by Leah Willingham/Associated Press

A top Mississippi health official said Tuesday that about 20,000 students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure in the state — 4.5% of the public school population, according to the state’s latest enrollment figures.

The data comes from reports made by 800 schools to the Mississippi State Department of Health last week, Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said during a call with state pediatricians.

“These disruptions … are going to continue for a while,” Byers said to members of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The school outbreaks have resulted in many school officials rethinking their policies after beginning the academic year without restrictions such as mask mandates. Around 600 schools have now implemented universal masking for indoor settings, Byers said.

But there are still many settings where restrictions that could keep kids and teachers safer are not being implemented consistently. To prevent transmission in schools, there needs to be a mix of masking, vaccinations and testing being done on a regular basis, Byers said.

“What we’re finding is in a lot of schools are picking and choosing through these recommendations in a cafeteria-style approach,” Byers said. “The intent of this is really it needs to be all of these layers in order to prevent transmission.”

The Mississippi Department of Health reported 3,323 new confirmed cases of the virus on Tuesday. More than 392,300 people have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic in Mississippi, a state of around 3 million people. At least 7,880 have died since the pandemic began.