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Alex Sullivan, with the Mississippi 1-98th National Guard, sanitizes his gloves and suit at the COVID-19 screening station during at the mobile testing site set up at the BancorpSouth Arena on Monday.

Vaccination sites will open across the state next week, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced Wednesday – the day Mississippi saw its highest single-day COVID-19 case count.

Beginning Monday, Jan. 4, vaccinations will begin at 18 sites throughout Mississippi, including three counties in Northeast Mississippi. Drive-thru vaccinations will be available to health care workers in Lee County on Jan. 5 and 7, Oktibbeha County on Jan. 6 and 8, and Lafayette County on Jan. 8.

Vaccinations are being administered as part of Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine rollout plan, which targets health care personnel and residents/staff at long-term care facilities.

“We want to make sure that we get those individuals who are in healthcare settings vaccinated,” Dr. Paul Byers, the state’s head epidemiologist, said during a press conference Wednesday. “That includes folks like emergency medical services personnel, obviously nurses and doctors, dentists and any of those administrative and support staff that are working in hospital settings, in clinic settings and in health care settings.”

The news came on a day MSDH reported 3,023 new COVID-19 cases, by far the highest single-day case count since the start of the pandemic. The previous record of 2,746 cases was set Dec. 9.

On Tuesday, MSDH reported 85 deaths as a result of the virus, another statewide single-day record.

“There was a minimal delay in reporting over the Christmas holidays, but honestly guys, we are still seeing a lot of transmission out there and this represents a lot of cases that we’re still seeing and are being reported,” Byers said.

There were more than 1,300 confirmed COVID cases in hospitals across the state as of Wednesday, along with 300-plus cases in ICUs, more than 200 of which are on ventilators including one child, according to Byers.

Even with the vaccine in sight, Byers encouraged Mississippians to remain vigilant about limiting transmission.

“We do have a foot in the door with vaccines, and we’ve had vaccine in Mississippi now for a couple of weeks,” he said.

Around 120,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been received and distributed in Mississippi, including doses that will be distributed to the drive-thru sites next week. That’s about 90% of the total doses the state has been allocated so far, Byers said.

More than 17,400 individuals have received the first dose of COVID vaccination as of Wednesday and had their status reported back to MSDH’s immunization registry.

“It’s important to remember that there can be a delay in entering that data into our immunization registry from the hospitals and facilities that are out there doing the vaccinations, so there’s going to be some inherent delays,” Byers said.

According to Dr. Jim Craig, MSDH’s Director of Health Protection, the department is using its existing testing infrastructure to administer the vaccines starting next week.

“The drive-thru model has worked really well,” Craig said. “In fact, we’re testing over 2,000 folks almost every day in Mississippi through those drive-thru locations. We’re leveraging 18 of those locations – some of the ones with the higher throughput – to be able to provide these vaccination opportunities in a drive-thru format for health care workers.”

Up to 210 appointments will be available on the listed days at each of the 18 locations. Appointments can be made at https://covidvaccine.umc.edu.

Start to finish, the process of administering the vaccine should take around 10 minutes, Craig said. Recipients will also be asked to pull into a parking lot for 15 minutes to ensure no adverse reactions occur.

Byers said the drive-thru vaccinations next week will be a good indicator of the demand for vaccination in the health care community.

There are about 260,000 health care workers, which also includes emergency medical services personnel, long-term care residents and staff, to vaccinate in the first round.

“We’re looking at potentially half a million doses or more to get every health care personnel in the state vaccinated with two doses,” Byers said. “So far we’ve been able to distribute out about 120,000 doses so you can see we still have a process to go through as we work through the phases.”

Craig said that he would love to give every health care worker in Mississippi the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine during the month of January, but it will depend on how many doses the state receives.

At the end of Wednesday’s press conference, Byers said he wanted to remind the public that while administering the first round of vaccines is exciting, there is still a need to be careful and avoid unnecessary New Year’s Eve gatherings.

“We’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a long tunnel,” Byers said, citing upward trends in case counts and deaths. “We are in still the worst time that we have seen so far in this pandemic and we are not seeing any signs really that things are slowing down.”

blake.alsup@journalinc.com

Twitter: @AlsupTheWriter

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