More than a year after the first positive coronavirus case was reported in Mississippi, the state is facing virus uncertainty once again as the Delta variant emerges and takes hold. The Delta variant is now the dominant strain of coronavirus nationally, accounting for over half of all coronavirus cases.
Public health officials are sounding alarms, warning of the mutation that is more transmissible and more contagious. Though mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna are still highly effective in preventing hospitalization, they are slightly less effective at preventing mild symptomatic illness, studies show. Unvaccinated individuals are still at the highest risk.
In Mississippi, cases are once again rising. On July 13, Mississippi reported 219 new cases and 10 deaths with a seven-day average of 320 cases. This is a notable increase from June 13, when Mississippi boasted a seven-day average of 132 cases, according to The New York Times’ coronavirus dashboard.
Mississippi’s State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs warns, the Delta strain is responsible for “pretty much all” of these new coronavirus cases.
In Lafayette county, unlike the rest of Mississippi, vaccination rates are high. The Mississippi Department of Health’s coronavirus vaccination report shows 42 percent of Lafayette county residents are fully vaccinated. This is on par with the national average of 48 percent. However, without nearly enough individuals vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, the Delta variant still poses a threat to the county.
In Oxford, government officials like John Morgan, Alderman-at-Large for the City of Oxford, are keeping an eye on local coronavirus trends.
“While some days the numbers have gone up, most of them have remained low. We will continue to monitor,” Morgan said. “To my knowledge, we have no plans to tighten any restrictions in the city.”
While local officials have no plans to tighten restrictions, some businesses, like Oxford’s Square Books are evaluating the situation and considering making changes.
“We are set to review our policies in the next couple of days due to recent news of the rise of the Delta variant in Mississippi…we are gathering staff input, which we do before we make a change,” Richard Howorth, the owner of Square Books, said. “The fact that only 30 percent of Mississippians have been double vaxxed is very distressing, as is State Health Officer Dobbs’ recent report on the number of children who are now on ventilators.”
Howorth attributes Mississippi’s current situation to poor political leadership in the state and is concerned that the combination of all these factors may require the store to reintroduce limited capacity and wearing of masks. He recognizes, though, that such policies have the potential to slow business.
“Our business increased by 13 percent in the months of May and June compared to May and June of 2019 – the first time we had any kind of increase or sign of being back to normal since Covid began,” he said. “For reasons of both health and the livelihood of our business, we are obviously concerned there’s going to be another setback.”