Dr. Thomas Dobbs reflects on his time leading the MSDH through the pandemic

Published: May. 26, 2022 at 7:01 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Dr. Thomas Dobbs has just more than two months left in his role as State Health Officer.

It’s a position that put him in the spotlight to lead through the ups and downs of the COVID. Exactly one week after Governor Tate Reeves signed the executive order establishing a coronavirus task force led by Dr. Dobbs, the call came in that Mississippi had it’s first case.

“It was kind of like the pebble that started the avalanche,” said Dobbs. “And then it just, you know, just went downhill from there. It was, it was almost overwhelming.”

Dobbs notes that the state DID have a plan. But the variables that were added in complicated the response. All of that as Dobbs and his health department team were working incredibly long hours.

“What happened is, the demands were so overwhelming because all of a sudden, everybody was looking to us for PPE, for guidance,” recalled Dobbs. “You know, the level of anxiety was such that, you know, I had to hire somebody just to answer my cell phone, right? I mean, otherwise couldn’t get any work done. Because, you know, so it really was, it’s a demand that sort of overwhelmed the system.”

We asked Dobbs about the push and pull of public health and politics as decisions were being made behind the scenes.

“You know, interestingly, especially early on, it was a little bit easier,” he said. “Because everybody was pretty unified in their concern. You know, the former president was taking some pretty bold steps. There was a lot there was, you know, in some ways, folks were, were to panic, right? People were too worried. And it caused a little bit of chaos. And certainly a little bit of overshoot, I think in some regards. But early on, it was easier, because I think we’re all united around, you know, the need to sort of like, do a hard reset, see what’s going on slow this thing down. And it worked. I mean, actually, it worked very well, if you look at our cases. I mean, they really tailed off very quickly. I mean, it’s dramatic efforts had to be taken. But if we think about where we were with, you know, we had an overwhelmed health system and a lot of states, we didn’t have protective equipment and have resources to deal with it. It didn’t make sense. But, you know, that sort of unanimity. That sort of cohesion did devolve over time, as you know, I think we’ve all seen.”

He says his department made it a point to look beyond the daily numbers and to the people connected to them...their stories.

“We felt connected to these losses,” he noted. “We connected to these families to these that we and we knew especially going into the Delta surge we were extremely frustrated because we lost thousands of people who didn’t have to die.”

While he says it was tough...

“I’ve been in infectious disease and public health my whole life,” he added. “And I think some of the experiences, in some ways, prepared me and the agency for these sorts of things. Not that everything was perfect, but I just want to say thank you to the state of Mississippi for having me serve as your state health officer.”

As for what’s next for Dr. Dobbs, he’s planning to go back into a more of a clinical practice and academics. He tells us he’s already set up to do more work with folks living with HIV, some STD prevention and health equity work. And noted that he’s in the process of finalizing some things but will announce details soon.

And just this week, the new state health officer was named.

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