TUPELO • Mississippi’s top public health experts on Monday said an increase in community transmission is likely the source of an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in Lee County and other Northeast Mississippi counties.
Lee County, which is the highest populated county in Northeast Mississippi, reported 374 new positive cases of coronavirus from Oct. 1-12, including a single-day report of 131 new cases on Oct. 6 and 42 new cases on Oct. 10.
Dr. Paul Byers, the state’s epidemiologist, said Lee County’s situation is “basically the same story we say everywhere,” and an increase in community spread will lead to a periodic influx of new cases in a certain county.
“It’s nothing mystical,” Byers said. “It’s the fact that we see more people being infected and more people transmitting. If you think about the way that the virus is transmitting person to person through close interaction, it’s not surprising that periodically we’re going to see some uptick.”
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s health officer, said that public health officials had been cautiously watching Lee County and attributed overall case spikes to people gathering at indoor facilities without wearing masks.
Dobbs did not outright say local officials in the area should enact new restrictions to curtail the recent transmission, but he did say that mask mandates and restrictions on large crowds sizes are always welcome.
“It’s not a bad idea to have mask ordinances and not a bad idea to look at crowd sizes and that sort of thing,” Dobbs said.
While the city of Tupelo is currently under a local mask mandate, much of Lee County is not. The Lee County Board of Supervisors passed a local resolution requiring people to wear face coverings inside county-owned buildings, but did not extend the order to businesses in the county.
Lee County and Tupelo have not adopted more stringent orders for crowd sizes than the current statewide order, which limits public gatherings to 20 people or fewer indoors and no more than 100 people outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
Dobbs also announced that, starting Wednesday, there would be free masks with face shields available at county health department testing sites for people over the age of 64 and to those with chronic underlying medical conditions.