COVID numbers surge; CDC expected to backpedal on some guidelines

Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2021

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the state, local health care leaders are warning that the latest variant could prove “a recipe for problem.”

As of July 26, Lafayette County has 6,502 COVID-19 cases, an increase from Monday’s case number of 6,458. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 1,291 cases of COVID, 15 deaths, and 81 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities statewide.

For months COVID cases, deaths and hospitalizations were falling steadily, but those trends began to change at the beginning of the summer as a mutated and more transmissible version of the coronavirus, the delta variant, began to spread widely, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.

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Mississippi health officials reported Monday that the state is seeing its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in months as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

The department confirmed 3,608 new cases on Monday from Friday through Saturday, which was compared to the 2,326 from the previous weekend.

The nation’s top health agency is expected to backpedal Tuesday on its masking guidelines and recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging, according to a federal official who chose to remain anonymous.

Baptist Memorial Hospital – North Mississippi’s Stephen Threlkeld, M.D., contributes rising numbers to the Delta variant’s contagiousness and its ability to overcome the immunity of past infections.

“It has a lot more viral load coming at you,” he said. “This can be a recipe for a problem even with a vaccinated person.”

The health department tweeted the COVID-19 positivity rate is reaching the same numbers as it did in January 2021 and attributes it to Delta. Threlkeld said the numbers are similar because the same situation is being replicated.

“We’re having people who are more relaxed in their precautions like not having masks on in public places,” he said. “Also, [Delta] has more virus coming at you in larger amounts than the Wuhan or Alpha variant ever did. Even a vaccinated person should keep a mask in their pocket if they are in an indoor situation or crowded room.”

The increase in cases is happening as some schools are starting classes. The Mississippi Association of Educators issued a letter  Monday asking Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to set a mask mandate for schools. His mandate expired when the previous school year ended.

Oxford School District and the Lafayette County School District have released their Return to School Plans for 2021-2022 that require in-person instruction and have made masks optional. While the plan includes health and safety precautions for staff and students, some parents are worried for their children’s health, especially those 11 years old and younger.

“Educators are thrilled to be heading back into school buildings after an incredibly challenging year — any educator will tell you there is no place we’d rather be,” the teachers’ union said. “But educators and students deserve to teach and learn in a safe setting without fearing for their health or the health of their families.”

“I would argue that it’d be helpful to have masks in the beginning of the school year,” said Threlkeld. “We should use more measures to ward off the virus until we see where we are.”

For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of one another. Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to make an announcement later in the day.

In recent weeks, a growing number of cities and towns have restored indoor masking rules. St. Louis, Savannah, Georgia, and Provincetown, Massachusetts, are among the places that reimposed mask mandates this month.