The Mississippi State Department of Health has released new recommendations in response to the Delta variant of COVID-19 outbreak in Mississippi.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said residents 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions should avoid all indoor mass gatherings regardless of vaccination status.
Officials pointed to the rapidly spreading Delta variant in Mississippi and low vaccination rates as main factors behind the new guidance. MSDH has identified at least 150 Delta variant cases, almost doubling the number that was reported June 29 when there were 78, according to State Epidemiologist Paul Byers.
Locally, reported cases of COVID-19 have slowed significantly over the last several weeks despite Tate County having one of the lowest percentage rates of people who are fully vaccinated against the virus.
MSDH is hosting local pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics four consecutive days this week.
No appointments are necessary for the vaccinations administered at the Tate County-MSU Extension Office at 1 French’s Alley in Senatobia on Wednesday, July 21 and Thursday, July 22 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The pop-up vaccination clinic will move to the Coldwater Community Center at 599 North Street for free vaccinations Friday, July 23 and Saturday, July 24 from 9 a.m. until noon each day.
Anyone 12 years and older is eligible for vaccination. Pfizer two-dose vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine (for those 18 and over) will be available. No documentation or identification is required. Second vaccine doses will be available in the area three weeks later, according to MSDH officials.
Only 26 percent of Tate County’s population has received both doses of the vaccine, while 29 percent has taken at least one does. Approximately 50 cases of COVID-19 and one virus-related death have been reported since July 1. Mississippi vaccination rates remain low as well.
Only 31 percent of the population statewide is fully vaccinated, the lowest among in the United States. It vastly trails behind the national average of 48 percent. The State Department of Health has seen an alarming increase in cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks in the state because of paltry vaccination numbers, Dobbs said.
“Because of our collective under-vaccination, it’s put us all at risk,” he explained, adding the new guidelines are meant to increase protection for vulnerable residents.
State health officials said 90 percent of all deaths and 95 percent of all cases and hospitalizations are in unvaccinated individuals.
A low vaccination rate means the Delta variant has more opportunity to infect unvaccinated people, especially at mass gatherings. State health officials said they're seeing transmission at summer camps, churches, funerals, nursing homes and workplaces.
Dobbs said a vast majority of transmission is in unvaccinated Mississippians. While the vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness and providing protection against COVID-19, repeated exposure to the virus in vaccinated people who are at high risk – the elderly and immunocompromised – is still a threat.
"It’s a bad moment right now," Dobbs said. "Please, just be careful for the next couple of weeks. At this moment in time, we are at a deeply increased risk.”
The State Department of Health's new guidelines also recommend the unimmunized wear masks indoors and people 12 and older get fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance for COVID-19 prevention in schools, noting the return to in-person learning in the fall as a priority.
For students and staff who are fully vaccinated, the CDC said they can go without face masks indoors. However, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends students and staff maintain a three-foot distance between each other.
Adolescents aged 12 and up have been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine for over a month. But in Mississippi, residents ages 17 and under make up just two percent of the state's fully vaccinated rate.
Gov. Tate Reeves office issued a statement Friday, July 9 saying he "has no intention of requiring students and staff to wear masks when they’re in school this fall."