Yvonne Moore tests Charles Holmes for COVID-19 outside of the Aaron E Henry Community Health Services Center in Clarksdale, Miss., Wednesday, March 29, 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

For better or for worse, all COVID-related numbers in Mississippi are falling: infections, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccinations and tests.

As with its vaccination rate, Mississippi is lagging behind in COVID testing. Testing rates have plummeted nationally, but no other state is testing fewer residents per capita, and most are leagues ahead. This is a problem in a state where so many residents are declining to get vaccinated, even as health experts insist that wide-scale testing can help facilitate a return to normalcy that guards against large virus outbreaks in the absence of herd immunity protections.

One reason for the severe decline in testing is it being an at-will affair. Most people avoid getting tested unless they know for a fact they’ve come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,

John Davies, a 42-year-old truck driver from Grenada, told Mississippi Today he had to get tested for COVID-19 six different times in the past year. Each time he did so begrudgingly, and only because he was told he had to by his employer.

“I hated sticking that damn Q-tip up my nose. It was way more invasive and annoying than getting the vaccine,” Davies said. 

Even if getting vaccinated is looked upon more favorably than getting tested, it can’t be by much. COVID-19 vaccinations had fallen for seven straight weeks in Mississippi before seeing a slight uptick last week. That higher number still represents a nearly 71% decrease since the state's February peak. 

The issues of vaccine access that existed during the early stages of the vaccine rollout have largely been eliminated over the past few months. The Mississippi Department of Health will now come directly to the homes of people who want to get vaccinated but don’t have reliable transportation. They’re also offering this option to businesses or other local organizations that want to host vaccination drives. People are simply declining to take the shot and that’s keeping the state’s vaccination rate low. 

Mississippi continues to rank last in the nation in the share of its population that has been vaccinated. And fewer than 1,000 Mississippians ages 12-15 received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the week following its approval for that age group.

MSDH reported on Friday that 1,019,460 people in Mississippi — over 33% of the state’s population — have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 887,000 people have been fully inoculated since the state began distributing vaccines in December.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.