3 YEARS LATER: Mississippi’s first COVID-19 case, and where we’ve been

Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 10:40 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - This weekend marks the 3rd anniversary of Mississippi’s first COVID-19 case. Let’s take a look back at what’s happened and see where we’re headed.

MARCH 2020: “Now we’ve identified our first case of COVID-19 in Mississippi,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.

That statement came to you exactly three years ago this weekend, the day the COVID-19 pandemic came to the Magnolia State.

Dr. Michael Threlkeld, an Infectious Disease Specialist with Baptist Memorial Hospital, says experts had no idea what was coming.

“When we heard about the first few cases, we all said, ‘Wow, that’s interesting. I wonder if that’ll amount to anything.’ [We] never thought that, you know, three years later, we’d be still sitting here talking about it,” Dr. Threlkeld explained.

In a matter of just days, Governor Tate Reeves declared a Public Health Emergency, schools pivoted to virtual learning, and the virus claimed the state’s first victim.

In April 2020, Gov. Reeves issued a “shelter-in-place” order to keep cases from rising further.

APRIL 2020: “We are close to our peak resource use. The best data shows it’s coming in the next couple of weeks. More Mississippians will die from this. It is serious, contagious, and it can be fatal,” Gov. Reeves said.

In the summer months, restrictions were lifted, leaving hospitals to request outside help and create ICUs in parking garages.

“The sheer number of really sick patients filling up the Intensive Care Units, to where, you know, half to two-thirds to three-fourths of your Intensive Care Unit was made up of critically ill COVID patients and didn’t leave room for anybody else,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

As of December 30, Former State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reported 346 COVID patients in the ICU, including five children, and 219 COVID patients on ventilators.

Then, health officials began rolling out the vaccine.

JAN 2021: “Next week, we will start again with a significant rise. My goal in the month of February is to have the ability to do approximately 100,000 vaccines a week,” Gov. Reeves said.

But many Mississippians were hesitant to roll up their sleeves.

“If this epidemic happened 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have had a vaccine like this readily available in a remarkably short period of time. People always say, ‘Oh, the vaccine came out too quickly.’ And my response is, ‘Yeah, that’s good,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

Meanwhile, the virus began forming variants like Delta and Omicron, leading to the highest number of cases in January 2022 with over 10,000.

“The virus has been smarter than we thought and was able to mutate and overcome our immune system. So we still haven’t seen the end of that. I think we saw those bumps, and those were the striking changes, but the virus is continuing to change and adapt,” Dr. Threlkeld explained.

Since then, the number of cases hasn’t surpassed 3,000 in a day. Despite all we overcame, Dr. Threlkeld said it’s put us in a good position for the future.

“Going forward, I think we’d learned a lot, particularly about how to make vaccines [and] how to deal with crises like this, which I think will hold us in good stead if we have another epidemic of something else,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

MARCH 2023: On the 3rd anniversary of the first COVID-19 case, MSDH shares the total number of cases and deaths the state has seen. 990,756 total cases and 13,370 total MS deaths.

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