JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Daily average coronavirus cases in Mississippi have jumped in the last week, showing little if any significant statewide impact from the mask mandates that have been in place since late October.
That average sits at nearly 906 average reported cases per day, the highest in Mississippi since August 10.
Dr. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, said he’s not surprised.
“It’s doing what it does. These viral respiratory illness pandemics do this, they persist, they go through waves. The only way to blunt the wave is to blunt the transmission. The only way to blunt the transmission is to interrupt the normal cycle that it has," Horne said. “How do you do that? You make it harder for it to spread. How do you make it harder for it to spread? You get more distance between the person who has it and the person who can receive it, you put a barrier between them.”
That barrier, Horne reiterates, is a mask.
Along with social distancing and proper handwashing, masks help stop the virus from being breathed out by those infected with it, Horne said, a position statewide health experts have taken universally for months.
At the same time, physicians like Dr. Alan Jones at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are bracing for what will likely come from these increases in cases over time: a spike in patients coming through their doors.
“What we don’t want to do is get into a situation like we were in before where it gets totally out of control, you know, before people really realize what they need to do with masking," Jones said.
Jones, who serves as assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs at UMMC, said thus far fewer people are hospitalized statewide at the moment despite cases trending upward for weeks, including the hospital’s intensive-care unit.
“It could be that we’re seeing a different demographic that’s getting infected. It could be that the variance or the the degree to which the virus is making people sick is a little bit less than it was during the first peak,” Jones said.
At the same time, UMMC’s ICU remains full; as of Monday, thirteen patients were on a waiting list to get an ICU bed in the facility, Jones said.
While that sounds concerning, most of those patients in those critical care beds are not fighting COVID-19.
“ICU bed demand in the Jackson area is always difficult. It’s always really, really tight. Between the major hospitals in the Jackson area that have, you know, larger ICU use with more resources. There generally, on a good day, are no ICU beds available. And that demand is not necessarily COVID. COVID just throws an additional complexity, additional layer of complexity into this," Jones said.
Of the hospital’s 80 ICU beds, seven belong to COVID-19 positive patients, according to UMMC spokesperson Marc Rolph.
State health experts maintain that hospitalizations typically follow new coronavirus cases after two or three weeks, meaning healthcare facilities across Mississippi could end up seeing a surge around Thanksgiving.
Right now, sixteen Mississippi counties -- roughly one-fifth of the state -- are under a mask mandate that ends Wednesday.
Gov. Tate Reeves is expected to address whether to extend those restrictions or add more counties at a press conference Tuesday.
“We are grateful that Mississippi’s numbers have risen slowly compared to the national surge," Reeves spokesperson Parker Briden said when asked for comment on the recent spike.
3 On Your Side reached out to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs to comment on the surge in cases and hospitalizations.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers responded -- in part -- with a succinct statement that did not directly address our questions.
“The continuing increase in the reported cases is not due to a data dump, but rather represents increases in the number of cases being seen across the state,” Byers said, referencing the reason sometimes given for large daily spikes in cases by both the state’s department of health and Reeves.
In the meantime, Horne said these decisions, like whether to wear masks, have been debated before in this country.
He points to the last pandemic to hit the U.S., the 1918 Spanish Flu, as proof.
“That pandemic and this pandemic are frighteningly parallel to my judgment, from what I’ve read, in terms of how we respond and people then chose not to take seriously some of the early cautions, and they said, Well, we can’t make that sacrifice," Horne said. “COVID-19 is an enemy. But the bigger enemy is our response, or our lack of response, to what we know we need to do. There’s thousands of people in Mississippi who are dead today that were alive in February March, that would otherwise still be alive, if not for COVID-19.”