Patrons dine at Fine & Dandy at the District at Eastover in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

A new wave of COVID-19 cases is spreading across the Magnolia State, and top medical experts are urging Mississippians to stay safe as they gather with family and friends for the holidays.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen across the state in December. The seven-day average for new cases reached as low as 241 per day on Nov. 29, and was below 400 for nearly all of November. Since then, the average has more than doubled, reaching 667 on Dec. 22.

Hospitalizations have also gone up, with the seven-day average increasing at least 31% since the start of the month.

“Rapid increase in COVID ER visits,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned on Dec. 23.

Only 48% of Mississippians are vaccinated against the virus, the fourth-lowest rate of any state. The number of people getting vaccinated dropped off significantly after the summer and hasn’t picked back up since.

How to protect yourself

Dobbs said Mississippians could do four things to protect themselves: receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, wear masks indoors, stay home when feeling ill, and limit indoor gatherings to small groups and try to gather outside when possible.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, in a recent interview with Mississippi Today, discussed how Mississippians could protect themselves.

A lot of it’s gonna depend on what activities you do. Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoors, especially with groups that don’t normally gather together. If you go out to a big event, make sure that you’re wearing a mask in that indoor setting. Think about whether or not you need to attend that big event. In family groups, especially if there are folks in your family who are vulnerable, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, go ahead and start that process. Rethink whether or not you need to be around those vulnerable family members if you may put them at risk. I think that we can do things safely. We just need to think about all we’ve all been through. The recommendations really haven’t changed that much from where we started. 

Dr. Paul Byers, Mississippi state epidemiologist

READ MORE: Holiday plans, masks, vaccine efficacy: State epidemiologist discusses COVID-19 omicron variant

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.