Mississippi smashed its one-day record in COVID-19 cases today, as the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,635 newly confirmed novel coronavirus infections. The State also reported 31 additional deaths, which ranks among the most ever reported in a single day.
As hospitals across the state face an intensive-care unit bed shortage crisis, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed by 32 overnight, reaching 943. An additional 211 people are hospitalized with suspected coronavirus infections. The hospitalization figures include 293 coronavirus patients in ICU beds and 140 on ventilators.
In a press conference Monday, though, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said he did not see the situation improving any time soon. Already, he said, nine hospitals have no ICU beds left, and among the four largest hospitals in the Jackson metro, just one ICU bed remained available yesterday.
Dobbs Has ‘Great Concern’ About Hospitals
“As you can see we’ve seen quite a run of days over 1,000 and we see no likely let up in that in the near future. Any interventions that take place now are going to take weeks before any benefit is noted,” the state’s top health official said.
In addition to the nine hospitals with no ICU beds left, another 16 hospitals in the state have fewer than 10% capacity remaining to receive new patients who require intensive care.
“If we look at the situations with hospitals, it’s something that gives us great concern. It really tells us we’re really at the verge of pushing our system over our capacity. In many ways, we’re already there,” Dobbs said.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has remained reluctant to institute a statewide mask mandate, even though health officials worldwide, including Dobbs, have rallied around face masks as a way to substantially slow the pandemic’s spread. Earlier this month, he issued mask mandates in 13 counties that MSDH determined had some of the worst outbreaks. He followed up yesterday with mask orders in 10 more counties: Bolivar, Covington, Forrest, Humphreys, Panola, Sharkey, Simpson, Tallahatchie, Tate and Walthall.
The earlier mandates also remain in place in the following counties: Claiborne, DeSoto, Grenada, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Quitman, Rankin, Sunflower, Washington and Wayne.
In tweets and public comments yesterday, Reeves encouraged mask-wearing, saying he was “baffled” by “friends” of his who are “anti-mask.”
“I, for one, am very grateful that there seems to be an emerging consensus around masks,” the governor tweeted yesterday.
His county-level mandates only cover 23 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, though, leaving most of the state without mask requirements, including some counties that have even worse infection rates than the ones in the governor’s mandate. Over the weekend, for example, Lamar County saw faster growth than the neighboring Forrest County, but Lamar is not on the list, while Forrest is among those listed in Reeves’ mask order.
‘I Support a Mandate’
Forrest was one of several counties that was already partially covered by face mask mandates. Hattiesburg, the county seat, has had a mask mandate for months. But miles away, in Petal, Mayor Hal Marx resisted calls for such an order, saying government should not force people to mask up.
Health experts say masks are most effective when everyone is wearing them, because they prevent the wearer from easily spreading the virus to those around him or her when they cough, sneeze or speak.
For 16 days, Mississippi House Rep. Jeramey Anderson of Moss Point has used social media to call on Gov. Reeves to issue a statewide order requiring all Mississippians to wear masks in public places. Anderson’s campaign started with a letter he wrote to Reeves earlier this month in which he warned that “Mississippi is in danger of overwhelming its health care system with cases of COVID-19.”
Anderson directed a tweet at the governor again today, urging him to “please issue a statewide order mandating that masks be worn in public.”
“We now have 23 of the 82 counties under your executive order which is counterproductive. When data shows us an area is at its breaking point— IT’S TOO LATE!” the Moss Point representative wrote.
In a press conference on July 9, University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor LouAnn Woodward said she supported a statewide mask requirement “if that is what it takes for the people of this state to realize we are serious and this is a major safety issue, then I support a mandate.”
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi since March now stands at 45,524, while the death toll is now at 1,389.
The Mississippi Free Press has an interactive map showing diagnosed coronavirus cases and confirmed deaths across the state, with county-by-county numbers from the prior day updated each morning.