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MSDH guidance leads to mask mandates at Mississippi universities

Following new guidance from the Mississippi State Department of Health, several universities across the state have now implemented mask mandates as the fall semester approaches in the midst of rising COVID-19 cases.

After both Mississippi State and Delta State announced a similar mandate Wednesday, Ole Miss has now followed suit with an announcement issued by Chancellor Glenn Boyce stating that the university will require face coverings in indoor public spaces on campus, regardless of vaccination status.

“This includes public office spaces, classrooms, conference rooms and other academic spaces like laboratories and libraries. Additionally, masks will be required while traversing public spaces in residence halls, dining facilities, the Student Union, Campus Rec, and retail spaces. Masks will be required for extracurricular activities held in indoor on-campus spaces. Face coverings are not required when outdoors.”

This morning, the MSDH held a press conference to provide the latest data as the fourth wave of the pandemic, fueled by the Delta variant, continues in Mississippi. Health officials detailed that vaccinations have increased in recent weeks, but the state’s overall vaccination rate remains at just 35%—well below the national average.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs continued to stress the increased transmissibility of the new dominant strain, stating that it can be passed along to an average of eight or nine people. The highly contagious variant could present problems on a crowded college campus. The Delta strain has led to an increased number of young adults being hospitalized, and MSDH is calling on universities to promote vaccination for all students. It is not mandated for students to return to campus.

You can view the full guidance for universities from MSDH here.

Similar mask guidance has been issued for public schools in Mississippi, but individual districts continue to set their own policies. Several schools have already been forced to return to virtual learning due to increasing COVID-19 cases. This includes two high schools in the Pine Belt as well as Magee High School.

This morning, MSDH reported over 3,100 new cases and 16 additional deaths. Director of Health Protection Jim Craig detailed that there are just eight available ICU beds across the entire state. Four children are currently in the ICU and two of those children are on a ventilator. Overall hospitalizations are back over 1,000 for the first time since January. An overwhelming majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain among the unvaccinated.

Wednesday, leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center detailed that the healthcare system is reaching a “breaking point” as staff shortages present a new challenge during this wave of the pandemic.

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