Mississippi Mayor Warns Pandemic Will Get Worse as State Expected to Overtake Florida as COVID Hot Spot

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi, warned that the situation in his state is likely going to get worse before it gets better, as Mississippi has seen a surge in new infections and deaths over the past few weeks.

"The director of the state health department announced more than a week ago that there were only two ICU beds available at that time. And now, the circumstance is even worse at this hour in terms of our available ICU beds," Lumumba, a Democrat, told CNN in a Wednesday interview.

"And I fear that as we're seeing schools reopening and no plan that we have yet to see the worst," the mayor said.

Lumumba said that his state had "failed to operate with a sense of urgency." The mayor suggested that state leaders had moved too slowly to issue a statewide mask mandate, which could have helped curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

"I think that we failed to operate with a sense of urgency. We issued a mandatory mask—or mandatory facial covering mandate in the city of Jackson nearly a month ago. And so we felt that it was necessary," Lumumba said. "We saw that the numbers were increasing. We warned that we were opening up too soon and that communities were having their hand forced to do so. And so I think we're seeing the ill effects of that decision."

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, issued a temporary mask mandate on Tuesday. The mandate will last for two weeks and went into effect on Wednesday morning.

"Up to this point, we've kept the focus on counties with the highest spread. Now, with a two-week push, I believe we can have the maximum effect and allow for education to occur," Reeves said. "This has always been about getting the most possible cooperation from the people of Mississippi.… "

Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, raised concerns about the Southern state on Saturday, cautioning that Mississippi is likely to become the nation's next coronavirus hot spot.

"MS has the 2nd highest # of new cases / capita, just behind Florida -- but MS is going up while FL is slowly inching down," Jha tweeted. "Mississippi will become nation's #1 in new cases/pop," he wrote on Twitter. "Already #1 on test +."

"If MS wants kids in school, recipe known," Jha wrote. "Stop indoor dining/bars/gyms, Statewide masking, Fix testing, Then, maybe, kids can go to school safely."

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the top executive at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, shared concerns with NPR on Monday as well.

"So our ICUs [at the hospital] are full. I mean, that is the bottom line. We have been full for several weeks," Woodward explained. "When other hospitals around the state call us for help, we're unable to take their patients."

Mississippi has a seven-day average of more than 1,100 new infections and over 30 deaths per day, according to The New York Times tracker. In total, the Southern state has reported more than 62,000 infections and more than 1,700 deaths.

Newsweek reached out to the Mississippi State Department of Health for comment, but it did not respond by the time of publication.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba
In this screengrab, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi speaks to CNN about the sharp rise in COVID-19 related hospitalization in his state on August 5 CNN/screenshot
Mississippi Mayor Warns Pandemic Will Get Worse as State Expected to Overtake Florida as COVID Hot Spot | U.S.