Wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings is still a prudent thing to do, Mississippi’s health chief said on Thursday.

Despite the new CDC guidance giving leeway for vaccinated people to put away their face coverings, State Health officer Thomas Dobbs said during a talk with reporters that he is not comfortable doing so.

“It still makes sense,” he said, “in my perspective, in crowded indoor circumstances, for everyone to wear masks, mostly because you don’t know who’s not vaccinated, and we’re still at risk.”

State Epidemiologist Paul Byers agreed, especially for people older than 65 and those who have chronic medical conditions. He said “reason” should be the guide.

“If you are indoors and you are in a group setting with a number of people who are unvaccinated, certainly, I would encourage continued mask use,” said Byers.

The new CDC guidance comes at a time when Alcorn County’s numbers are showing some recent increase in COVID activity.

Dobbs is advising people not to become complacent about the continuing threat.

“Although Mississippi is doing reasonably well with the COVID pandemic, we did record over 300 new cases today,” the doctor said. “We’re still at risk. We still have a large part of our population that is vulnerable from COVID-19. And I want us all to sit back and realize that you’re likely either to get the COVID vaccine or the COVID virus. And, under every conceivable scenario, you are a thousandfold, if not a millionfold, better off getting the vaccine than contracting COVID.”

This is especially true for the “significant minority” of people 65 and older who are not vaccinated, given the high rate of hospitalization and death in that age group, he said.

The potential for variant strains to continue to emerge is also a concern for the state’s top doctors.

“One of the best ways to limit the emergence of variant strains, which we are now seeing more of in the United States and Mississippi, is through vaccination,” said Byers. “If you can keep the numbers of cases that are being transmitted low and you can keep the overall infections low, you can limit the development of these variant strains. In Mississippi, now we have identified more than 400 cases of variant strains in the state. The vast majority of those are the U.K. variant, which is now the predominant strain, more than likely, in the U.S.”

The good news, he said, is the vaccines are effective against the variants, thus far, and prevent the severe complications that can occur.

Locally, hospitalizations have trended upward over the last few weeks. After dropping to as low as two, the number hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 at Magnolia Regional Health Center as of Friday morning was 11.

For the period of April 20 to May 3, Alcorn County had the seventh-highest number of cases and also the seventh-highest cases per 100,000 population among the 82 counties.

Alcorn County’s latest reported test positivity rate, for the period of April 14 to 27, was 9.6 percent, rising from 7.9 percent during the prior two weeks. The county had 33 cases via suspected community transmission for the week of April 25 to May 1, unchanged from the prior week.

For the same time periods, Tishomingo County had a positivity rate of 0.9 percent with seven new cases; Prentiss County had a positivity rate of 7 percent with seven new cases; and Tippah County had a positivity rate of 3.2 percent with four new cases.

For McNairy County, the Tennessee Department of Health reported a positivity rate of 2.3 percent over the last seven days and an average of 2.9 new cases per day from April 29 to May 12, compared to 2.6 cases per day during the prior two weeks.

MSDH reported 201 new positive cases on Friday and eight deaths. The rolling seven-day average of new cases is about 220. The rolling average for deaths is two daily.

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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