by Leah Willingham, Associated Press

There are active COVID-19 outbreaks in 91% of Mississippi’s nursing homes, mostly involving staff, a top health official said Friday, as the omicron variant of the virus continues to surge.

There are active outbreaks in 192 of Mississippi’s 211 nursing homes, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.

“The majority of the cases we’re seeing are brought in by the staff — the infected staff who may become infected outside of the setting and then bring it back to residents,” Byers said.

He noted that a lack of vaccinations among staff is “one of the weak points that we’ve had in long-term care settings” while trying to control the virus.

In facilities with active outbreaks, 75% of staff and 88% of residents are fully vaccinated, Byers said. Around 13% of staff have received a booster shot. Long-term care staff members in Mississippi who are unvaccinated are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, which helps health officials identify outbreaks early.

“It helps us identify those people who may be infected and remove them, exclude them from the setting before transmission occurs,” Byers said.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Mississippi has risen over the past two weeks from around 565 new cases per day on Dec. 22 to 5,148 on Wednesday. The increase in cases have has not led to a large increase in deaths as it did with the delta variant during the summer, however, Byers said.

“Any death is one too many, but we are encouraged by the fact that the residents are being protected by the vaccination and the boosters,” he said.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have increased from 228 on Dec. 16 to 940 on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health.

Overall, 48.9% of people in Mississippi are fully vaccinated, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.