Mississippi sees 20,000 students quarantined following first week of school

More than 20,000 Mississippi students are in quarantine after they were exposed to COVID-19 during the first week of school.

"When you look at a number like 20,000 students that are on quarantine in any given week, that exceeds what we've experienced ... when we were at our previous peak for the impact on the schools," state epidemiologist Paul Byers told reporters Wednesday, according to NBC News

The state health department said 5 percent of all Mississippi students were in quarantine as of Friday, the end of the first school week, which reportedly saw more than 4,500 students testing positive for the virus.

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The large number of students in quarantine comes amid a battle around the country between Republican governors and school districts over mask mandates.

The governors are arguing students should be allowed to choose if they wear masks, while schools want masks to be mandated due to rising coronavirus cases fueled by the delta variant.

Mississippi, which has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country, has been struggling to handle a surge in cases. The state only has 36 percent of its residents fully vaccinated, and children under the age of 12 are still not allowed to get the vaccine in the U.S.

The state has reported more than 396,000 infections with more than 7,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins.