TUPELO • Officials in state government say they are increasingly wary of mounting COVID-19 case numbers in Northeast Mississippi.

In the first wave of COVID-19 that spread across the state in the spring, Northeast Mississippi never emerged as a hot spot, even as places like the Jackson-metro area, the Gulf Coast, the Delta and DeSoto County saw high transmission of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But following the relaxation of closure orders and other measures designed to stem the time of COVID-19, a second wave of the disease continues to deepen in Mississippi, and the northeast region might soon find itself the target of orders the governor has imposed in other regions.

“Lee County is on my list to watch,” Gov. Tate Reeves said in a press conference last week in response to questions by the Daily Journal. “Lee County is one that we are watching and monitoring very closely.”

Mississippi’s Chief Health Office Dr. Thomas Dobbs made similar remarks at Friday afternoon’s press briefing.

“The trajectory is certainly very worrisome,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs noted that, until recently, the northeast region “has fared relatively well.” He fears, however, that an ongoing and widespread failure to abide by recommendations and orders regarding social gatherings will largely sweep COVID-19 throughout the state, even in areas that have previously seen relatively mild case numbers.

Bars have come in for much scrutiny as potential sites for COVID-19 spread among younger adults, but Dobbs said there are plenty of other social outlets for spread, even in the predominantly rural Northeast Mississippi.

“Social stuff is killing us,” he said. “It’s going to be a party, it’s going to be hanging out with friends. Funerals and churches, that sort of thing.”

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton imposed a masking order in late June. The city of Oxford has done the same, and was in fact a leader in the region with respect to mandatory face coverings.

The Lee County Board of Supervisors has declined to impose a county-wide mask order, but has required that face coverings be worn inside county-owned buildings.

Early last week, Dobbs released a graphic on Twitter highlighting “counties with rapid COVID growth.”

The Northeast Mississippi counties included on the graphic were Alcorn, Lee, Marshall, Pontotoc, Prentiss and Tishomingo.

That graphic, which included data through July 20, indicated the doubling time of COVID-19 in those cases.

The doubling time in Alcorn was 11.6 days; in Lee, 16.5 days; in Marshall, 16.7 days; in Pontotoc, 17 days; in Prentiss, 10 days; and in Tishomingo, 12.8 days.

As of Sunday, July 19, Lee County had 768 total cases of COVID-19 cumulatively reported since the testing data began to be compiled. As of Saturday, a week later, Lee County had 968 reported cases. That is a one-week increase of 200.

In early July, leadership of North Mississippi Health Services reported that the record high for hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the NMHS system was 57. That number has since been exceeded, and as of Friday, NMHS reported 66 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The governor on Friday did list Calhoun County among a roster of new counties he will target with more stringent requirements, including a county-wide mask order.

Thus far, Reeves has consistently resisted calls for a statewide masking order. Instead, he has released orders targeting counties with high levels of COVID-19 spread. In those counties, Reeves has required face coverings and imposed limits on social gatherings that are more strict than elsewhere in the state.

Reeves said that “if the trends don’t change,” Lee County could meet his criteria for a targeted set of restrictions sometime this coming week.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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