Today the Mississippi State Health Department reported a record number of deaths from COVID-19 in a single day.

These 79 new deaths reported occurred over a month-long span. 56 occurred between Dec. 12-21, and 23 deaths were recorded Nov. 20-Dec. 16, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. MSDH’s daily COVID-19 update said that new cases and deaths “may change as investigation finds new or additional information.”

“These are people who didn’t have to die,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said of the 79 people who were reported dead because of the virus today.

“These are astounding numbers,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said. “We’re still seeing lots of exposures in churches, in sporting events, in social gatherings… that certainly leads to much of the transmission we’re seeing in the state right now.”

Byers and Dobbs both said in a press conference that the holidays will likely make the crisis worse.

“We expect additional surges,” Dobbs said of family gatherings and worship services during the holidays.

The state health department is strongly encouraging anyone over the age of 65 with chronic health conditions to not attend worship services in person, as well as encouraging places of worship to hold services online.

Dobbs said that the state is on track to surpass 1,000 deaths this month, adding that so far this year, the state has reported 6,000 more deaths than expected. 

“These are 1,000 poeple who could be with us next year,” Dobbs said. “You can't necessarily avoid cancer. You can't avoid heart attacks in the short term. You can avoid COVID.”

DeSoto County has reported more cases since March than any other county in the state. The county has also reported far more deaths than recent years, with 128 deaths directly linked to the virus. About 150 new cases of the virus have been counted in the county each day — a faster spread than ever before.

“We don’t overblow things,” Dobbs said. “When we say things are bad, they’re bad. When we say things are getting better, they’re better.”

Dobbs has said before that the vaccine will not immediately end the crisis, but it does offer a solution for the coming months.

“This is an opportunity for us to look to a future of normalcy,” he said.

Mississippi is still in phase 1a of vaccine distribution, meaning that front-line health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities (LTCF) are currently being offered doses of the two available vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccine has already been distributed to some health care workers in DeSoto County, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to be received by some health care workers tomorrow.

The next phase of vaccination has not begun yet. Dobbs said that once the demand in 1a has been largely met, 1b will begin. This could happen as early as January, Dobbs said.

Mississippi is currently creating an updated vaccination plan in accordance with upcoming guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

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