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‘People Who Didn’t Have to Die’: 79 COVID-19 Deaths In One Day

A tragic new milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic arrived today, with 79 new deaths from complications of the disease reported for one day. Public-health leadership is desperately calling for isolation over the holiday seasons as crisis care expands in many hospitals. Photo courtesy UMMC

A tragic new milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic arrived today, with 79 new deaths from complications of the disease reported for one day. Public-health leadership is desperately calling for isolation over the holiday seasons as crisis care expands in many hospitals. Photo courtesy UMMC

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Photo courtesy MSDH

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs began today’s COVID-19 press briefing with a quiet reading of nameless Mississippians. “84 year old, white male. 76 year old, white female, 67 year old, black female. 52 year old, black male,” he began.

“I want to list a few of these folks. Not by name, but by age, sex and race. To understand that these are people that, but for COVID, would be with us for next Christmas. These are people who didn’t have to die,” Dobbs said.

The list went on. It is larger today than at any point in the pandemic so far. The Mississippi State Department of Health announced a gut-wrenching 79 deaths today, as well as 2,191 new cases of COVID-19. Yesterday’s deaths, while tragic, are the inevitable consequence of the unmitigated spread of the virus across the state.

“These are not deaths from a month ago,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said. “These are all recent deaths. And it really was predicted. We predicted this by the increased cases in the state.”

Dobbs warned of the immense danger that family gatherings and church events over the holidays could bring. December’s brutal viral spread is due in part to Thanksgiving gatherings, he has repeatedly said. Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties could compound that spread beyond even the extreme circumstances of the present.

“We have ICU beds across the state that have two persons in a bed made for one person,” Dobbs said. “These are things that are happening now. We're actually having to start talking with hospitals about activating our crisis standards of care.”

Vaccine Arrives For Health Care Providers

Mississippi’s decline into the lowest depths of the crisis so far is especially painful with the knowledge that the vaccine is on its way. Though an end is finally in sight, the supply of the vaccines available is still far too small to have a significant impact on the spread of the disease in the wider population through the holidays and beyond.

Today, MSDH released additional information on the coming phases of vaccine availability, as it confirmed receipt of supplies of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Delays in the shipment of the Pfizer vaccine reduced the initial supply.

As of Dec. 22, Mississippi has received 25,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. Currently, 12,600 of those are being distributed through MSDH to “five major health systems,” hospitals with frontline workers routinely exposed to COVID-19. The remainder of the Pfizer doses are allocated to long-term care facilities, hit hard by outbreaks here in the pandemic’s peak.

Dobbs assured the press that more vials of vaccine were on their way, and laid out a multi-tiered plan for expanding access to the vaccine. “Some of it’s going to be a dynamic decision process,” Dobbs said, meaning that demand from the most restrictive lists will determine how quickly access is expanded to other Mississippians. But it will be well into next year before widespread access to the general public is an option.

Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Email state reporter Nick Judin at nick@jacksonfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter @nickjudin.

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