The COVID-19 surge in Mississippi has reportedly gotten out of hand. Another local event is causing a big surge in Mississippi, which is already reporting record-high numbers of new COVID cases driven by the delta variant. Two weeks after hosting a fair that drew thousands, all of whom lived in close quarters and attended shoulder-to-shoulder outdoor activities, the rural county of Neshoba is dealing with an onslaught of COVID infections.
According to the Associated Press, Mississippi broke its single-day record of new COVID-19 cases three times last week. As of Aug. 15, more than 7,800 new COVID positive test results were reported to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The record prior to last week’s influx was documented in January, months before vaccinations became fully accessible.
As of Aug. 16, Neshoba County had the highest number of new daily COVID cases in Mississippi at 305 per day per 100,000 people, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 case tracker.
“In spite of the angry rhetoric coming from so many, our emergency management team is doing what it does—we are calmly dealing with an ever-changing environment to meet the needs of Mississippi,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted last week.
Reeves’ comments came after weeks of spotty communication regarding the virus in the state. During the previously mentioned Neshoba County Fair, which Reeves reportedly attended, he addressed conservative constituents with a speech calling out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for giving “foolish” and “harmful” recommendations to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The COVID spike in Neshoba follows a disastrous start to the school year in Mississippi. Almost 1,000 students, along with 300 teachers and school staff, tested positive for the virus in less than two weeks. Almost 5,000 of the school population was required to go into quarantine in a state whose governor, according to Rolling Stone, has no intention of issuing a statewide mask mandate, prompting concerns of an even more alarming outcome in the future.
That alarming outcome seems to have come to pass.
In mid-August, the U.S. hit a record number of more than 1,900 kids hospitalized for COVID, due in large part to the highly transmissible delta variant, according to Reuters. In Mississippi, an eighth-grader who reportedly attended school in a district that previously had no mask-wearing protocols died from COVID-19 complications. This occurred less than a day after Reeves was quoted downplaying the threat posed by the virus to children.
“If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles,” Reeves said at a news conference. “Does it happen from time to time? Sure it does.”
Despite the threat posed by the delta variant, Reeves appears unwilling to change his stance and implement protocols aimed at dealing with the rapidly spreading virus in Mississippi.
“It reeks of political panic so as to appear they are in control,” Reeves stated during an outdoor speech in Neshoba, in reference to the CDC’s mask guidance. “It has nothing—let me say that again—it has nothing to do with rational science. In Mississippi, we believe in freedom.”
A study examining North Carolina state schools from March to June 2021 found that more than 7,000 children and adults contracted COVID and attended school while infectious. More than 40,000 people were forced to quarantine due to exposure. Through contact tracing and testing, however, researchers found that only 363 additional children and adults contracted the virus. Researchers believe this is a considerably low rate of transmission, which they credit to masking requirements.
“Data from our research and from studies conducted in Utah, Missouri, and Wisconsin shows that school transmission rates of coronavirus were low when schools enforced mask mandates,” Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, wrote in an essay for The New York Times. The essay aimed to explain the findings of the study they co-authored.
“Vaccination is the strongest method for preventing the ill effects of COVID, but students under 12 years of age are ineligible for the vaccines,” the essay states. “Masking, then, is one of the best, most readily available methods to protect them from the disease, with universal masking being one of the most effective and efficient strategies for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools.”