As average COVID-19 cases reach 15-week low, health officials prepare for spike from college students

Dobbs: “If we can be thoughtful about it, we won’t even have another wave”

State leaders prepare of surge of Covid-19

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Tuesday’s COVID-19 numbers show a decline in the number of new cases and no reported deaths, something Mississippi hasn’t had in nearly three months, it also gives the state’s hospital system a bit of a break before flu season arrives and a potential spike in cases from college students.

The seven-day average of daily new cases reached a 15-week low, and the state’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said most counties are seeing improvements.

“When we look at the most recent two-week data with a seven day lag, we saw that 62 counties were shrinking in the number of cases they were having. 20 had increased. We did see some specific outliers, especially Lafayette County and Oktibbeha County," Dobbs said, indicating those came from outbreaks connected to the major universities located there.

Nonetheless, encouraging trends might feel like deja vu during this COVID-19 crisis.

In May, coronavirus cases appeared to be stabilizing somewhat until outbreaks among Mississippians, some which can be traced back to Memorial Day and Fourth of July holiday weekends.

Dobbs said there’s a different sort of vulnerability now that they have to watch.

“What we worry about is going to be college kids getting sick, taking it back home, basically reseeding the community and you know, with kids being asymptomatic or younger folks having milder symptoms, they can spread it and not know it," Dobbs said.

Approximately 22 percent of Mississippi’s total cases are in that 18-29 age group.

“The numbers are headed in the right direction, but there is not a reason for us to say all is good, we accomplished our goal," Gov. Tate Reeves said. “No we’ve got to keep being diligent, so that we can keep doing the things that we want to do.”

To the uninitiated, the current lull in coronavirus cases and recent drop in deaths could seem like what Mississippi communities experience during hurricane season, the calm before the storm.

”Maybe we’ve sort of had a little bit of a respite from our gradually increasing and terrifying first wave, and so it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in the future," Dobbs said. “The virus is really, it sits at the tipping point. If you do enough right, it goes down, and if you don’t do enough right, it goes up exponentially. I would be hopeful that if we can just be thoughtful about it, we won’t even have another wave.”

Much has changed in Mississippi since that first wave of cases came through: doctors and nurses are more knowledgeable about how to treat the wide variety of symptoms and complications from COVID, more residents are wearing masks, and the state’s hospital system has learned invaluable information on how to logistically approach the pandemic.

Dobbs told reporters during Tuesday’s briefing that fewer infections have taken place from the state’s K-12 schools than expected, which he attributes to the diligence of administrators at many of those facilities.

At the same time, flu season traditionally begins in October, and Dobbs acknowledged some head winds ahead of us, like cold weather, and the combination of school and college exposure.

“If we are diligent with our social distancing and masking, hopefully like they saw in Australia and South Africa, we’ll see a milder-than-usual flu season,” Dobbs said.

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