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‘It’s Going to Be a Tragedy’: Mississippi Smashes COVID-19 Record With 1,972 Cases Today

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, seen here during a summer press briefing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, is warning that the COVID-19 situation will only worsen over the next few weeks. Photo courtesy UMMC.

With hospital resources quickly dwindling statewide, Mississippi smashed its one-day record for new COVID-19 cases as the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,972 new cases this morning. The old record, set at the height of the summer wave on July 30, was 1,775 cases.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide has soared by 219 since last week to 897, nearing the peak the state hit during the worst period for hospitalizations in late July and early August. 

This time, though, top health officials say there is no sign of a slowdown in sight. 

“We’re not at the peak—not by a longshot,” Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said yesterday during a roundtable Zoom discussion with members of the Mississippi State Medical Association. 

Over the last seven days alone, around one in every 320 Mississippians tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

‘See Mawmaw at Thanksgiving, Bury Her By Christmas’

Hospitals reported 225 patients in intensive-care units yesterday. Statewide, only 115 of 886 adult ICU beds statewide remain available.

“The hospitals are full. … It’s going to overflow, and we’re pretty much there,” Dobbs said yesterday. “We’re really going to be in big trouble. We’re not just making this up. It’s real.”

Dobbs and other members of the MSMA reiterated warnings they gave last week when they urged Mississippians not to have big family Thanksgiving gatherings this year. Instead, they said last week, people should plan holiday dinners only with nuclear family members who live in the same household with them.

Otherwise, the top doctors warned, Mississippians who attend big Thanksgiving dinners could be planning small Christmas funerals weeks later.

“We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas. … You’re going to say hi at Thanksgiving, it’s so nice to see you, and you’re either going to be visiting her by Facetime in the ICU or planning a small funeral by Christmas,” MSMA President Dr. Mark Horne said during last week’s discussion.

Mississippi hospitals across the state are running out of ICU beds. Photo courtesy UMMC

Yesterday, the state health officer said people had asked them whether or not it would be a good idea to bring family members in nursing homes to the house for Thanksgiving.

“We think that’s a really bad idea. … It’s not a good idea to go home and have dinner with your family and come back. That’s extremely high risk,” Dobbs said. He noted that MSDH is telling long-term-care facilities that any residents who leave for holiday visits should quarantine in isolation for 14 days upon returning.

Dobbs said family members should instead take advantage of universal outdoor visitation to see loved ones in long-term-care facilities during the holidays.

“It’s just a bad idea to take them out in an environment of college kids coming back or whatever; it makes it so much more risky,” he said. “You catch it from people you love. Your friends and your family.”

The number of long-term-care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks has risen dramatically since Nov. 9, rising from 105 on that day to 173 today.

Horne cautioned that even family gatherings for gift giving after Thanksgiving could prove deadly. “The gift that we’re going to give people is our presence and then their illness that’s going to result in their deaths,” he said. “It’s going to be a great tragedy, and it’s totally unnecessary.”

Dobbs: Churches ‘Powerless’ Without Mask Mandate

The state wrested COVID-19 back from its summer surge highs after Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide mask mandate in August, following dozens of county-level orders in July. On Sept. 30, when the state was reporting a seven-day average of just 500 new COVID-19 cases per day, the governor hailed the mandate’s success and allowed it to expire.

“We have to make sure that we do not go back to the more dangerous times of serious hospital capacity issues. I am not extending the mask mandate. … I still plan to wear them, and I expect that most people in our state will still wear them often,” Gov. Reeves said when he announced he would let the mask mandate expire ahead of the holiday season.

But across the state, public mask wearing quickly fell off in early October, and COVID-19 cases began to climb. Today, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases reached an all-time high of about 1,300 daily cases, beating the prior record of 1,200 during the summer.

“We’ve heard a bunch of stories about how when the mask mandate fell, people had a false impression that the risk was lower. And it wasn’t. The risk was not lower,” Dr. Dobbs said during a Nov. 12 MSDH discussion about COVID-19 that the department broadcast live on Facebook. “And we’ve seen especially in church congregations big outbreaks because the churches let their guard down.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves ended the statewide mask mandate on Sept. 30, days after this White House meeting with Vice President Mike Pence (right) and White House Coronavirus Taskforce expert Dr. Debroah Birx (left). Photo courtesy Vice President Mike Pence

Dobbs released a chart earlier this week showing that, among those who have tested positive and reported attending a mass gathering during the viral incubation period or around the time they got infected, a third say they had attended a church service during that time.

Yesterday, the state health officer said that without a mask mandate in place, many churches and businesses have struggled to enforce masking and social-distancing requirements.

“One of the things that’s really helped about the mask mandates is churches and businesses feel like they have the authority to do it, and when we take the mask mandate away, they feel powerless,” the state health officer said.

Gov. Reeves reinstated more than a dozen county-level mask mandates starting in mid-October as cases began soaring again. Those mandates have had mixed results, with transmission rates dropping in some counties, but continually rising in others. 

He has not indicated any plans for a new statewide order, however. The governor has refused to require churches to comply with social distancing guidelines even when imposing them on other organizations, claiming it would be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has repeatedly upheld public health orders that required church compliance.

‘Wacky Stuff Coming Out of DeSoto County’

In DeSoto County, where a number of local officials, including the sheriff, are defying the Reeves’ county-level mask mandate, cases have continually risen during the weeks since Reeves enacted it.

“There is some wacky stuff coming out of DeSoto County,” Dobbs said.

Local officials, including current and former Mississippi House representatives, have pushed conspiracy theories meant to downplay the virus, called it an election stunt meant to hurt President Donald Trump’s re-election chances, and painted mask mandates as “communist” plots designed to kill businesses and destroy freedom.

“There is some wacky stuff coming out of DeSoto County,” Dobbs said yesterday. “I don’t want to have some sort of excessive government to mandate what we do day-to-day. But we have to walk around with our clothes on. We don’t get mad when we have to wear underwear.”

The state health officer and the MSMA president pointed out that deaths in Mississippi this year are about 25% higher than in normal years.

“If there’s an approximate 25% increase in mortality in the state in one year, if that was because people were driving off broken bridges, we’d have an uproar at the Legislature about fixing bridges,” Dr. Horne said. “But (we don’t) because it’s COVID.”

Dobbs concurred.

“Oh, we’d go crazy. And we, the docs, have just got to let science speak. We’re not political people. We’re just public-health docs,” Dobbs said. “… This is what we’ve been doing for the better part of our lives. And so we don’t have any agenda other than trying to preserve life and prosperity.”

MSDH reported an additional 15 COVID-19 deaths today, bringing the total number of reported deaths since the pandemic arrived here in March to 3,657.

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