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Northeast Mississippi vaccinations lag as state vaccination efforts lose momentum

TUPELO • Northeast Mississippi's vaccination rates are largely lagging behind the state average as Mississippi's overall vaccination efforts lose momentum.

The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Mississippi has dropped more than 19% for three consecutive weeks, with the largest drop of 25% last week — down from 74,383 doses for April 18-24 to 55,638 doses for April 25-May 1.

The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Mississippi dropped more than 25% last week — down from 74,383 doses for April 18-24 to 55,638 doses for April 25-May 1.

The first significant drop, a decrease of 20% from April 4-10 to April 11-17,  was the first time since mid-February the state dropped below 100,000 doses administered when there weren't widespread vaccination site closures.

Mississippi experienced back-to-back winter storms that caused closures during the week ending Feb. 20, and the threat of severe weather caused closures during the week ending March 20.

As of 8 a.m. on May 6, 26% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while 30% have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH).

Lagging vaccination rates in Northeast Mississippi

Of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's 16-county coverage area, only four counties — Chickasaw (26%), Lafayette (37%), Monroe (27%) and Oktibbeha (31%) — have met or surpassed the state's average of 26% of residents fully vaccinated.

The county with the lowest percentage of residents fully vaccinated is Marshall with only 20%, followed by Alcorn, Benton, Itawamba and Tippah counties, which are all at 21%.

A map showing the percentage of the total population of residents who have been fully vaccinated in each county as of 8 a.m. on May 6, 2021. Courtesy of the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Thousands of open vaccination appointments were available at MSDH sites on Thursday afternoon — approximately 1,500 between Lafayette County's drive-thru and walk-in sites, 2,700 at Lee County's drive-thru site and 2,800 at Oktibbeha's drive-thru site.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual press conference on April 28, that the drop in Mississippi's vaccination rate is not entirely unexpected, adding that he'd rather not see the numbers trailing off because MSDH still sees phenomenal value in being vaccinated.

"For the vast majority of Mississippians, it's not an access issue," Dobbs said. "There are more access points than there ever have been."

But for those that do still face access issues, MSDH has established a health equity team to address rural and underserved areas of the state and bring the vaccine to them.

"We're going to hit hard where we can," Dobbs said. "We just really want all Mississippians to get in the boat and pull along with us in the same direction. It's not time to give up."

Here are the Northeast Mississippi Rose Society's 21st Annual Rose Show winners

The Northeast Mississippi Rose Society's 21st Annual Rose Show drew hundreds of entries, and visitors from all over Northeast Mississippi on Thursday. The show was held in the lobby of Renasant Bank in downtown Tupelo. Top awards went to Nancy Ratliff of Tupelo, who won Queen of Show; Tracy Shane Kramer, who won King of Show; Lavonne Glover of Winfield, Alabama, who won Princess of Show and the Price Grissom Award; and Bill Dickerson of Bartlett, Tennessee, who won Best of Show, the Dr. Walter and Tommie Bourland Award. A Renasant Bank employee, Kelly Clark of Tupelo, won the Novice Trophy.

CDF 'bouncing back' after pandemic, reveals new logo

TUPELO • In the aftermath of a pandemic that bruised business and industry across the board in the past year, 2021 is shaping up to be a "bounce back" year for the Community Development Foundation.

The chief economic development agency for Tupelo and Lee County is well-positioned for the future, said David Rumbarger, the CDF's president and CEO, during the organization's annual meeting, Thursday.

"It's a bounce back/comeback," he said. "It's been kind of tough year, but we've seen a lot of good things."

Rumbarger said the organization is seeing an increase in project and construction activity throughout the area.

"Things are trying to come back," he said.  "Everybody's got capacity; the early furniture markets have been good, the auto market is coming back ... the economy is on the rebound, and we want to be a part of that upward swing."

With the COVID-19 virus hampering much of the economic activity, organizations like CDF were forced to find workarounds to continue following their missions of attracting and retaining business and industry.

But the CDF, like consumers, has adapted to deal with a changing environment. For example, the upheaval in retailing in the past year in which online purchasing has grown exponentially is an issue that will affect communities on many levels.

"The question is what retailing looks like in the next 10, 15, 24, 48 months," Rumbarger said. "A lot of that depends on how the economy returns, and what consumers want to shop and how they want to shop. Obviously car shopping is an issue locally, and you want be able to find a car you want to buy."

Rumbarger said many of the local economic anchors —  food service, hospital banking and healthy industries  - will continue to develop. But local retailers may struggle as consumers continue to shop online rather than inside physical stores.

"Consumer sales concern us, and we want to make sure our local shops, especially our boutiques, continue to survive by everybody shopping locally," he said.

Two major mergers have been announced in recent weeks: Goodyear acquired Cooper Tire in a $2.8 billion deal, and BancorpSouth will merge with Cadence Bank in a transaction valued $6 billion. Rumbarger said they present great opportunities for the area.

"I think both deals increase capacity for Tupelo," he said. "It puts us in a larger tier in a market-type basis, it brings new resources to the market and I think it brings tremendous benefit on all sides. Obviously we're concerned with just the employment piece, but we're comfortable with their answers and look forward to working with them as they grow their businesses."

During the event, the CDF revealed a new logo also was revealed, which stylizes the former arching window pane the organization has used for years.

Members of the staff designed the new logo.

"It looks like a lightning spark or flame burning hot, forging partnerships, more opportunities and a better quality of life for all Tupelo and Lee County," Rumbarger said.

Also, the reins of the CDF chairmanship passed from Tollie White to Shane Spees, CEO of North Mississippi Health Services.

"It's an honor to be the incoming chairman, with big shoes to fill," Spees said. "Thankfully we're past COVID, we hope, and with better things ahead of us. I look forward to working with David and the excellent team at CDF."

As part of the event, Amy Elizabeth Thomas was named CDF Ambassador of the Year.

Journal to republish beloved religious editorials

Beginning today, the Daily Journal will republish select editorials that focused on faith and religion. Most, if not all, were written Joe Rutherford, the former long-time opinion editor of the Daily Journal.

A republished editorial will be featured each Friday in the pages of our Religion section. This week's editorial can be found on page 10A.

These editorials were a staple of the newspaper and beloved by readers. We are pleased to revisit them and share with readers once again.

Saltillo looking at more, better cameras in parks

SALTILLO • A recent surge in vandalism and theft has prompted the city of Saltillo to look at upgrading and expanding the security cameras at two large parks.

The city recently sent out requests for bids to install new cameras with higher resolution and infrared capabilities at Saltillo City Park and the W.K. Webb Sportsplex. Officials hope to have the new cameras installed by this summer.

The city first installed cameras at the two complexes in the spring of 2017 following a spree of vandalism in park bathrooms and the destruction of property like picnic tables.

But the limited resolution of those cameras has been troublesome as a new wave of vandalism and theft hit the city, prompting city leaders to consider upgrading their security tech.

In one instance, someone cut the catalytic converter off a city vehicle overnight at the Sportsplex. The video documented when it happened, but the images were grainy, and the image wasn't clear enough to identify the make or model of the vehicle. The two thieves were just blurs.

Officials are looking at higher resolution cameras that could not only identify the vandals but also reveal the tag numbers on the vehicles. That would allow the city to pursue criminal charges.

"The purpose of the cameras is not to see that something was torn up, but to see who tore it up," said Alderman Scottie Clark.

Mayor Rex Smith said the individual acts of vandalism have been small but are starting to add up.

"It's not just the damage but the time it takes employees to fix or replace what was damaged," Smith said. "This is more to get rid of the frustration. What we've got now is not taking care of the job."

The city hopes to be able to install up to eight cameras with at least 4 megapixel resolution at each of the parks. The cameras would also have built in infrared lights to produce black and white images at night up to 100 feet away from the cameras. Along with the hard drives, controllers and installation could cost $12,000 or more.

As an alternate bid, the city is also seeking prices to install similar cameras at City Hall and in the downtown area. Building and Zoning director Brian Grissom said they hope to put at least three cameras by the new downtown walk-through — two out front pointing up and down Mobile Street, and one in the back pointed at the public parking lot.

The city first installed cameras at the two sports complexes in the spring of 2017. Officials say their installation caused a dramatic drop in vandalism and burglaries at concession stands and even the maintenance shop abruptly stopped.

The cameras also solved a mystery about picnic tables at the City Park pavilion being moved overnight. The cameras showed a large group showing up at 5 a.m. on a Thursday moving the tables. Turned out it was a group of mothers doing aerobics.