Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs answers a reporter’s question regarding the early start of public schools throughout the state at Gov. Tate Reeves’ COVID-19 press briefing in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. State officials provided reporters an update on the coronavirus and the state’s ongoing strategy to limit transmission in public schools. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

by Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press

Mississippi health officials reported Monday that the state is seeing its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in months as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

The state is also experiencing a sharp increase in the percentage of positive tests.

“COVID-19 testing has jumped statewide, and positive results are a LOT higher. Our positivity rate is now the same as it was during the worst of COVID-19 in January. Delta is hitting hard,” the Mississippi State Department of Health posted on Twitter.

The department said on its website  Monday that 3,608 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Mississippi from Friday through Sunday. That compares to 2,326 reported from Friday through Sunday a week earlier — numbers that were highest in the state since February.

The increase in cases is happening as some schools are starting classes and as thousands of people are gathering for the Neshoba County Fair — a 10-day event where families and friends live in colorful cabins, visit on front porches and watch musical performances, horse races and political speeches.

The fair was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who lifted all of his orders for mask mandates months ago, is scheduled to speak there Thursday.

Dr. Dan Edney, the state Health Department’s chief medical officer, said during a news conference last week that people over 65, even if they are fully vaccinated “need to double think” whether to attend the Neshoba County Fair or other big events.

“If you’re going to be in any crowd setting, not just the Neshoba County Fair but any crowd setting, you need to try not to be in the middle of things and be as distant as you can, (be in the) open air as much as you can, wear a mask and be vaccinated,” Edney said.

As of Monday, the Health Department said Mississippi has had 336,788 confirmed cases of the virus, with 7,508 deaths from it, since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.

The department said 40,245 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Mississippi during the week that ended Saturday — the highest number in the state since early May. The increase came as state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and other health officials were imploring people to get vaccinated because of the rapid spread of the delta variant of the virus.

Last week’s vaccination numbers were more than double the 19,956 doses administered in Mississippi during the week that ended July 1. That was the week the state had its lowest vaccination numbers since January.
The Health Department on Monday also said that the delta variant of the virus is causing an increase in hospitalizations of younger patients.

“We are in a strikingly different situation from a year ago, when severe COVID-19 occurred mostly in those over 50. Now 43% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 … are under 50,” the department wrote  on Twitter.
In late July 2020, the department said 19% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in Mississippi were younger than 50.