when baseless conspiracy theories have spread online about the return of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.

“If you want to take extraordinary measures to protect yourself from getting sick, God bless you,” the governor wrote. “That is your right and you should do what you think is best. Maybe you’re the smartest of all of us. But we are never going back to 2020.”

‘We Still Have People Who Die of COVID’

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney said the Mississippi State Department of Health continues to watch COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, noting that intensive-care unit admissions have increased but not drastically.

“We’re not being as strict in our recommendations as we were two years ago because the danger is not there, but (COVID-19) still has significant consequences,” the MSDH leader told the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 6. “So the two things we’re trying to protect right now, we’re trying to protect our vulnerable population, and then we’re also trying to protect our workforce.”

Headshot of Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney, pictured, said on Sept. 6, 2023, that the Mississippi State Department of Health continues to watch COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations while tracking variants of the virus. Photo courtesy MSDH

The CDC reported 10 deaths the week of July 29 and 15 the week of Aug. 19. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, at least 14,814 Mississippians have died from COVID-19.

“Deaths remain low,” Edney said. “They’ve not gone up, thankfully. But they’re not zero. A lot of people don’t realize we still have people who die of COVID. It’s just, thankfully, not as many as two years ago.”

The CDC does not publicly provide daily COVID-19 case updates online anymore. Before the COVID-19 public health emergency order ended on May 11, 2023, the agency uploaded COVID-19 case data from state health departments to its website for the public to view.

This week, the CDC approved an updated COVID-19 booster shot that could become available to the public as early as this week and recommended it for all Americans ages 6 and older. Since vaccines first became widely available in 2021, the death rate has plummeted among those who received the vaccine. “Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Director Dr. Peter Marks said in a statement.

COVID-19 Policies in Schools 

The Mississippi State Department of Health and the CDC set COVID-19 policies and guidelines for the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. MDE is not responsible for mandating how public schools handle COVID-19, Chief of Communication Jean Cook told the Mississippi Free Press.

Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, MDE set virtual learning policies for districts. Cook said many school districts continue to have virtual learning options in place for students who need to be absent due to illness or injury. Public school districts do not begin reporting absences to the MDE until October, so data on statewide absenteeism is currently unavailable.

Classes are in person for the 2023-2024 school year, and districts are monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Jackson Public Schools Executive Director of Public Engagement Sherwin Johnson said JPS is aware of the increased reports of COVID-19 transmission.

“We are aware of a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases nationwide,” Johnson said in an email to the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 31. “Medical experts have stated that although there has been an uptick during the summer months, they do not expect severe cases nor the rise in cases to be prolonged. Jackson Public Schools will continue to encourage staff, scholars and families to monitor for symptoms and get tested when they are not feeling well.”

MSDH also governs how state universities and colleges respond to the virus.

“We continue to rely on the Mississippi State Department of Health for guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Assistant Commissioner for Government Relations Kim Gallaspy said in a statement to the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 5.

She said IHL does not have information on absences related to COVID-19, but individual institutions may track those numbers.

Strains and Symptoms

The Mississippi State Department of Health and CDC continue to recommend that people who test positive for COVID-19 quarantine for five days and then wear a face mask when around others for five days.

Omicron is still the main strain of COVID-19 infecting Mississippians, while the new European variant BA.2.86 has not made it to the Magnolia state, Dr. Edney said. The state health officer said MSDH evaluates a specific percentage of positive COVID tests to determine which strains are active in the state.

COVID-19 new hospital admissions by week in Mississippi as reported to the CDC from August 27, 22 - August 26, 2023
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Mississippi in late August 2023 reached their highest levels since February 2023. Courtesy CDC

The Omicron strain has symptoms of a sinus infection, like a stuffy nose, but a person may not have a cough, a high fever or shortness of breath, Edney said.

“So, a lot of people, it’s more like a summertime cold, and they’re not that sick and don’t worry about it,” he said. “A lot of those with COVID shake it off pretty easily because they have enough immunity that their body fights it well enough.”

While symptoms might be lighter, Edney noted that spreading COVID to older people or those with chronic health conditions could be deadly.

“The ones who are dying are mostly our older folks in nursing homes or 80-year-olds with chronic health problems, which is why we still need to be careful,” he said. “I wouldn’t want my 80-year-old grandmother to die of COVID unnecessarily. Just because they’re vulnerable, I still want to try to protect that population from dying unnecessarily.”

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