Mississippi hospitals are on track to be overwhelmed in a matter of days, not months, if coronavirus cases continue to climb, state health officials warned as Mississippi steadily sees higher-than-normal rates of infection.

“Every indicator’s up. We can stick our head in the sand and try to find excuses so that we don’t have to modify our behaviors, but it doesn’t change the truth,” State  Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. “There’s a lot of COVID out there. It’s killing people. It’s going to kill a lot of people and it’s going to stress out our healthcare system.”

Health officials reported 550 new coronavirus infections and six deaths on Friday, a fitting end to the most severe week of illness Mississippi has experienced since March 11.

“It has not been completely unexpected,” State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said. “We are seeing community transmission.”

The surge in infections is not associated with any particular event or gathering but rather a widespread refusal to follow health and safety guidelines, Dobbs said.

“People are still not social distancing. They’re still not wearing masks. They’re still coming together in large groups, parties, barbecues and social events,” a visibly frustrated Dobbs said. “Something as simple as a party can result in transmission to hundreds of folks.”

Dobbs said the notion that the number of infections is surging is due to increased rates of testing is a complete fallacy.

“We’re not doing any more testing than we were a month ago,” Dobbs said. “We’re seeing a ton more cases. Our percent positive is higher. We’re seeing significant hospitalization and increased cases of pneumonia-like illness.”

Since March 11, 328 infections have been identified in Pike County. There were seven new ones Thursday.

Neighboring Lincoln County had 413 infections, an increase of two.

Amite County remained at 81 infections and two deaths.

“I’m absolutely terrified that we’re going to overwhelm the healthcare systems, the hospitals and ICU — not in the fall,” Dobbs said. “Now, I’m worried about next week.”

Dobbs and Byers said that if trends do not see an immediate and sharp decline, statewide health mandates go into effect and elective medical procedures would likely be delayed.

“This reckless social behavior is going to harm the whole state, it’s going to harm the businesses in the state, it’s going to harm the economy and it’s going to cause unnecessary deaths,” Dobbs said. “We’ve just got to do those simple things or we’ll pay the price.”

Gov. Tate Reeves begged people to wear a mask when around others.

“As much as we want this to be over, it is not over. It’s not going to be over anytime soon,” Reeves said. “We have to remain diligent. We have to do the little things that will make a difference. Please wear a mask.”

Dobbs and Byers said people who refuse to wear a mask in public could be responsible for the deaths of many.

“It is so selfish for people to be out doing stuff, perpetuating this pandemic, for nothing more than a crawfish boil,” Dobbs said.

“At this trajectory, it’s going to be a mess.”

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