63 COVID Outbreaks Hit Mississippi Nursing Homes, With Fifth Wave Expected

After 63 outbreaks were reported in Mississippi nursing homes Monday, twice the number reported the week prior, state health officials said in a Wednesday press conference it seems likely the state is headed into a fifth wave of COVID cases and hospitalizations.

A total of 8,344 cases were reported in the state last week, an 80 percent jump from the week prior, largely due to the spreading of the Omicron variant, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

"We really are in the fifth wave now of COVID for Mississippi," Byers said during the news conference.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said those who test positive should follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and isolate for at least five days followed by strict mask-wearing around others.

At least 400 people were hospitalized from COVID in the state as of Monday, a significant jump from 239 reported late last week on Christmas Eve, according to the state health department.

"We're in the midst of a peak of transmission that we've never seen, most likely, this whole pandemic," Dobbs said.

"Don't perpetuate the chain of transmission," he said. "This is really a 'love thy neighbor' sort of moment, and 'love thy family,' also. Stay home."

Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi, Coronavirus, COVID Cases, Hospitalizations
Thomas Dobbs, state health officer at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said Wednesday the state is experiencing a spike in COVID transmission "that we've never seen." Above, Dobbs testifies before a hearing on "Community Perspectives on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2020. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, the Omicron variant accounted for about 13 percent of all samples sequenced in the state, up from about 8 percent in the previous week. Byers said these numbers likely underrepresent the impact of Omicron on the state because some samples collected recently are still pending. Omicron is significantly more infectious than the Delta variant.

Jim Craig, senior deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health and director of health protection, said the shortage of healthcare workers continues to be a concern for health officials. Lack of staff prevents hospitals from opening all available beds to treat patients.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for our smaller community, county hospitals to transport patients to some of our larger centers. ... It all plays back to the staffing issue," he said.

Health officials said Tuesday that 48 percent of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29 percent had received a booster shot. About 63 percent nationwide are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the surge in new virus cases, there has also been a rise in demand for testing. Dobbs said the state is expanding the number of available testing sites, and asked residents to be patient.

"There is testing available, it's just not on-demand like we've had before," he said. "That convenience might not be quite as big as it has been. But you know, this is a moment of phenomenally increased demand. So it'll be a little bit of a challenge."

Due to a surge in new confirmed coronavirus cases, the mayor of Mississippi's capital city has ordered the closure of city hall and other offices.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba's new executive order closing offices went into effect Wednesday. Only essential employees will continue to work in person, he said. The order will stay in place until at least Jan. 5, 2022.

"The infectious spread of COVID-19 through both the Delta and Omicron variants has continued and dramatically increased in the City of Jackson, with a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death rate," the mayor said in a statement. "The City of Jackson does not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach to the continued threat."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.