Mississippi public-health officials are urging some vaccinated residents to begin wearing masks again and to avoid large crowds as the more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant spreads across the state.

“We’re kind of in a tough spot right now. We’re seeing a pretty nasty surge of the Delta variant. We’re seeing a marked increase in cases, hospitalizations. Deaths are sure to follow,” Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a livecast Mississippi State Medical Association discussion on Friday.

“It’s the same pattern we’ve seen over and over again. I don’t know why we keep adding one and one together and are amazed when we get the result of two.

“But the real thing is, we have a lot more vulnerability than we should,” Dobbs added. “We are way undervaccinated as a state. We have a vast pool of unimmunized people who are a perfect breeding ground for Delta variant, and it’s gonna kill folks. And it’s already killing folks.”

Since last week, MSDH reported a 50% increase in new COVID-19 cases, with the seven-day average rising from 212 a week ago to 319 today. The number of Mississippians hospitalized also increased by 65% between July 4 and Sunday, July 11. The sharpest uptick came among patients admitted to an ICU, with hospitals reporting a 155% rise in a week, from 33 ICU patients a week ago to 84 today. The number of patients on ventilators more than doubled.

“Our low vaccination rate is putting everyone at risk, … We are seeing numerous outbreaks at mass gatherings: camps, schools, faith-based, funerals, social gatherings,” Dobbs tweeted on Friday.

Later that day, he released the following recommendations through MSDH citing “the rapid rise of the Delta variant cases and outbreaks combined with the low overall immunization rate in the state”:

  • All Mississippi residents age 65 or older should avoid all indoor mass gatherings whether vaccinated or not
  • All Mississippi residents with chronic underlying medical conditions should avoid all indoor mass gatherings
  • All Mississippians age 12 or older should receive the COVID-19 vaccine
  • All unvaccinated people should wear a mask when indoors in public settings

Lambda Variant Could be Deadlier Than Delta

Earlier this month, White House Coronavirus Task Force Science Officer Dr. David Kessler told Crirec reporter Nick Judin that the Delta variant “appears to be more transmittable” than past forms and “is also impacting young people in a way that previous variants have not.” Public-health officials in 30 countries, not yet including the U.S., have also detected another variant, the Lambda variant, which they caution could be deadlier than the Delta one.

On Sunday, Dobbs tweeted that the state has a “Delta surge in action,” urging Mississippians who had received their first Pfizer or Moderna shots but not their second to finish getting fully vaccinated. “We know 1 dose is insufficient for Delta.”

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr Thomas Dobbs looks at Governor Tate Reeves while wearing a mask during a press conference. He is now concerned about the Delta variant that is spreading in the state
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, seen here listening to Gov. Tate Reeves respond to a question about the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine during his briefing for reporters in Jackson on Jan. 4, 2021, is warning that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising after the Delta variant became the predominant strain of the novel coronavirus in the state. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Long before the Delta variant’s arrival, clinical trials found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were, respectively, about 95% and 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection several weeks after receiving both doses, while the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine was about 66% effective.

Even among breakthrough cases, though, trials found that each vaccine prevented most of those from becoming severe, including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported was 85% effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Studies: Vaccine Good for Preventing Variant Death

With the Delta variant now the dominant strain, several studies have found that the current vaccines may now be somewhat less effective at preventing symptomatic infections, but remain highly effective at preventing deaths and severe illnesses. During the past month, unvaccinated Mississippians accounted for 94% of all COVID-19 cases and over 93% of all deaths. But vaccinated Mississippians accounted for 12% of all hospitalizations over the same period.

“Pretty much ALL cases in MS are Delta variant right now. … 12% of (hospitalizations) in vaccinated worrisome—we are allowing too much circulating Delta to reach our most vulnerable,” Dr. Dobbs tweeted this afternoon.

Still, among all vaccinated Mississippians, only 1% have become infected with COVID-19 since being immunized, MSDH reports. Pfizer announced last week that it will seek emergency FDA authorization for a third booster shot that better protects against the Delta variant.

Despite a growing concern about the COVID-19 vaccine, the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of taking a vaccine. Photo courtesy Mississippi State Department of Health

During the July 9 Mississippi State Medical Association discussion, Dr. Mark Horne, the organization’s outgoing president, said he had spoken with three patients earlier that morning who were either older or had comorbidities putting them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infections about getting vaccinated.

“They just shook their heads and said, ‘I’m not going to take it,’” Horne said.

“Why?” Dobbs asked.

“Because they just didn’t believe it,” Horne said, citing misinformation on social media and possibly cable news. “They thought the vaccine was riskier than COVID because of what they’re read and heard.”

The state health officer’s exasperation was palpable.

“It’s killing us,” Dobbs said.

COVID-19 vaccines are free and widely available. For more information on the vaccine, go to the MSDH website. To find vaccine locations near you, go to vaccines.gov. The Mississippi Department of Transportation is offering free rides to vaccination sites for Mississippians.

Award-winning News Editor Ashton Pittman, a native of the South Mississippi Pine Belt, studied journalism and political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. Previously the state reporter at the Jackson Free Press, he drove national headlines and conversations with award-winning reporting about segregation academies. He has won numerous awards, including Outstanding New Journalist in the South, for his work covering immigration raids, abortion battles and even former Gov. Phil Bryant’s unusual work with “The Bad Boys of Brexit" at the Jackson Free Press. In 2021, as a Crirec reporter, he was named the Diamond Journalist of the Year for seven southern U.S. states in the Society of Professional Journalists Diamond Awards. A trained photojournalist, Ashton lives in South Mississippi with his husband, William, and their two pit bulls, Dorothy and Dru. Follow on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].