TUPELO • As COVID-19 cases continue to mount at an increased rate in Mississippi, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says that with strain now evident on local healthcare systems, his “greatest fear is starting to be realized.”
In stark words, Dobbs held a press briefing on Tuesday and warned that the novel coronavirus is now transmitting at an increasingly alarming rate in the state amid a very weak commitment to containment measures in many communities.
“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse, and it’s getting worse every day,” Dobbs said.
On Tuesday, the Health Department reported 957 new COVID-19 cases, as well as 44 deaths. These deaths included cases in the Northeast Mississippi counties of Chickasaw, Lee, Monroe, Oktibbeha and Union.
Of these reported deaths, 10 occurred in late June and were reported now based on death certificate reports.
The total new cases reported on Tuesday is among the highest single-day totals reported since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mississippi has repeatedly seen record-breaking or near record-breaking single-day totals reported in recent weeks.
The latest available data also indicates that 648 confirmed COVID-19 patients are hospitalized right now in Mississippi, the highest such number since the onset of the pandemic. The numbers of ICU patients with COVID-19 and patients on a ventilator are also near record highs.
With increasing cases come new challenges, including some of the same threats to healthcare that prompted widespread shelter-in-place orders and the shutdown of much public life months ago.
“We’re seeing increased number of hospitalizations and increasing stress on the healthcare system,” Dobbs said Tuesday.
According to Dobbs, limited hospital capacity has now become a reality in parts of the state because of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with some patients even transferred to out of state hospitals.
In response, the Health Department is again limiting elective surgeries in a select group of counties across the state. Those counties are Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Forrest, Jones and Washington.
None of these counties are in Northeast Mississippi, but Dobbs said orders for additional counties may be forthcoming.
Dobbs is also asking that local officials consider face covering requirements.
“We would encourage every community, every city, every county to look at enacting a mask ordinance such that we can protect our citizens as much as possible,” Dobbs said.
Tupelo currently requires masking, as do some other communities in Northeast Mississippi, such as the city of Oxford. Gov. Tate Reeves has thus far declined to issue any kind of statewide masking orders as some states, including Texas, have recently done.
Officials, including Dobbs, have emphasized a need for the support of local community leaders to produce wider public use of masking.
Speaking Tuesday alongside the Health Department’s head epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, Dobbs expressed visible frustration that social gatherings, some of them quite large, continue.
“You can’t put a lot of people together in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century and not expect nothing bad to happen,” Dobbs said. “It’s just an absolutely insane thought process.”
Byers said cases levels are "skyrocketing" and the idea of a summer slump ahead of a possible second wave may not materialize.
"We may be in for a rough summer and a rougher fall," Byers said.