Mississippi's top health official said the delta coronavirus variant is “sweeping across Mississippi like a tsunami” as the state reported more than 3,000 new cases of the highly transmittable virus in a single day Thursday.
“If we look at our trajectory, we see that it’s continuing to increase without any real demonstration of leveling off or decreasing,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual briefing with news media.
The state reported 3,164 new cases of coronavirus Thursday, marking 356,055 since the start of the pandemic. More than 7,600 people have died of coronavirus complications in the state of about 3 million.
Dobbs said 90% of new coronavirus cases in Mississippi are now the delta variant. The state's major hospital systems are overwhelmed — 178 new patients were hospitalized in a single day Wednesday — with almost no ICU beds available for patients, he said.
Public institutions such as Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State and the University of Southern Mississippi announced Wednesday and Thursday that they will require students and staff to wear masks indoors, citing the surge in delta variant cases. The institutions said the decisions were made based on the Department of Health guidance.
Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mississippi Department of Health has advised that people learning and working in school settings wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus. Many K-12 public school districts have opted to create their own policies requiring masks before the start of the year, but some have resisted.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he won’t put a blanket mask requirement in place. Dobbs said Thursday they aren't seeing “a lot of motivation for statewide mandates right now," but urged schools to think carefully about what is the safest policy for their communities.
“You can’t fill a classroom with non-immune kids without a mask on with the most contagious coronavirus we’ve ever seen circulating and expect for it not to spread — it’s just biology," Dobbs said. "Our will and desire to abandon safety measures does not trump the reality of the biology of the delta virus.”