JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi state health officer on Tuesday implored people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a highly transmissible variant of the virus is spreading a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S.
“Y'all, we're going to have a rough few weeks,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Tuesday during an online news conference.
Dobbs had said Monday on social media that Mississippi is in a “4th wave” of virus cases, following previous waves in the spring and summer of 2020 and a larger wave of cases early this year before vaccines were widely available.
He said Tuesday that the delta variant of the virus is spreading rapidly in Mississippi. He said intensive care units are full in 13 Mississippi hospitals because of the recent increase in cases, and many other hospitals have fewer than 10% of beds available in ICUs.
Dobbs said unvaccinated people should take “commonsense steps” to reduce transmission, including having social activities outdoors rather than indoors. He said people who have chronic medical conditions or are at least 65 should avoid large indoor gatherings.
Dobbs said people can choose to wear masks to mitigate the spread of the virus, but he is not asking Gov. Tate Reeves to reinstate widespread mask mandates.
“We have other tools available to us," Dobbs said. “In all honesty, I think that the era of statewide mask mandates is probably over for the majority of the United States. And certainly, for us."
Republican Reeves set a statewide mask mandate during August and September, then had mandates in counties with counties where the virus was spreading quickly. He lifted the last of the county mask mandates in early March, and his requirement for masks in schools expired when the academic year ended in May.
The chief medical officer for state Department of Health, Dr. Dan Edney, said Tuesday that the department is encouraging physicians to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all patients old enough to receive them and to become partners with schools to vaccinate children who are old enough and whose parents agree they can receive the shots.
“If we want this fall to be more normal, the route is through vaccination," Edney said.
Mississippi has some of the strictest requirements in the U.S. for children to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and other diseases before they can enroll in public or private schools or day care centers.
Dobbs said COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and effective, but he does not think the state Health Department would consider mandating them for school-aged children without the vaccinations having FDA approval. The COVID-19 vaccinations have emergency-use authorization.
Dobbs also said he believes vaccination against COVID-19 is important for college students. However, "we are not looking to pursue any type of mandatory vaccination" for that age group, Dobbs said Tuesday.