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This Surprising State Could Become No. 1 in COVID-19 Cases

"Our ICUs are full," a hospital official said. "That is the bottom line."
Jackson, Mississippi, USA skyline over the Capitol Building.

Coronavirus cases are rising across the southern U.S. this summer, but the surge is so high in one state that it may become the nation's top hotspot any day now.

Mississippi is on track to become the No. 1 state in new coronavirus cases, taking over from the current leader, Florida. Those are the findings of Harvard scientists, NPR reported Monday.

As of Aug. 3, Mississippi recorded 42.2 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. That's the nation's second-highest rate (just below Florida's 43.6). Only 17% of the state's ICU beds are available.

"Our ICUs are full. I mean, that is the bottom line," Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the top executive at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told NPR.

Mississippi also ranks second nationwide in positive coronavirus tests: its seven-day average is 21.1%. Health experts say a positivity rate of 5% or below signifies that enough people are being tested.

"We need to do something different."

In Mississippi, there is still no statewide mask requirement. Restaurants and bars are open for indoor service, and children are scheduled to return to schools this week. "It is very difficult because as a group of citizens, in Mississippi, there is a lot of value that is placed on the individual's ability to make decisions about their own life," said Woodward. "The citizens in Mississippi very much value that freedom to make their own decisions and not be told what to do based on hot spots and based on numbers identified throughout the state."

As of now, there are mask requirements in 37 out of 82 counties. "The governor is practically on a daily basis adding new counties to the mask mandate as we have an increase of cases in particular counties," said Woodward. "And I wish that he would proceed to a statewide mask mandate. But there are a lot of citizens … that would not support that. So our state officials are in a pickle, honestly, because they are in a bind between what the medical profession is telling them and what they know would be the opinion of a lot of the people in the state of Mississippi who would prefer to not be told, but prefer to wear the mask if they feel that they should."

But with cases rising, state officials may have to take more drastic action. "Speaking from a medical standpoint, if you look at the data, what we have been doing has not changed the trajectory of our number of hospitalizations, the number of new cases, etc.," said Woodward. "We need to do something different."

Fears over school reopenings

On Twitter Monday night, Woodward called for a statewide mask mandate and asked the state to delay the first day of school until after Labor Day. Earlier in the day, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Hobbs expressed concern about plans to restart classes this week.

"It's impossible to imagine that we are not going to pay the price for cramming kids into schools right now," said Hobbs during a video Q&A on Monday. "There's just no plausible scenario where it's just not going to be bad."

No matter where you live: Wear your face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

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