Story at a glance
- Mississippi schools are reopening, bringing a flurry of new cases.
- The state’s leading public health official expects the cases to increase.
Mississippi state officials are reporting at least 22 separate instances of coronavirus outbreaks within schools across the state since reopening, the Clarion-Ledger reports.
Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, confirmed during a press conference that 22 schools have reported cases of coronavirus, 19 of which are among students and 15 cases among staff, amounting to 34 cases.
This follows reports of more than 100 students sent home to quarantine from a southern Mississippi high school after a teacher began exhibiting symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
"Mississippi is kind of a hot spot for coronavirus in the country — in a country that's highest in the world (for number of coronavirus cases)," Dobbs told reporters during a virtual news conference on Monday.
He also acknowledged that as students return to in-person classes, the virus will likely transmit quickly.
“We know some percentage of kids are going to walk through that door and they already have coronavirus,” he confirmed.
The decision to allow students and staff to return to in-person classes is at the forefront of the national dialogue. While President Trump vehemently supports returning to brick-and-mortar schools, other entities like teacher unions are concerned over the possibility of catching the virus from a student. School staff and faculty are notably more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection than their young pupils.
"Older people will be infected as well, and as the state is seeing now, the mortality rate has increased dramatically," Dobbs said. "There are a lot of people dying who would not have died (if they did [sic] were not infected with the coronavirus)."
In Mississippi, the threat of a child contacting the virus and passing it along is likely, as seen already with schools reopening for the 2020-2021 school year.
“When we are starting to see the same sort of story repeat over and over again in numerous other school districts, that is going to be a challenge," Dobbs said. He further noted that children primarily contract the virus from social events prior to arriving back at school, and the number of COVID-19 cases will likely increase exponentially, further disrupting the academic year.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) only recently implemented a temporary face mask mandate, requiring residents to wear a facial covering while in public. While the Southern state wasn’t heavily affected like Seattle or New York City at the onset of the coronavirus, lax public health rules fueled a surge in new cases, making it the latest virus hotbed.
Dobbs told reporters that following public health protocols, like mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand washing can help beat the virus back.
"People are starting to have a bit more awareness of the severity of the coronavirus as it has affected more people," Dobbs said. "It's become apparent how serious it is. A lot of the minimization of the severity of the pandemic has sort of dropped off a little bit."
The state has a total of 69,986 cases confirmed over the course of the pandemic, with 612 reported Wednesday evening.