Mississippi schools not required to disclose COVID outbreaks
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi school district that has seen a handful of coronavirus cases among students since reopening for in-person classes last week is doing a good job of being transparent with the public, the governor and the state’s top health official said Wednesday.
The Corinth School District has reported six cases since July 27. More than 100 students are quarantined, according to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. He described the district as a “model” of how school districts should respond to the pandemic. The district has been posting daily updates on its Facebook page after receiving positive test results.
However, Dobbs and Reeves said during a news conference that the state has no requirement for districts to release information to the public when schools have outbreaks.
“I commend Corinth and their leadership for doing that. They aren’t trying to hide anything. They’re being very transparent,” Reeves said.
He said there’s no “specific guideline” for how schools should report coronavirus outbreaks. All school districts should make positive test results public, but it’s up to them to do so, Reeves said.
The state Department of Health is working on releasing data of outbreaks in schools by county, which would appear on its website with other daily coronavirus information, Dobbs said. However, he did not say whether that data would be organized district by district.
“We are starting to see more and more positive cases in schools, as they’ve opened up,” Dobbs said.
Reeves on Tuesday mandated that all Mississippians wear masks in public, including students in schools. He also delayed the start of the school year for upper grades in eight counties that are hard-hit by COVID-19.
Reeves said if he were running school districts, he would push back the start of school for a few weeks at least – possibly until the end of the month.
“But I didn’t get elected to run a school district,” Reeves said. “We’ve got literally hundreds of Mississippians that got elected to school boards to run their school districts. We, in Mississippi, believe in autonomy, we believe in giving them the opportunity, and there’s a reason for that.”
He said people are quick to focus on the risk of returning students to in-person instruction, instead of the potential benefits.
“It seems that you’re willing to recognize and admit that there is risk to kids going back in school, but completely ignore the risks that are associated with kids not going back to school,” he said at the press briefing, adding that school is important for students’ social and emotional well-being.
In Jackson, where the public school system announced that it would educate students completely remotely this fall because of rising coronavirus cases, the mayor announced a new curfew beginning Thursday. All residents who are not essential employees will be now prohibited from driving or walking in the city from midnight to 5 a.m. Hinds County, where Jackson is located, has seen the highest number of coronavirus cases in the state.
The seven-day rolling average of the coronavirus positivity rate in Mississippi has risen over the past two weeks from 17.7% on July 21 to 25.8% on Tuesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization that collects coronavirus testing data in the United States. Mississippi has one of the highest positivity rates in the country.
The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi, which has a population of about 3 million, has had at least 63,444 reported cases and at least 1,804 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. That’s an increase of 1,245 confirmed cases and 51 deaths from numbers reported the day before.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness
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.