Almost two weeks without mask mandate, COVID-19 indicators trend in “wrong direction”

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The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi is now at 646, a 24% rise in the last week alone, and a 25% increase since Gov. Tate Reeves lifted the statewide mask mandate on Sept. 30.

UMMC Communications

State health officer Thomas Dobbs at a press conference at UMMC.

State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs discussed during a Monday press conference whether the mandate’s absence is directly attributable to the rise in cases.

“We started to see numbers creep up before really there would’ve been a potential impact from the mask mandate,” Dobbs said. “I will say, though, that it could certainly be part of the problem as time goes forward. Personally, I’ve been a little bit disappointed hearing from churches and businesses that they feel like they’re no longer in power to have their members or visitors wear masks, and I think that does increase risk, unfortunately.”

It’s now been 12 days since Gov. Reeves let the statewide mask mandate expire. According to the CDC,  the incubation period, or the time between someone’s infection and when they experience symptoms, is typically two weeks at the longest.

The number of new cases had steadily decreased from late July until about mid-September. During the span of the statewide mask mandate, which Gov. Reeves initiated on Aug. 4, the seven-day average for cases plummeted, dropping by 54%. The new case average is now at its highest point since Sept. 4.

In the whole month of September, the state health department never reported more than 853 cases in a day. The single-day tallies in just this past week have passed that mark three times.

Similarly, the latest report of COVID-19 in schools, compiled each week, showed the highest number of illnesses yet, with 521 cases among students, teachers and staff between Sept. 25 and Oct. 2.

Hospitalization data have also shown a drastic difference from before, during, and after the mask mandate. During the mandate, the seven-day average for total COVID-19 hospitalizations — confirmed plus suspected cases — decreased by 52%.

The average for hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, is still about where it was in late September. However, the average increased each day from Oct. 3 to Oct. 9 — the latest update available — which is by far the longest such stretch since July.

“All the indicators are looking in the wrong direction,” Dobbs said. “Hospitalizations are up, cases are up; Deaths are not really up so much, but we know that always lags. The last time we saw that was before the summer surge.”

Regionally, counties in north Mississippi and on the Gulf Coast have generally seen the highest case increases. The counties with the largest percent increases this month so far are:

  • Benton County (37 new cases, 16% increase)
  • Itawamba County (123 new cases, 14% increase)
  • Hancock County (74 new cases, 12% increase)
  • Lamar County (200 new cases, 11% increase)
  • Jackson County (371 new cases, 10% increase)
  • Claiborne County (48 new cases, 10% increase)
  • Chickasaw County (69 new cases, 10% increase)
  • George County (75 new cases, 10% increase)
  • Harrison County (359 new cases, 9% increase)
  • Forrest County (229 new cases, 9% increase)