Health experts: COVID-19 transmission in Mississippi higher than record-breaking case counts show

Omicron variant leads to nearly a hundred thousand infections in less than three weeks
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 7:57 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Though the Mississippi State Department of Health has reported more than 86,000 cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, Dr. Mark Horne said he believes there is far more community transmission throughout Mississippi than those case counts reflect.

Horne, who served as past president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, said part of it comes from people using at-home tests when they feel sick.

There’s no requirement for those who test positive from at-home tests to notify MSDH.

Additionally, some may never get tested because they don’t feel sick, especially since Omicron has shown to cause more mild symptoms than the Delta variant.

“Even though it’s fewer — a smaller percentage get hospitalized. The number of people getting infected is massive, far worse than anything we’ve seen to this point. So that we still have a lot of hospitalizations, hospitalizations that are approaching, and we think will most likely reach and or surpass those that we had with Delta,” Horne said. “[That’s] not because the disease is a lot worse, it’s just that there’s so much more of it.”

Data from MSDH indicates 1,365 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday.

During the Delta wave, total hospitalizations peaked at 1,667.

Horne estimates approximately three percent of Omicron cases will lead to hospitalization, compared with eight percent of Delta variant cases.

That means an estimated 2,500 Mississippians have yet to be hospitalized from cases reported this month alone, a looming surge set to slam against a hospital system already weakened and short-staffed from previous pandemic waves.

“We’re all hoping that what we see in other parts of the world will replicate itself here, in terms of Omicron being a really fast, really intense problem that then fades in a similar manner,” Horne said.

Earlier this week, UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said current models suggest Omicron will peak in Mississippi by the first week of February.

He also offered insight into what the next variant could bring.

“If you think about the natural evolution of the way these things occur, and if history serves us as any guide, this virus will continue to mutate to become more infectious, but it will become less and less virulent and cause less and less severe disease to the point where it will almost be like a common cold,” Jones said.

Once that happens, Jones said some of the more extreme measures taken to protect against infection would no longer be necessary.

“It’ll just become a normal part of our lives. Whether that takes another year or three years, I don’t think anybody really knows,” Jones said. “But the encouraging thing about this variant is that it appears as though that trajectory — we’ve launched down that trajectory.”

Horne said he believes that the state has been over-testing individuals because of labor requirements in some instances.

“I would beseech all employers in the state do not demand a negative test to return to work, don’t do it. It has no utility. It is, it is not going to benefit you, Horne said. “If you’ve got an employee who’s out because they’ve been infected, and they’ve completed their isolation, and they’re not having symptoms, don’t demand a negative test for him to come back to work. It doesn’t help you.”

Horne said the current CDC guidance of isolating for at least five days after a positive test is the absolute minimum someone should isolate.

They shouldn’t return unless there’s a reduction in symptoms, and those who do return should still wear their masks for days afterward.

The goal, Horne said, is to ultimately reduce the spread, which will, in turn, reduce hospitalizations and provide relief for health care workers burnt out from the pandemic.

Those people who are nurses, respiratory therapists, ER workers, and support staff, they need your support, they need your help to decrease the workload at the hospital so that we can take care of people,” Horne said. “Remember, there are other ways to get seriously injured besides COVID.”

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