A fourth child under the age of 17 has died from COVID-19 in Mississippi, and state health officials are recommending a return to using face masks for everyone while indoors in public areas, regardless if they are vaccinated.
During a press conference Wednesday, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said two of the children who died were between 11 and 17 years old, one was in the 6-10 age group and one was between 1 and 5 years old.
“The most recent death was a child who did have an underlying health issue, but it was a common medical issue,” Dobbs said. “It was not something that people don’t live with every day in Mississippi.”
Dobbs said the increased danger to younger age groups is due to the delta variant of COVID-19, which has recently become the dominant strain in the U.S.
Dobbs said Wednesday that 9 percent of the recent COVID samples taken in the state are the delta variant.
“It’s highly contagious, and most of the transmission is occurring from the unvaccinated,” Dobbs said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released revised guidelines Tuesday calling for students, staff and school visitors to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
“It is likely that we will be aligning our guidance with CDC guidelines, as well,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
Oxford and Lafayette County school districts recently approved back-to-school plans that make face masks optional — whether or not a student, teacher or staff member is vaccinated.
Byers encouraged parents to have their children, ages 12 and up, vaccinated.
“This can help prevent transmission in school settings and among the vulnerable population, especially when you have a situation where there is a shared household,” he said Wednesday.
Health officials are also encouraging people 65 and up with compromised immune systems to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ninety-five percent of new cases are in people who are unvaccinated, and 80 percent of the deaths are among the unvaccinated, Dobbs said Wednesday.
“That means we are seeing breakthrough cases among those who are vaccinated,” he said.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,875 new cases and six additional deaths on Wednesday.
In the last 10 days, Lafayette County has seen an increase of 92 cases, from 6,421 on July 19 to 6,513 as of Wednesday.