Mississippi health officials plead with elderly to avoid mass indoor gatherings as delta Covid variant rips through state

Men relax on the sidewalk this rural Delta community on April 27, 2021 in Greenville, Mississippi.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Mississippi state health officials issued new guidance on Friday that calls for state residents over the age of 65 and immunocompromised residents, vaccinated or unvaccinated, to avoid any indoor mass gatherings for the next two weeks amid “significant transmission” of the delta variant over the coming weeks.

The new guidance is in place until July 26 and is not mandatory. The guidance should instead be considered a recommendation.

“We’re not recommending any mandates. What we’re doing is we’re providing personal recommendations for individuals who are at high risk for severe outcomes,” Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a press briefing Friday. “We don’t want anybody to die needlessly.”

Dobbs said he currently “does not anticipate” the guidance being expanded to other age groups in the future.

Officials said they are starting to see significant transmission of the delta variant that is very reminiscent of what was seen in the early days of the pandemic. Mississippi state health epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers specifically highlighted church groups, school and summer programs, funeral gatherings and workplaces as well as long-term care facilities as areas where officials are already seeing spikes in infections.

“We have directly identified that they are the result of the delta variant, and the transmission … has been pretty significant,” Byers said at the press briefing Friday.

The state is second to last to Alabama out of all states when it comes to the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated with two doses. About 25% of Mississippians over age 65 are still unvaccinated, and make up the majority of Covid deaths in the state. State health officials also said they are seeing deaths in vaccinated residents as well, “because we are exposing them over and over again,” Dobbs said, though it is a miniscule percentage.

Mississippi is ranked last in the country in its share of adults with at least one Covid shot and the state is also ranked last in the country in the percentage of residents age 12 and older with at least one shot.

“I don’t think that we’re going to have some miraculous increase in our vaccination rate over the next few weeks, so people are going to die needlessly,” Dobbs warned.

State health officials asked vaccinated residents to speak with others about their experience with the vaccine in an effort to raise awareness about the safety and efficacy of the shots.

“Let people, let your family know, let your neighbors know, let your friends know,” Dobbs said. “There’s no more powerful message than trust and faith for people to know how widely utilized the vaccine has been, and understand that people are safe and excited to be protected.”

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