- The latest coronavirus update out of two Southern states has begun to worry health experts, to the point that it seems like these may be poised to be the next hotspots of the pandemic in the US.
- The states are Alabama and Mississippi, and each is grappling with worrisome signs such as very high coronavirus positive test rates, as well as increases in hospitalizations stemming from the virus.
- The opening of schools this fall is expected to surge cases even more. Both states also only enacted face mask mandates relatively recently.
If I said to you that health experts are especially worried about two Southern states becoming the next coronavirus hotspots in the US — the states being Alabama and Mississippi — the news might not particularly register with you, especially if you don’t have a frame of reference, know little about either state, and you haven’t heard a coronavirus update out of either state recently.
But once you learn that Alabama didn’t enact a statewide face mask mandate until more than four months into the pandemic in the US (on July 15) and Mississippi didn’t add a face mask mandate of its own until August 4, that might help contextualize how dire the situation is getting in both states and why experts are concerned. Experts like William Hanage, a Ph.D. and Harvard epidemiologist who told Vox that “Both Alabama and Mississippi have an awful lot of counties that are predicted to be vulnerable on the basis of their population demographics. Whether age, race, or socioeconomic status, or some combination of all three.”
In Alabama, according to Covid Act Now, the state is perilously close to a hospital crisis, with 76% of ICU beds statewide currently occupied. Also, the state’s positive coronavirus test rate is 20.6% — and poised to keep moving in the wrong direction. As for the situation in Mississippi, its daily number of new coronavirus cases has doubled, from 639 on July 1 to 1,178 just one month later. Covid Act now also puts Mississippi’s positive coronavirus test rate at 23.3%.
One thing that has experts even more worried is the impending start of the fall school semester, with schools scheduled to open in both states soon. Alabama doctors, for example, are already talking about a surge in new cases because of reopened schools as an inevitability. Making matters worse, 62 of the 67 counties in Alabama were already regarded as “medically understaffed” … before the coronavirus pandemic even began.
Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, addressed the situation in Mississippi in a series of tweets on August 1. Jha warned that instead of racing to reopen schools, Mississippi should focus on things like improving its coronavirus testing practices and stopping all indoor activities at places like bars and restaurants.
One state doing VERY badly but has received little attention is Mississippi.
MS has the 2nd highest # of new cases / capita, just behind Florida — but MS is going up while FL is slowly inching down.
But the story here is much worse.
— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) August 2, 2020