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Mississippi health official ‘exhausted’ by virus response

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s top health official said he is exhausted trying to convince people in the state to take the coronavirus seriously and follow public health guidelines.

“I’ll just to confess to you guys, I’m exhausted trying to convince folks to do stuff. It’s just going nowhere,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s state health officer, said Monday during a meeting with members of the Mississippi Senate.

Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 144,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,729 deaths from COVID-19. Hospitalizations are rising, with 946 people hospitalized in Mississippi with coronavirus Monday, compared with 560 on Nov. 4, according to the state Department of Health.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Medicine, has called on the governor to reinstitute a statewide mask mandate to prevent further spread of the virus. Woodward said last week that no intensive care unit beds were available at the hospital, Mississippi’s only level-one trauma center.

“I think we have reasonable evidence to believe that the county-by-county approach is not working,” she said during a Monday news briefing. Gov. Tate Reeves has instituted a mask mandate in 22 of Mississippi’s 82 counties with the highest number of new cases of coronavirus.

Reeves is expected to hold a briefing to update the public on the state’s coronavirus prevention efforts Tuesday afternoon.

As state health officer, Dobbs has been running the state’s effort to track the virus, put preventative measures in place and test residents.

He has also been the face of the state’s coronavirus response, speaking at many of Reeves’ televised coronavirus press briefings and online forums with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state Department of Health and the Mississippi State Medical Association. Throughout the pandemic, he has repeated the same message: masking, social distancing and avoiding large social gatherings will prevent the spread of the virus.

Speaking to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Monday, he said there is no “collective will” among the public to prevent the virus.

He said church and school outbreaks are rising throughout the state. Schools, in particular, have become a major problem — in general, schools have been unwilling to cut back on extracurriculars and social activities, Dobbs said.

“We have chosen, very clearly, to prioritize social events over disease transmission,” he said. “Part of that’s because we are tired of it and there has been some effort to minimize the severity of the illness.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 665 new confirmed cases of coronavirus and new 53 deaths. Thirty-one deaths occurred between Nov. 13 and Nov. 23 and were identified later using death certificates.

While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.