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Covid-19 isn't going away

Special to Wesson News

In the midst of soaring new cases of Covid-19 throughout the state, the top health official in Mississippi says the state will mirror the near healthcare crisis that occurred in New York several weeks ago because too many residents aren't taking precautions that can keep the novel coronavirus pandemic at bay lightly.

State health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned the rising numbers of cases will continue if Mississippians don’t take social distancing and mask-wearing seriously.

"It's not just the cases," he adds. "We have seen the highest number of hospitalized patients. I'm terrified we will overwhelm the health care system, the hospitals, the ICUs. Not in the fall, but imminently. If we’re not careful, Mississippi is going to look like New York at the height of the pandemic there.

“We can stick our head in the sand and try to find excuses so that we don’t have to modify our behaviors, but it doesn’t change the truth. “The truth is, there’s a lot of Covid-19 out there; it’s killing people; it’s going to kill a lot of people and it’s going to stress out our healthcare system.”

. The good news continues to be no new deaths reported along the coast, which still totals 36 deaths from Covid-19 -- 3.5 percent of the statewide total.

Mississippi is not alone in seeing dramatic spikes in new cases of the coronavirus. States across the South from Florida to Texas are reporting a spike in cases. Governors in both Florida and Texas ordered all bars in those states to stop serving alcohol.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Covid-19 cases are trending upward in about half of the 50 states, and several have joined Mississippi in setting new daily high marks.

About six percent of the U.S. population has been infected with the virus.

Like public health officials elsewhere, Dobbs says Mississippi officials are open to imposing mask-wearing requirements to temper the virus. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton announced an intent to impose new safety orders, including masking requirements inside the all of city’s businesses. Two Biloxi casinos -- Beau Rivage and Harrah’s -- are requring patrons to wear masks.

Dobbs scoffs at the idea the spike in coronavirus cases is simply the result of an increase in testing, as some have proposed. Total testing has actually gone down, he says. In Mississippi, it is approaching 300,000 -- about ten percent of the state's population, with a positive rate of 8.8 percent.

While the 60-plus age group continues to be hardest hit by the virus in terms of deaths (84.5 percent) and hospitalizations (60.1 percent), the 18-29 age group has by far the most total number of cases at almost 6,000.

Mississippi’s drastic increase comes weeks after state officials began taking measures to reopen the state. Restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and movie theaters are among the businesses currently open with limited seating.

Dobbs says he doesn't think the new cases were caused by the state opening back up too quickly. The real problem is a lack of concern for safety guidelines, the health officer said. Dobbs also says a statewide facial mask mandate, which has been proposed and passed in several other states, would be "untenable" in Mississippi if state and local leaders, as well as law enforcement officials, don't "live by example."

State Epidemiologist Paul Byers says many of the new cases stem from community transmission of the virus from younger, asymptomatic people to their older relatives after attending social gatherings. “There have been lots of parties where 300-plus people are getting together and they’re close and they’re drinking," Byers points out. "We can’t act surprised that we’re seeing these types of increases in cases."

Dobbs says the recent increases "feel like a slap in the face after weeks of forward momentum." Officials were just considering starting to lift restriction on nursing home visitations, and now they need to start discussing implementing more restrictions, Dobbs notes.

“This is screwing it up,” he says. “It is so selfish for people to be out doing stuff, perpetuating this pandemic for nothing more than the crawfish boil.”

For now, the best thing people can do to protect themselves and others is to avoid large groups, wear masks and be cautious, Byers says. “We need to start with a vengeance,” he says. “Once things start going, it’s like trying turning around the Titanic.”

Governor Tate Reeves has taken to Twitter to back up Dobbs, and warn people that Covid-19 is not gone just because they “give up.” “Please listen," Reeves pleads. "We’ve been beating this drum for months. Dr. Dobbs is graphic in his warnings to us about where this heads. If people just follow current orders and aren’t reckless, we can beat this.”

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