Although the United States has seen a plateau in the number of daily COVID-19 cases, some states are seeing a troubling increase in positive tests. Experts believe two southern states, Alabama and Mississippi, could be the next major coronavirus hotspots if their daily increase of positive COVID-19 tests continues on its current trajectory. The Alabama and Mississippi coronavirus stats have certainly begun to concern those experts, especially with schools reopening in August.
As of Aug. 4, Alabama has the fourth-worst coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., based on the number of new cases per million people. Vox reported that Alabama had a test positivity rate of 21%, which is well over the recommended 5% that experts say states need to maintain to manage the pandemic. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the number of people hospitalized has doubled to 1,600 from 800 on July 1. Now, 72% of hospital beds are occupied. The state had more than 119,000 total COVID-19 cases and more than 2,000 deaths, as of Aug. 26.
Mississippi is in even worse shape. Its coronavirus outbreak ranked second-worst in the country, just behind Florida, and by late August, Mississippi had the nation’s highest infection rate. The state has more than 84,300 total COVID-19 cases and more than 2,500 deaths, as of Sept. 2.
“Both Alabama and Mississippi have an awful lot of counties that are predicted to be vulnerable on the basis of their population demographics,” William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, told Vox, “whether age, race, or socioeconomic status, or some combination of all three.”
Additionally, Alabama and Mississippi shared a lack of urgency in their responses to the pandemic—which probably explains the surge in cases. While Alabama issued a mask mandate in mid-July, Mississippi waited until Aug. 4 to issue a mask mandate.
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the top executive at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told NPR that Mississippi leaders have refrained from a statewide mask mandate because locals would not respond well to it.
“[Our] state officials are in a pickle, honestly, because they are in a bind between what the medical profession is telling them and what they know would be the opinion of a lot of the people in the state of Mississippi who would prefer to not be told, but prefer to wear the mask if they feel that they should,” Woodward said.
In both states, businesses, bars, and restaurants remained open, and by early September, buffet restaurants in Alabama were allowed to resume services, as long as at least one employee was nearby to keep masked customers at least six feet apart. One customer at Mama Lou’s Restaurant in Robertsdale told NBC 15, “This feels like we’re finally getting back to normal a little bit.”
Kids returned to school in both states, and on Aug. 17, it was reported that, in Mississippi, more than 2,000 students and nearly 600 teachers had been placed into quarantine. On Aug. 24, it was reported that an entire fourth grade class in Oxford, Mississippi had to be quarantined after a number of teachers tested positive.
“The bottom line is we just simply do not need to close our businesses,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “We need to keep our people being able to earn a good livelihood, keep the economy going.”
Because both states had refused for so long to consider imposing new restrictions, experts say the Alabama and Mississippi coronavirus stats are on a dangerous path. Harvard Global Health Institute Director Ashish Jha tweeted that if Mississippi doesn’t change course soon, it will soon surpass Florida with its number of cases per million people.