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Official: Mississippi likely headed for 5th COVID-19 wave

December 29, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — COVID-19 outbreaks in Mississippi nursing homes have almost doubled in the past week, an indicator that the state is likely heading into another major surge of virus cases and hospitalizations, a top health official said Wednesday.

“We’re in the midst of a peak of transmission that we’ve never seen, most likely, this whole pandemic,” Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Wednesday news conference.

The state health officer said people who test positive or are exposed should take precautions and quarantine for at least five days, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“Don’t perpetuate the chain of transmission,” Dobbs said. “This is really a ‘love thy neighbor’ sort of moment, and ‘love thy family,’ also. Stay home.”

There were 63 outbreaks in Mississippi nursing homes Monday, nearly twice the number of nursing home outbreaks reported in the state last week, state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers wrote Wednesday in a memo to Mississippi hospitals and health care providers. There were 8,344 new COVID-19 cases reported last week, an 80% increase from the week before. Byers said a growing proportion of Mississippi cases are fueled by the omicron variant of the virus.

“We really are in the fifth wave now of COVID for Mississippi,” Byers said during the news conference.

Last week, the omicron variant accounted for about 13% of all samples sequenced in the state, up from about 8% in the previous week. Byers said these numbers likely underrepresent the impact of omicron on the state because some samples collected recently are still pending sequencing. The omicron variant is significantly more infectious than the delta variant.

A total of 400 people were hospitalized with a confirmed coronavirus infection in Mississippi on Monday, compared with 239 people on Christmas Eve, the Department of Health reported.

Jim Craig, senior deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health and director of health protection, the shortage of health care workers continues to be a concern for health officials. Lack of staff prevents hospitals from opening all available beds to treat patients.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for our smaller community, county hospitals to transport patients to some of our larger centers. ... It all plays back to the staffing issue,” he said.

Health officials said Tuesday that 48% of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29% had received a booster shot. About 63% of people nationwide are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the surge in new virus cases, there has also been a surge in demand for testing. Dobbs said the state is expanding the number of available testing sites, and asked residents to be patient.

“There is testing available, it’s just not on-demand like we’ve had before,” he said. “... That convenience might not be quite as big as it has been. But you know, this is a moment of phenomenally increased demand. So it’ll be a little bit of a challenge.”

Due to a surge in new confirmed coronavirus cases, the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city has ordered the closure of city hall and other offices.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s new executive order closing offices went into effect Wednesday. Only essential employees will continue to work in person, he said. The order will stay in place until at least next Wednesday.

“The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rate,” the mayor said in a statement. “The City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat.”

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.