By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS and LEAH WILLINGHAM, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi reported its single-day record of nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as the state health department issued an advisory saying people should avoid social gatherings, including weddings, funerals, sporting events and in-person religious services.
“Where we are in the pandemic right now, just to be very clear, it’s nonessential social activities that are absolutely undermining the health and well-being of our state,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said during a news conference.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has declined to reinstate a statewide mask mandate that expired two months ago, but he has issued mask mandates for 54 of the state’s 82 counties where virus transmission is highest. Many physicians have called on the governor to require masks statewide in public places.
Dobbs said Wednesday that the mask conversation “is distracting from the real threat” of spreading the virus through nonessential gatherings. He said people let down their guard and hug others at parties or funerals, often without their faces covered.
“In some states that have a statewide mask mandate, yes, people aren’t catching it when they go to grocery shop,” he said. “But they’re catching it when they have an after-school party with 100 people around a swimming pool.”
Like many states, Mississippi has seen a rapid spread of the highly contagious virus in recent weeks.
“We’re not at our peak. We’re rapidly ascending to a peak that, no one knows what it’s going to be,” Dobbs said. “We’re way higher in our daily case counts now, and our hospitalizations are growing at a rate that is absolutely terrifying.”
Physicians at the University of Mississippi Medical Center said during a separate news conference Wednesday that, like most other hospitals in the state, UMMC had no intensive care unit beds available because of an influx of coronavirus patients.
Mississippi has seen multiple days of record-high numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, rising from 683 patients Nov. 11 to 1,040 patients as of Tuesday night.
“I think it’s an overwhelming sense of frustration, and honestly a bit of a surreal feeling … when you see what you see at work, and then you leave here and you go out, and there are so many people behaving as if nothing is going on,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, head of UMMC.
Like Dobbs, officials at the medical center said transmission is being driven by gatherings, even in small groups, where people are not following safety guidelines.
“We would really urge people, now more than ever, certainly wear a mask, but a mask is not the only thing we need,” said Dr. Alan Jones, assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “We need people to real pay attention to the fact that we’re getting into dire situations here.”
The state health department said Wednesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 156,800 coronavirus cases and at least 3,851 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. That’s an increase of 2,457 cases and 15 deaths from numbers reported the day before. The deaths occurred between Nov. 20 and Tuesday.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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