The numbers are going the wrong way.
State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said the current data points for COVID-19 are concerning, with hospitalizations increasing and more people showing up in clinics with COVID-like illness.
“I do think we’re on the front end of something that could be bad,” he said during a talk with reporters Monday afternoon.
As of Monday, the state had 504 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, up from 419 a week earlier. Over the weekend, six major hospitals had no ICU capacity, he said.
As of Monday, the state had 145 COVID-19 patients in ICU and 69 on ventilators.
“All the indicators are looking in the wrong direction … The last time we saw that was before the summer surge,” said Dobbs. “It is a worrisome indicator.”
Although the mask mandate was allowed to expire, Dobbs continues to ask residents to wear a face covering when around other people.
“I’ve been a little bit disappointed just hearing from churches and businesses that they feel like they are no longer empowered to have their members or visitors wear masks, and I think that does increase risks, unfortunately,” he said.
State officials have not ruled out a return to a mask mandate.
“We just really want everybody to wear a mask in public for yourself and also for the people you love,” said Dobbs. “It’s really kind of baffling why it’s such a big deal. It’s such an easy thing, and it adds benefit to our safety. It allows us to keep schools open; it allows us to keep hospitals from overflowing; it allows us to visit people in nursing homes. It’s just mind-boggling why it’s become such an unnecessary controversy.”
Along with wearing a face mask, he encourages people to continue to practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and practice hand hygiene.
With Halloween coming up, the Department of Health may issue some guidelines for how to handle the holiday activities. For now, Dobbs is directing people to the advice issued by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. He encourages people to have “much more modest Halloween plans” than normal.
“Anytime you’re social and letting your guard down, we’re seeing more and more cases,” he said.
Magnolia Regional Health Center had 12 hospitalized COVID patients as of the last reported update on Thursday.