Mississippi on track to become new US coronavirus hotspot, experts say

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DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. — Mississippi is on track to be the No. 1 state for new COVID-19 cases per capita in the country.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Medical Institute, took to Twitter with an alarming message.

In a thread posted over the weekend, Dr. Jha said Mississippi has the second-highest number of new cases per capita, just behind Florida, but Mississippi continues to go up, while Florida slowly inches down. 

He went on to say testing is down, while cases and hospitalizations are up.

Dr. Jha said the death toll is up nearly double in the past two weeks, and the positivity rate is the highest in the nation at 22%.

In his thread, Dr. Jha said Mississippi will become the spot with the most cases per capita, urging schools not to open and restaurants and gyms to close. 

“It, of course, obviously a concern,” said Dr. Steven Threlkeld, infectious disease expert at Baptist Hospital. “There is no magic line at the state border. That means wherever you are at the state border in the region, there are a lot of cases.”

Mask mandates have been put in place in some Mississippi counties, but Dr. Threlkeld said there are multiple factors that contribute to the cases in Mississippi. 

He said the Magnolia State has a low number of doctors per capita. 

“And couple that with the number of co-morbidities in the state; there is more hypertension, more obesity; there are probably more people of economic disadvantaged situations there,” he said.

Autopsies are also backed up.

Threlkeld said all of these factors could lead to an artificially low death rate. 

“Because all of the deaths are probably late in being processed,” he said. “There are fewer people who are coroners say, ‘This is a COVID-related death.'”

Not having accurate numbers can make the strategy of tackling the problem more difficult. 

The state health officer made simple stance involving schools in Mississippi.

“I think it’s a good idea to delay school,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.

The evidence for a delay seems to be mounting. Corinth Schools, the first district to open in the state, announced Monday they’re now dealing with three positive cases in just one week of classes.

While concerned, health experts are optimistic at the school’s ability to handle the challenge.

“They seem very well prepared,” Dr. Dobbs said. “They have very strict orders, protocols. They’re well-organized, and I think it’s going to help them. But we’re all kind of learning as we go through this. It’s sort of like a really frightening experiment.”

While delaying the school year into September is still possible, there’s still confusion about how in-person learning will look.

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