COVID-19 rates declining in Mississippi due to vaccines, masks

A sign posted outside the Humphrey Coliseum at Mississippi State University points students and faculty toward the COVID-19 vaccination site.

COVID-19 cases are on a steady decline in the state of Mississippi. After peaking on Jan. 9, 2021, the number of new cases in the state dropped to a low of 238 on April 10. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health statistics on coronavirus cases, only two of those cases came from Oktibbeha County.

Oktibbeha County has fared as well or better than counties with similar population sizes, according to the MSDH data. Hancock, Warren and Lafayette counties are the closest in population to Oktibbeha County, and the three counties have a close number of historical cases. Through April 10, Oktibbeha County had 4,552 cases, while Hancock County had 3,720, Warren County had 4,280, and Lafayette County had 6,027.

Oktibbeha County’s African American community fared about the same as some of the counties close in population size. 36.6% of Oktibbeha County’s residents are African American, and they made up 36.7% of cases in the county. The same follows in Warren County, where African Americans make up 47% of the population, and 49% of COVID cases. Vaccination numbers by county are unavailable at this point.

The decline is due in part to the vast acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccination in the state. Available vaccination data from MSDH says that over 25% of Mississippians have received the first dose, while 19% are fully vaccinated.

Liz Sharlot, communications director at the Mississippi State Department of Health, credits this success to the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"The MSDH has had a robust vaccination effort. We are working with partners around the state to reach all communities and give Mississippians the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19," Sharlot said.

Sharlot explained the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, especially for those who have not received the vaccination. 

"Combined with social distancing, masks are highly effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19 to others and yourself. Wearing one is especially important when a distance of six feet cannot be easily maintained between persons," Sharlot said.

Sharlot had a message for those who do not wear masks and do not want to be vaccinated.

"There is a measure of personal responsibility that we all have to accept to keep others safe," Sharlot said. "Getting vaccinated is a protection not only for you but also for your friends and loved ones."

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, infectious disease specialist and the state health officer of the MSDH, is hopeful about Mississippi's progress but remains cautious.

 "This is an opportunity. We're not out of the woods. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we also have a train behind us," Dobbs said. "We want to go ahead and get as many folks vaccinated as we can right now while our cases are low. We're doing great, but we have challenges ahead."

Dobbs also spoke about getting the vaccine for everyone. The COVID-19 vaccine is currently available for all residents 16 and older.

"It may very well be in the next few weeks or in the summer that we get the vaccine available for all age groups. Getting the vaccine for 12 and older will be so important for keeping our schools open," Dobbs said.

Dobbs noted the importance of getting the vaccine to decrease a person's risk of having COVID-19.

"Under every circumstance, the vaccine is better than COVID. I have had people who work for me feel bad after getting the vaccine, and they say, 'I'd do it 10 times over rather than have COVID again, and then some more,' because COVID can be so bad."

Dobbs continued, encouraging healthy people to get the vaccine too.

"People have asked me before, 'If I am young and healthy, why do I need the vaccine?' Obviously, some young folks die, not often, but it happens. We've seen young folks across the country end up on a ventilator," Dobbs said. "It's so you don't get sick, miss work, you don't have to quarantine, your family doesn't get it and they don't have to quarantine. Because you do not have to deal with all that, it seems very well worth it."

The COVID-19 vaccine is available to all Mississippi residents above the age of 16. According to the MSDH, local providers and pharmacies are offering the shot.

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