By Will Stribling
Keeping their own public health guidance in lockstep with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mississippi Department of Health updated its COVID-19 related recommendations on Wednesday, calling on all Mississippians, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear masks while in public indoor spaces.
Additionally, MSDH is recommending that if someone is exposed to someone with COVID-19, they should get tested regardless of their vaccination status. This is due to the presence of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, seen at a considerably higher rate since the emergence of the Delta variant.
Whether Mississippi school districts will follow MSDH guidance on masking in school buildings is yet to be seen. Most schools are set to begin the new school year in early to mid-August, and many districts across the state are starting the school year with masks being optional for all.
Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE), the state’s teachers union, called on Gov. Tate Reeves to mandate masks in schools in the fall on Monday. Reeves then doubled down on his opposition to COVID-19 related mandates.
“Governor Reeves has no intention of requiring students and staff to wear masks when they’re in school this fall,” Bailey Martin, a spokesperson for Reeves, said.
MSDH also confirmed the fourth COVID-related death of a minor on Wednesday. Two of the four were between ages 11-17, one was between 6-10 and one was between 1-5. The most recent child to die had an underlying medical issue, but State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said it was a common one.
“It’s nothing that people don’t live with every day in the state of Mississippi commonly,” Dobbs said. “So this is a real tragedy and speaks to the importance of preventing transmission.”
The surge of Delta infections is putting an enormous amount of stress on Mississippi’s healthcare system. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased 156% over the past two weeks, most of them unvaccinated. The staffing levels across Mississippi hospitals can’t meet this level of need, especially when it comes to nurses. This is due to many nurses leaving the state for higher paying jobs elsewhere, or leaving the medical field altogether due to the traumas of the past year.
Dobbs said he hears from nurses every day who can’t believe they’re going through another wave.
“I’m sad to say that I think we’re driving some nurses away from inpatient hospital work because it’s so exhausting… I mean, there’s only so much that we can expect for people to put up with and we’re putting a lot more stress on them now,” Dobbs said.
In some areas of the state, patients that would normally be in an ICU are having to receive care in an emergency room because there are no ICU beds available, according to Jim Craig, Director of Health Protection.
Additionally, the number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities has increased from 19 to 95 since July 1. Dobbs stressed that most of these infections are occurring in unvaccinated staff members. Though the vast majority of residents in these facilities are vaccinated, some are being infected by these unvaccinated carriers due to the highly infectious nature of Delta and the weaker immune systems that come with old age.
The worsening conditions for the state’s medical providers are only expected to get worse. Mississippians should expect delays and longer wait times to receive care in hospitals, according to Dobbs. One might be in the ER twice as long as usual, or be transferred to a hospital many hours away from their families.
“That’s just the inevitability of where we are,” Dobbs said. “So, thank your healthcare heroes. Please don’t be frustrated with them. They’re doing everything they can to keep you alive and keep you healthy. Just be prepared to be patient, because it’s going to be a rough few weeks.”