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New Weekend Highs Drive COVID-19 Spike, School Closings Across Mississippi

Mass transmission of COVID-19 is affecting in-person schooling across Mississippi. But positive vaccine news continues to arrive. Photo courtesy Rankin County School District

Mass transmission of COVID-19 is affecting in-person schooling across Mississippi. But positive vaccine news continues to arrive. Photo courtesy Rankin County School District

A wave of COVID-19 infection is driving school districts across Mississippi to transition to virtual learning, disrupting the first semester back to school since the virus arrived in Mississippi in the spring.

The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 589 cases of COVID-19 from Sunday and 969 from Saturday, for a total of 1,558 weekend reports of COVID-19, when numbers are typically depressed from low reporting. The current seven-day rolling average is 1,099, the highest since Aug. 5 and just below the late July peak. Hospitalizations continue to rise with currently 723 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state, 180 people in intensive-care units and 96 on ventilators.

Multiple schools and entire school districts reported temporary transitions to virtual teaching last week, including Adams, Alcorn, Attala, Bolivar, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Lawrence, Marshall, Oxford, Yazoo and Winston school districts. Although MSDH has not yet released its school report for the week ending Nov. 13, Rankin County School District’s COVID-19 reporting provides a glimpse into the trends pushing so many students out of schools.

Over a one-week period, the number of COVID-19 positive students and staff soared from 59 to 119. Quarantined students and staff showed an even greater spike, from 400 to 1,049. More than 5% of the entire RCSD student body is now quarantined. As a result, both Puckett High School and Brandon High School have fully transitioned to virtual learning until the Monday after Thanksgiving. RCSD Superintendent Sue Townsend explained in a staff email that these schools have met the MSDH criteria for quarantines.

Many of the temporary virtual learning plans are scheduled to end immediately after Thanksgiving, a potentially dangerous decision if Mississippians disregard the dire warnings from public-health officials and gather en masse over the holiday.

Moderna Vaccine Trial Provides Outstanding Results

Though the U.S. continues to accelerate into the worst days of the pandemic so far, promising vaccine trial results continue to arrive. Moderna, an American pharmaceutical firm, released an interim analysis of its COVID-19 vaccine efficacy test, showing an outstanding 94.5% reduction in infection when compared to a control group which received a placebo shot.

The Moderna results follow earlier reports of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which shows a 90% efficacy rate. Both results are resoundingly positive, if preliminary indicators hold.

Additionally, Moderna’s vaccine trial resulted in 11 cases of “severe” COVID-19, all of which emerged from the placebo group, suggesting that the vaccine may significantly improve outcomes for vaccinated individuals who still contract the virus.

However, Mississippi Today’s Erica Hensley reports that MSDH will require more funding and assistance to properly distribute the vaccine.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas warned at a town-hall meeting last week that funding and National Guard assistance must underpin the effort. “We’ve gotten minimal (federal) financial support for personnel to pull this off,” he said.

“We absolutely do not have enough to pull this off successfully,” Dobbs told The New York Times. “This is going to be a phenomenal logistical feat, to vaccinate everybody in the country. We absolutely have zero margin for failure. We really have to get this right.”

Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Contributing reporter Julian Mills contributed to this report. Email state reporter Nick Judin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nickjudin.

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