Less than two weeks into Mississippi’s school year, nearly 1,000 children and 300 teachers and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to quarantines of nearly 5,000 children, educators, and school staff. Now, all the students who had a positive COVID test have led to concerns about additional students becoming affected.
U.S. News and World Report noted that “While many school districts adopted a mask mandate for the beginning of the school year, it was not universal throughout the state, despite pleading from the Mississippi State Medical Association last week for all districts to require students and staff to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.”
One school district, Lamar County, shut down two schools almost immediately despite a staggered reopening because of so many positive COVID tests among its students and staff.
That’s happening amidst a delta variant-fueled surge affecting the entire state. “We’re going to see a lot of deaths in coming days, it’s just inevitable,” Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Aug. 11, according to CNBC.
COVID-19 cases in the state have increased tenfold in a month, with 2,640 recorded on Aug. 10. While death rates have only jumped from three to 13 in the same time period, Mississippi hospitals are seeing an increase in hospitalizations, with about half of the state’s ICU beds occupied.
The article went on to note, “Most of the recent hospitalizations have been people under 50 years old, and the state is seeing more children hospitalized than it saw last winter, state health officials said. There are currently six children with COVID in intensive care across the state, with four of them on life support, and the state has only one children’s specialty hospital.”
Pediatric hospitals around the country have been filling up, as well, thanks to the delta variant and tens of millions of people who are still unvaccinated.
“We’ll see more and more of this, especially as we see transmission around school settings,” Dobbs added.
To make way for the additional expected cases, the state’s largest hospital, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, is transforming the bottom floor of its parking garage into a makeshift COVID-19 ward.
Newsweek reported that the hospital is asking for federal assistance to prepare for the expected surge, including additional medical professionals as its current staff is nearly maxed out.
UMMC Vice Chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward, in two tweets sent Monday, characterized the state as being in “distress” over the latest wave of cases, showing a chart with a distinct third wave of hospitalizations.
“There were ZERO available ICU beds in Mississippi as of early this morning,” one of the tweets said. “That means hospitals across the state may not be able to provide the level of care needed to you or your loved one. Not just for COVID-19 but FOR ANY EMERGENCY CARE.”
She went on to make a point that health officials have been urgently making for months. “The weapons against this virus are EASY and SAFE: Masks & vaccines.”