Mississippi, a state tied for the lowest rate of COVID-19 vaccinations, is in the middle of a coronavirus surge that most parts of the U.S. haven’t experienced in several months.
There were 5,023 new cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi on Thursday, as well as 31 deaths from the virus and 166 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities, state officials reported. A whopping 97% of new cases were in unvaccinated people, who also make up the majority of those hospitalized and dying from the disease.
That’s the “largest number of COVID cases a day that we ever have” reported, state health officer Thomas Dobbs said Friday at a news conference.
Among the deaths were four people in their 20s, including two who were pregnant, and 10 people in their 30s. These weren’t “chronically ill cancer patients,” Dobbs said; however, they were all unvaccinated individuals.
With just 35% of residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Mississippi is tied with Alabama as the state with the lowest vaccination rate.
Some people hospitalized with COVID-19 will be treated in ad hoc intensive care units in tents and garages, as the spike in cases has outpaced bed availability. The University of Mississippi Medical Center, the largest hospital in the state, began constructing a field hospital with tents in a parking garage this week.
“Unfortunately, we were standing in a tent again,” Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC’s associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, said at a news conference Thursday. “None of us wanted to come back to this point, but it’s gotten to the point where we’re just not able to care for the patients at UMMC, and in the state of Mississippi, that need the care with COVID. I think when you’re seeing a field hospital at a major academic medical center, we’re pretty much at a collapse-like system.”
State Sen. Joel Carter (R) revealed on Thursday that he had decided to get vaccinated “after struggling with the decision for months.”
“The infection numbers among the unvaccinated made me pull the trigger,” he said.
Gov. Tate Reeves (R) ― who in recent weeks has come under fire for barely acknowledging the dire situation in Mississippi, traveling out of state and dismissing concern about his state’s low vaccination rates ― said at Friday’s press conference that people should talk to their doctors about getting the vaccine.
“As I have said repeatedly over the last several days, this current wave seems more and more to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Reeves said.
“I’ve been vaccinated,” he added. “My mom’s been vaccinated, my dad’s been vaccinated, my wife’s been vaccinated, my grandmom has been vaccinated.”
Dobbs made a much more direct plea, as many people do not have a primary care physician or even regular access to health care. “If you consider me a doctor, which I am … I encourage pretty much every single person to be vaccinated,” he said.
Reeves didn’t acknowledge the state’s low vaccination rate on Friday, instead positing that the surge was especially bad in Mississippi and other southern states because “people have gone inside” due to the heat.
One of the worst outbreaks in the state is in the rural community that hosted the crowded Neshoba County Fair. Thousands of people congregated at the event to attend concerts, horse races and speeches — including one from Reeves in which he derided recent mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “foolish” and “harmful.” As of Friday, Neshoba County had the highest per-capita COVID-19 caseload in Mississippi.
Reeves said Friday that he still does not have “any intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate for any category of Mississippians” and dismissed the idea of asking vaccinated people to wear face coverings.
The governor sparred with several reporters who asked why he wouldn’t encourage people to wear masks if doing so was helpful in indoor settings.
“If you really want to virtue signal … why don’t you go to your house, lock yourself up in the house,” he told a reporter, “because you will not give it to anybody if you don’t see anybody.”
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