They said people need to follow public health guidelines even if they are tired of doing so.
“Every county is one wild weekend from falling off the cliff,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the health officer.
Dobbs said south Mississippi’s Wayne County has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases since mid-May, including an increase in those hospitalized. He said ventilators at Wayne General Hospital were “maxed out” Thursday, although hospitals in other parts of the state still had ventilators available.
Dobbs said he spoke to hospital leaders and other officials in Wayne County on Thursday morning and they said people have had large gatherings where social-distancing guidelines were ignored. Dobbs said there’s evidence that some of those gatherings were points of outbreak.
Dobbs said earlier this week that a person with COVID-19 attended a funeral this month in north Mississippi, and the virus spread to others. The Health Department released details Thursday, saying about 100 people attended the funeral May 17 in Baldwyn. At least seven Mississippi residents and two out-of-state residents who attended have tested positive for the virus, and Health Department workers are checking whether other cases can be traced to that gathering.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has been easing restrictions on businesses, and he will allow all types of businesses to start reopening on Monday. Reeves said Thursday that people need to take personal responsibility to slow the spread of the virus, including wearing masks in public and maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) from others in public.
Reeves acknowledged that people are attending large gatherings.
“There are some things government just can’t stop,” Reeves said, although he acknowledged that law enforcement agencies have the power to break up big groups.
“If you go to a social gathering that has 100 or 200 or 300 people at it, the risks are going to be higher than if you choose personally to stay in your home,” Reeves said. “I don’t believe that I, as governor, have the ability to order people to stay in their homes for months and months and months on end.”
The state Health Department said Thursday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — had at least 14,372 confirmed cases and 693 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday evening. That was an increase of 328 cases and 23 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier.
The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said at least 1,795 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 352 virus-related deaths in those facilities.
The department also said Thursday that more than 163,000 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Wednesday. More more than 7,000 of those were blood tests that detect whether a person has antibodies that usually show up after an infection is resolved.
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