As COVID-19 cases climb again, state’s top doc expects more restrictions next week to slow spread

No specifics from Dobbs, who says he doesn’t usually know what the governor will do until it happens
Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 7:38 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - On the second straight day of one thousand-plus coronavirus cases, something Mississippi hasn’t had since early August, the state’s top doctor alluded to more restrictions coming to deal with the expected spike in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs revealed the information during a press conference over Zoom Friday afternoon, joined by state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

“I’ve been talking closely with the governor and his team," Dobbs said. "I would expect something to happen early next week, but we will continue to make sure that he has all the information that he needs to make the best decision of course, we’ll continue to advocate for the things that we know are effective, and are going to be useful in slowing down the spread of this virus.”

But when asked for specifics, like whether mask mandates for individual counties would be considered, Dobbs said he often doesn’t know what the final decision will be until everyone else does.

“To be honest, I don’t really know what the governor is going to do until it happens. And a lot of times I learn the details when we sit down together at the press conference," Dobbs said.

Another reporter asked Dobbs minutes later about whether that was the ideal circumstance from a planning scenario, and if better communication could help the strategy.

“You mean for me? No. I mean, I sort of know what he’s thinking, obviously. He makes a detailed deep dive and looks at all the data,” Dobbs said. “I suspect that from our conversations, there’ll be some action that will be similar to what we’ve seen before, but sort of how that precisely plays out, I do not know just yet.”

3 On Your Side then asked the state health officer how a plan from Gov. Tate Reeves' office can be analyzed and worked through with him if he’s learning about it after the fact. It didn’t sound like a collaborative effort in terms of public health strategy.

We also asked whether this lack of coordination has always existed during the pandemic or was evident of a recent shift in communication.

Dobbs, who read off each reporter’s question before he answered them, was interrupted before he could reach our question by the communications director for the Mississippi State Department of Health: Liz Sharlot.

“I think we’re gonna close this off at this point," Sharlot said, ending the press conference abruptly with no explanation. “We will try to do these more often as the days go on.”

Dr. Jennifer Bryan, who serves as chair of the Mississippi State Medical Association’s Board of Trustees, said she believes Reeves does indeed listen to Dobbs' concerns.

“I think that some of this stuff is [stuff] we don’t understand and aren’t supposed to really understand how all those things go between the governor and the state health officer, but I don’t sense that they are against each other. I think they just have different things to consider,” Bryan said.

She agreed with Dobbs’ assessment that the recent spike in cases is discouraging and frustrating for those on the front lines of the pandemic.

“Once the mandate, the force of the mandate was lifted, it was kind of a free for all. I’m hoping that now people will see before this just goes off the rails, that we don’t need the government to step in and force us to do something that is just good sense," Bryan said.

State health experts remain concerned that the community transmission they’re seeing will only increase, especially in areas that haven’t had significant spread before.

“We are also starting to see some increased clusters associated with churches, or attending church, and largely in folks attending church in groups where they are not taking proper precautions," Byers said during the press conference.

They have not, however, been able to conclusively link any cases to the Mississippi State Fair.

A 3 On Your Side analysis of daily average cases shows spikes in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, the first significant increases in nearly two months. Dobbs said those increases are due to a multitude of factors.

“I think it’s death by 1,000 cuts. It’s a whole bunch of everything. It’s social events, it’s extracurriculars, it’s people abandoning masks, and in large numbers. You know, same stuff we saw before. There’s no specific thing. It’s just a lot of little stuff that we’re seeing, and a lot of it’s family spread," Dobbs said.

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