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In Mississippi, COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Nursing Home Outbreaks Rising Again After Mask Mandate’s End

Three weeks after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said White House Coronavirus Taskforce Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised Mississippi's "innovative approach" to COVID-19 at this mid-July meeting, the governor mandated masks statewide, drastically reducing the number of new cases. Since he let the mandate expire on Sept. 30, though, those positive trends have begun reversing. Photo courtesy Gov. Tate Reeves

The number of Mississippi nursing homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks is once again trending upward after declining for two months. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported outbreaks in 128 nursing homes Sunday, up from 121 on Sept. 30.

After the state experienced a COVID-19 surge over the summer, the number of nursing homes with known infections peaked at 180 on Aug. 12.

The reversal comes as the state has also begun once again reporting a steady increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Three days after Gov. Tate Reeves allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire, hospitalizations fell to a post-summer surge low of 393 on Oct. 3. By Sunday, hospitalizations had climbed to 491.

On Oct. 7, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned that the signs were not looking good.

“Our equilibrium is unravelling. We know what it takes if we will just do it,” Dobbs tweeted, urging people to practice social distancing and wear masks.

Over the past seven days, Mississippi recorded 4,444 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the daily average to 635—up from a daily average of 518 the prior week. On Sept. 27, three days before Gov. Reeves ended the mask mandate, the daily average was 499.

When Gov. Tate Reeves announced last week that he would allow the mask mandate to expire, he said he would “trust the majority of the people of Mississippi to do the right thing” and continue wearing masks without “the heavy hand of government” compelling them.

The current daily average for new COVID-19 cases is the highest the state has recorded since Aug. 30, when the daily average was 640 cases.

At the Sept. 30 press conference where Reeves announced he would allow the mask mandate to expire, Dr. Dobbs struck a note of caution.

“We are still vulnerable to a rebound, and we are still vulnerable to a surge,” Dobbs said at the time, though he did not directly criticize the governor’s decision to let the mask order expire, saying the course of the pandemic would be “dependent on choices we make collectively and individually.”

“People will be indoors more and have more indoor get-togethers around the holidays,” Dobbs said on Sept. 30. “We are watching it daily, closely. If we really take it seriously, what we did over the past couple of months, it worked, and so I don’t know why we would just quit doing it and have to go back and do some of the things we did previously.”

Since the pandemic reached the Magnolia State, Mississippi has reported 104,932 cases, and 3,101 Mississippians have died from COVID-19, including 1,254 in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

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