JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Officials with the Mississippi State Department of Health recently announced several milestones in the fight against COVID-19.
However, those successes are tempered by the news that nearly 1,000 people have died from the virus in the month of January.
“In December, the deaths that actually occurred during the month, we reached over 1,000,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “To date, in January, we have reached almost the same number – 935 - and we still have a couple of days left.”
“Even during the summer’s surge, in July we had about 700 deaths and in August, we had about 800 deaths. This is still a time of grave concern, even though we are seeing some improvement,” Byers said.
“We still need to stay fully vigilant on those things that we know have prevented transmission. Now is not the time to let up on wearing a mask, social distancing (and) trying to limit exposure to large social gatherings.”
At a Friday press conference, health leaders in the state discussed efforts to rollout vaccinations, including the state’s efforts to open additional drive-through sites and to draw down on additional doses not being used as part of the federal government’s long-term care partnership program.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the state will have an additional 15,000 doses next week, thanks to additional allocations from the federal government and reclamation efforts to pull down unused doses that were originally allocated to the LTC partnership.
Approximately 79,000 doses were initially given to CVS and Walgreen’s to inoculate residents and employees of long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
The allocation was significantly more than were needed to the program, and state officials have been working to reallocate those doses to help get those shots in arms.
“We reclaimed about 9,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine from the long-term care program. We’ve been working with CVS and Walgreen’s to determine the excess they have in their inventories they were able to pull down,” he said. “In addition, we were given additional vaccine from the federal government.
“They said we can expect about 16 percent increases in the next few weeks.”
To date, Dobbs said about 225,000 people in Mississippi have received vaccinations. That number includes more than 200,000 who have received the first vaccine and the remaining who have received both doses.
Meanwhile, more than one-third of the state’s 75 and older population have received vaccinations.
Also, as part of the state’s efforts to ramp up vaccinations, an additional two drive-through county sites are coming online next week, while other sites have been changed to better serve customers.
In all, 21 drive-through vaccination sites are expected to be open next week.
Individuals eligible to receive shots include Mississippians 65 years old and older, as well individuals 16 to 64 who have underlying conditions that would make them more susceptible to the virus.
Currently, about 1.4 million Mississippians are eligible to receive shots.
Of the shots received by the state each week, 30,000 are distributed to the drive-through vaccination sites.
Jim Craig, director of the MSDH Office of Health Protection, discussed the challenges in setting up additional drive-through sites.
Part of the problem is finding enough medical staffers to operate the facilities. The state also doesn’t know if there will be enough vaccine to support more locations.
Vaccine sites were set up in a region’s population hub. It was not clear if vaccines were distributed to the drive-through locations based on population.