By Caleb McCluskey
The state released new coronavirus guidance following a slow yet steady increase in cases and hospitalizations over the last month and a half.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs announced the state now recommends anyone over 65 or who is immuno-compromised avoid all mass gatherings – even if they are vaccinated.
“Sixty-five years or older and those with chronic illness should avoid any indoor mass gathering, even if you have been vaccinated,” he said.
Dobbs said he did not anticipate similar recommendations to follow outside of those demographics, including unvaccinated people. He said those under the new advisory are the most vulnerable to the virus as well as having a “breakthrough” after being vaccinated.
This follows the state showing an extremely low vaccination rate, contributing to the spread of the new Delta variant of the virus, which health officers report as much more contagious, although vaccines seem to be effective against it.
Officials also signaled that state-specific guidance for schools are on the horizon as the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines for schools on Friday.
The CDC said vaccinated teachers and students don’t have to wear masks in schools.
State Immunologist Dr. Paul Byers said schools should continue to practice hand washing, quarantine sick individuals, require masks, implement respiratory and cough etiquette, and continue robust screening.
“We are reviewing that guidance now and we will be updating schools with Mississippi-specific guidance,” Byers said.
Byers said, above all, anyone who can be vaccinated at schools should be.
Dobbs, who predicted in a press conference on July 2 that the Delta variant would be a major factor in the state, noted that it has become the most dominant strain of the virus in the state and is contributing to the recent increase in cases.
“Those predictions are becoming reality and we are starting to pay the price for it,” he said. “We are seeing a pretty alarming increase in cases across the state.”
No cases of the Delta variant had been confirmed in Southwest Mississippi as of Friday, according to the Health Dept.
Byers said the state prioritizes breakthrough cases in its research but noted that those who have gotten the virus and were vaccinated are usually protected against the more harsh effects of the virus, as well as death.
On the topic of possible booster shots, officials said if someone is immuno-compromised, it is possible a third coronavirus shot would be helpful, but that would be a topic for patients to discuss directly with their physicians and it would be on a case-by-case basis.
“Boosters are the hot topic. It is clear that the … current vaccines have long-term effectiveness,” Byers said. “We are not at that point yet. That is not a guarantee that we won’t see it down the road.”
When asked about increasing vaccination rates, Dobbs said his department would “do just about anything short of selling a kidney” to raise them.
By Caleb McCluskey