Dental student Ambika R. Srivastava waits to practice a trial run of specimen collection COVID-19 at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson, Miss., Monday, March 23, 2020.

Based on total confirmed cases, Mississippi currently has one of the nation’s highest COVID-19 infection rates.

As of the afternoon of March 24, Mississippi — the 35th largest state by population — ranks 12th among states for novel coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

However, numbers are fluctuating near-constantly and how quickly cases grow or slow across the nation in the coming weeks will affect per capita rates on a daily basis.

As of Tuesday, Mississippi has 11 cases for every 100,000 residents. Neighboring Louisiana (population 4.6 million) ranks third with approximately 30 confirmed cases per 100,000 people and 1,388 total. New York, where nearly 20 million people live, leads the nation with 132 cases per 100,000 residents and 26,665 total.

Gov. Tate Reeves has declined to follow other states in issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order, but said he would sign an executive order instructing Mississippians to avoid visiting hospital and nursing visits as well as gatherings of more than 10.

“Reserve our tests for the most vulnerable among us. If you are an employer, whether a government or private employer, please allow workers to go home if they are non-essential and can work from home,” Reeves said.

“Understand that we are not at the end of this pandemic. In fact, we may still be at the beginning stages of this fight. The virus is new. We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that this virus is not to be taken lightly. We have emphasized that from day one, and as the data comes in, we will understand that even more.”

Mississippi surpassed 300 confirmed cases Tuesday, with 320 confirmed cases across all but 24 counties and one death. So far, the state has tested 1,872 people not including those tested by private labs. Some states, such as Louisiana, are reporting both state and commercial lab tests to track total number of states run across the state.

Although Mississippi cases are clustered in populous areas, tracking with expected infectious disease spread patterns and the world’s COVID trends — Hinds County has 31 cases currently; DeSoto County, 29; and Harrison County, 24 — some of the state’s rural areas have higher rates than more populous areas.

The state health department recently started releasing demographic and hospitalization data, along with case counts. As of March 24, 27 percent of known COVID cases have needed hospitalization. Thirty-eight percent of cases have been among those aged 60 or older, but almost 20 percent of the state’s cases have been among 40-year-olds. The state has not released age-based hospitalization data.

Though the Mississippi’s cases have exactly quadrupled since Friday when the state reported 80 cases, the rate of new cases is starting to slow. Tuesday’s 71 new cases represented only 20 percent of all known cases, down from a peak new-case rate last week, when more than half of total daily cases were new. The state’s testing numbers more than doubled over the weekend, increasing by 141 percent as of today.

Testing is expected to ramp up this week, and with it the number of cases, as University of Mississippi Medical Center and MSDH partnered with C Spire internet provider to launch a statewide screening app that will screen symptomatic patients and connect those who UMMC providers deem appropriate with testing at a new drive-thru testing pop-up at the Mississippi state fairgrounds in Jackson.

Those without access to a smartphone can call the COVID screening telehealth line at 601-496-7200.

Testing at the fairgrounds began Tuesday and runs seven days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the expected capacity of 128 tests per day.

The health department also recently released a list of testing locations across the state and announced it’s in the process of launching additional testing pop-up tents across the state, but has not released more details.

[Click here to enter Mississippi Today’s COVID-19 Resource Portal.]

Editor’s note: Case data was compiled Tuesday, March 24 as of 4 p.m. Eastern Time from individual state health departments, as compiled by The COVID Tracking Project, and matched against the latest information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for accuracy. State populations are based on 2019 Census estimates. 

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Erica Hensley, a native of Atlanta, has been working as an investigative reporter focusing on public health for Mississippi Today since May 2018. She is a Knight Foundation fellow for our newsroom’s collaboration with local TV station WLBT and curates The Inform[H]er, our monthly women and girls’ newsletter. She is the 2019 recipient of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. Erica received a bachelor’s in print journalism and political science from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a master’s in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia Grady College for Journalism and Mass Communication.