JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Outbreaks of the new coronavirus have been found at two of Mississippi's eight public universities within the first days of students returning to campuses, the state health officer said Wednesday.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs said cases at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi University for Women in Columbus appear to have originated off-campus.
The University of Mississippi said in a memo Wednesday that 13 student-athletes and one employee had tested positive for COVID-19. The memo said 11 of the athletes are on the same team, but it did not name the sport.
“These individuals were tested earlier this week as part of a mass screening for student-athletes returning to campus and were instructed to quarantine until test results were received,” the memo said.
MUW said on its website Wednesday that seven students had reported testing positive for the virus since Friday, and each had been on campus within a week before the diagnosis.
Dobbs said some of the MUW cases can be traced to the Cotton District in Starkville, an area with restaurants and bars that are popular with students from MUW and Mississippi State University.
“Not a big surprise,” Dobbs said. “We know when people socialize and get in groups concentrated not wearing masks, they're absolutely going to spread the coronavirus.”
The University of Mississippi said in a news release Wednesday that it has a team of people tracing cases to try to slow the spread of the virus. Students, faculty or staff members who have COVID-19 symptoms or think they might have been near someone with the virus are asked to contact the university health services office for testing and to isolate themselves until they receive results. In addition, the university is using an app to notify people who have been in contact with those who test positive, so those people can also get tested and go into isolation.
The Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has had at least 74,555 reported cases and at least 2,163 deaths from COVID-19 as of Tuesday evening. That’s an increase of 1,348 confirmed cases and 36 deaths from numbers reported the day before, with 12 deaths occurring between July 22 and Aug. 14 and identified later from death certificates.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most but can be more severe or fatal for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.