Analysis: COVID-19 cases surge in state’s metro counties

Eight counties would be considered ‘hot spots’ using governor’s mask mandate formula from last year
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As coronavirus cases reach single-day highs not seen since February, a 3 On Your Side analysis reveals eight counties would have been designated ‘hot spots’ under Gov. Tate Reeves’ formula used last year to determine whether mask mandates should be introduced.

That process, which identified counties with at least 200 new cases within a two-week period or at least 500 new cases per capita over the same timeframe, was largely used by Reeves to establish the restrictions in a piecemeal fashion instead of issuing a statewide mask requirement.

The governor also admitted a year ago to using older data to establish those policies in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

From July 8 through July 21, six counties -- DeSoto, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Madison and Rankin -- saw surges over the two-hundred-case threshold, accounting for 44 percent of the state’s new cases during that period. Those counties are all located in metropolitan areas of the state, accounting for some of the largest populations in Mississippi.

In addition, Adams and Stone counties had per capita case increases that would have placed additional restrictions on them, too.

Of the eight counties unofficially designated as ‘hot spots’ using the formula, four of them had vaccination rates below 30 percent.

“We don’t take advantage of the tools that we have to put this pandemic fire out, then it will flare back up. And that’s essentially what we got here,” said Dr. Mark Horne, who serves as a president of the state’s medical association. “We got a campfire that we didn’t put all the way out, and there’s plenty of fuel to still be burned. And [that fuel is the] people who are not immune, because they haven’t had COVID, and they haven’t received a vaccine. And the more fuel we leave, the bigger the fire is going to get.”

Dr. Horne said though he doesn’t believe mask mandates will be revisited here, he does think that public gatherings could be restricted if the virus continues to spread out of control.

“You need a willing populace that wants to get better and wants to defeat this,” Horne said. “I don’t know how effective [a mask mandate] would be.”

Horne’s comments come one day after State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs told reporters that the time for mask mandates had passed because of many Mississippians’ unwillingness to follow that restriction.

It also leaves a gaping hole in the state’s strategy to keep COVID-19 infections at bay, which had relied solely on vaccinations and personal decisions concerning face coverings and social distancing since Reeves lifted all restrictions months ago.

“I’m not sure how successful we’ll be getting people to wear a mask, something that’s a piece of cloth that’s harmless,” said internal medicine specialist Dr. Justin Turner. “They won’t get a vaccine. I’m not sure if having a mandate is gonna make a difference at this point, but I just know that we have to do something different if we’re gonna expect different results.”

While vaccinations in Mississippi increased by more than seven thousand doses last week -- the highest weekly total since early June -- it still pales in contrast to the significant demand the state saw in February and March.

Turner said it’s beyond discouraging to him that infections -- fueled by the Delta variant -- have surged so quickly in the last month when there’s a way to stop it.

“Until it’s personal for someone, I think it’s gonna be hard for it to resonate with everyone,” Turner said. “People are waking up and they’re hearing birds chirping outside, and they’re seeing people go up and down the highway. We walk into the hospital and we hear ‘code blue on Four North.’ We hear chest compressions and hear someone having their ribs cracked because they’re having to get chest compressions.”

Horne said the state’s healthcare system, including admissions and ICU utilization is already starting to see significant upticks in numbers over a four-week period, much faster than last year.

“We’ve been down this road before and it’s not pretty,” Horne said.

Turner believes the disconnect comes from the fact that many Mississippians haven’t seen what COVID does to those it hits hardest, instead viewing doctors and nurses as alarmists, accusing them of spreading fear.

“We’re the same ones who took care of that broken arm when you had the car accident. We’re the same ones that you come to see when you have chest pain and you’re having a heart attack,” Turner said. “We’re the same people that you’ve been trusting. Why are we trying to make up information right now to create fear? For what cause? We’re here to do our job, and whether you’re vaccinated or not, when you come into the hospital, we’re gonna bust our butt.”

Turner said health care workers aren’t asking for awards or apologies, either.

“We’re just asking for two things: respect and selflessness,” Turner said.

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