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Analysis: Public health officials under strain amid pandemic

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson

Mississippi public health officials are working long hours during the coronavirus pandemic, providing information about caseloads and giving warnings that many people choose to simply ignore.

Posted: Dec 6, 2020 7:25 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi public health officials are working long hours during the coronavirus pandemic, providing information about caseloads and giving warnings that many people choose to simply ignore.

The strain has been evident for months on the face of the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, an infectious disease specialist who served as Mississippi's state epidemiologist before being named to the top job in the state Health Department in 2018.

Like many at the Health Department, Dobbs has had little time off work since the first coronavirus cases were found in Mississippi in March. He and the current state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, have appeared at dozens of news conferences to answer questions about COVID-19 — sometimes with Gov. Tate Reeves and sometimes with other physicians from the Mississippi State Medical Association.

During an online news conference last week, a reporter from WTVA-TV in Tupelo said a local physician had questioned the accuracy of the rapidly rising numbers of coronavirus cases by suggesting that one person being tested three times counts as three cases. The station reported that the person making this assertion was the director of some urgent care clinics in Tupelo — someone who, it turns out, is not a physician but does work in the health care industry.

Dobbs responded loudly, with anger and frustration in his voice.

“What a bunch of bull crap,” Dobbs said. “How many times do I have to tell people? ... One person is a case. If you tested a person 3,000 times, it's one case. Quit buying into crazy nonsense. This is dangerous. People are dying. Quit making up stupid excuses, all right? ... We're working here all night and people are making up B.S. Unbelievable."

Dobbs has repeatedly expressed frustration at people's insistence on attending social events and extracurricular school activities, including sports competitions.

“Our hierarchy of prioritization is extremely stupid,” Dobbs said during a Nov. 13 briefing with the medical association. “'We're prioritizing youth sports, not only over academics. We're actually prioritizing it over community health, just to be honest.

“And I'm not saying there's no intrinsic value to sports," Dobbs said. “I love sports. ... But sometimes we've got to take a break. Sometimes we have to modify our stuff. And, you know, people lost their minds when you couldn't have ... stadiums full of football folks. Please, everybody do a little soul searching and understand: are we making the right decision with this? We are all connected."

Mississippi's population is just under 3 million, and the state had about 4,000 coronavirus deaths by late last week. That's more than one death for every 1,000 residents — a grim marker the state passed weeks ago.

The Mississippi State Medical Association issued a statement Nov. 25 supporting physicians who have called on the governor to reinstate a statewide mask mandate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted health care delivery at every level,” said Dr. Claude Brunson, the association director. “Our state’s health care system cannot continue to bear the overwhelming strain of the outbreak at its current state.”

From early August through late September, Reeves had an executive order requiring people in all parts of Mississippi to wear masks in public places. Since the order expired, the Republican governor has required masks in counties with the highest rates of virus transmission. By last week, he had a mask mandate in 54 of the 82 counties.

Dobbs, as head of the Health Department, works closely with the governor and has not publicly second-guessed Reeves on mask policies. During the news conference with Byers last week, Dobbs said: “I'm worried that the mask conversation is distracting from the real threat" — people carrying on with parties and other nonessential activities while the virus is rampant.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 320292

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22299271
Hinds20782424
Harrison18455317
Rankin13933282
Jackson13740249
Madison10276225
Lee10068176
Jones8475167
Forrest7845153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6524150
Lamar636688
Lafayette6315121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4842133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4610148
Marshall4576105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc426173
Monroe4163136
Union415977
Neshoba4066180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3374111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314771
Adams308586
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292468
Prentiss284461
Leake272474
Marion271480
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
Tishomingo232469
Winston230382
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210759
Holmes190574
Stone188833
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135547
Greene131934
Lawrence131424
Montgomery128943
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126542
Carroll122330
Webster115132
Jefferson Davis108534
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79218
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549394

Reported Deaths: 11328
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810851571
Mobile42180832
Madison35733524
Tuscaloosa26186460
Shelby25638255
Montgomery25103615
Baldwin21921314
Lee16301176
Calhoun14725329
Morgan14650286
Etowah14192364
Marshall12465230
Houston10798289
Elmore10302214
Limestone10191157
St. Clair10166251
Cullman9975201
Lauderdale9621250
DeKalb8978190
Talladega8467184
Walker7351281
Autauga7244113
Jackson6993113
Blount6957139
Colbert6418140
Coffee5650128
Dale4931116
Russell455241
Chilton4476116
Franklin432082
Covington4283123
Tallapoosa4137155
Escambia402380
Chambers3731124
Dallas3609158
Clarke353361
Marion3264107
Pike314878
Lawrence3135100
Winston283672
Bibb268664
Geneva258782
Marengo250566
Pickens237062
Barbour234460
Hale227078
Butler225071
Fayette219763
Henry194844
Randolph187744
Cherokee187545
Monroe181041
Washington170639
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156157
Cleburne153744
Lamar147237
Lowndes142154
Wilcox126830
Bullock124642
Conecuh113830
Coosa112129
Perry108826
Sumter106032
Greene93734
Choctaw62125
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 97°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
91° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 100°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
86° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 93°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
86° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 99°
Temperatures heat up significantly into your Thursday as humidity flows into the region. This combination will lead to some dangerous heat index values as well as a few thunderstorms. Most will end up staying rain-free. But all of us will endure the heat.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather